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Who Are We?
May 7, 2023

First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto

1 PETER 2:9-10

What would you like to be called? Before you answer, be cautious because there is power in words.

In the darkest hours of England's history, when the Nazis were at the brink of victory, Prime Minister Winston Churchill saved England with his words.

In our own history, Patrick Henry ignited the American revolution with the words, "Give me liberty or give me death." President Franklin Delano Roosevelt inspired the nation caught in the throes of the Great Depression with the words, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

There is power in words. Peter encouraged Christians to face persecution courageously with the words, "You are chosen, destined and sanctified." Words have power. You can tell yourself, "I am dumb, helpless, hopeless, and a victim of circumstances." Or, you can tell yourself, "I am chosen, destined and sanctified." There is power in words.

Last Sunday I talked about the prevalence of stress. The Surgeon General of the United States has recently reported that now there is an epidemic of loneliness in all age groups, leading to depression and various ailments. If you suffer stress and/or loneliness, hear these powerful words from Peter. “You are chosen. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.” Once you may have felt lost, alone, not belonging, but now you are one of God’s people.

As a church, that’s who we are. We are chosen, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people. Peter reached back into the Old Testament, taking powerful words which had been addressed to the nation of Israel, and then applied those same powerful words to small, scraggly, politically powerless churches made up of slaves and women. 

Imagine! God now says to us, "I choose you, First United Methodist Church of Palo  Alto. You are now my chosen people. You are now my priests. I want you to intercede on behalf of people. I want you to do my work. I want you to be my own special people.” Who are we? We are God’s special people.

Not that all people aren't God's people, but we who are in the church are God's special people, set apart, sanctified for special work. To do what? What is the special work? 1 Peter 2:9-10, "In order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people." 

How can you tell God's special people from everyone else? How can you tell if a church is made up of God's special people? A fourth-grade class played Balloon Stomp. Each child had a balloon tied on his or her leg and the object was to burst everyone else's balloon while protecting their own. The children leapt ferociously on each other's balloons, except for the few who stood there, not quite knowing what to do. Finally, there was one balloon left-- one child won and the others lost.

Then, another class played the same game. But, these children were mentally challenged. It took some time for them to understand that the balloons were to be stomped, and then they played the game differently. They helped each other! One girl carefully held her own balloon in place so that a boy could stomp it, and then he did the same for her. When all the balloons were gone, with none left, the entire class cheered in unison. They were all winners! They practiced generosity, trust, cooperation, gentleness, concern for one another, God’s special people.

How can you tell if a church is made of God's special people? Clarence Jordan visited a church in the deep south. He was surprised to find a vital, dynamic, growing, integrated church, not only Black and White members, but also rich and poor.

He asked the old hillbilly preacher, "How did the church get this way?”

The preacher said, "Well, when our preacher left our small church, I went to the Deacons and said, `I'll be the preacher.' The first Sunday as preacher, I opened the book and read, `As many of you as has been baptized into Jesus has put on Jesus and there is no longer any Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, males or females, because you is all one in Jesus.' Then I closed the book and said, `If you one with Jesus, you one with all kind of folks. And if you ain't, you ain't.'" Jordan asked what happened after that?

"Well," said the preacher, "the Deacons took me into the back room and told me they didn't want to hear that kind of preaching no more.”

Jordan asked what he did.

The preacher roared, "I fired them Deacons, and I preached that church down to four people! Not long after that, it grew and grew and grew. And I found out that revival sometimes don't mean bringing' people in but gettin' people out that don't love Jesus.” He then had an integrated church of white and black, rich and poor.

If they ever ask me to design questions for the District Superintendent to ask at the annual Church Conference, I would have the Superintendent ask, "What miracles have happened this past year?”

Regarding our congregation, I would tell him/her,  We are a church of God's special people who love Jesus and love all kinds of people. We welcome people of all ages, races, nationalities, sexual orientations.

We are a church of God's special people who take care of one another, look out for one another, break each other’s balloons so that there are no losers, where everyone is a winner.

We are a church of God's special people whose arms encompass the world. We give to missions through our conference apportionments and special offerings. We do hands on mission work. We feed and host the unhoused through Hotel de Zink. We build houses. We tutor and help youths in Africa.

We are a church of God's special people who do not keep the good news to ourselves, but "proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

© 2023 Douglas I. Norris