Sunday, 11 February 2018

Christians are Peculiar - 1 Peter 2

Contrast the Street Bible with the King James old English translation! The Street Bible says 'You are select, royalty in the role of God's reps ... an outstanding nation of ambassadors ...', while King James had 'You are a chosen generation, royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people ...'. Both convey how we are living stones, with Jesus as the cornerstone - we are based on Him, who sets the lines for our lives. The church is about people (not a physical building), but buildings give us good imagery: we are built together to be like a temple, i.e. we become a place where others can connect with God. We do this even as we go out from our gatherings - in fact by making ourselves available for people to connect out there we often grow more than in here!

The old translation helpfully describes us as peculiar. In coming weeks we will compare False Narratives with True Narratives, i.e. underlying stories which people believe - yet are false - compared to an underlying story that is correct. The first False Narrative is that Christians are no different - they basically live the same as others (except they spend a slice of their leisure time at church stuff!). Compare this to the narrative that Christians, though they live among us and have jobs and so on, actually live their lives quite differently. A difference that sparks curiosity, for people see that we are peculiar - regular people yet living in a way that contrasts with everyone else.

In circa AD150 a Roman wrote to another Roman about the Christians, writing that they do not live separately, with their own language or anything. In fact they wear the same clothes, live in similar houses, eat the same food. Yet though they live among us, their communities live as if they were transients, with citizenship elsewhere in the heavens. They obey the laws yet their lives transcend the law. They show love to all, even those who persecute them.

Can you see the parallel with 1 Peter 2? Living lives that stand out among the people, being regular folk yet clearly with a difference. Another Roman period letter has Roman writing to his commander about a plague-stricken town. Every healthy person had fled, leaving the sick behind. Except the Christians - who deliberately stayed to nurse the dying.

Yet sadly Muhammed (as in the founder of Islam) was disturbed that the local Christians (and Jewish people) seemed to be no different to the pagan Arabians around them. What a tragedy! Which of the two narratives would you like to be part of? Which do you think will play out better for the city of Ely? Hence the question:

Key Qn: [OUT] Where do you set a positive contrast
Challenge: Adopt one discipline/mindset that helps you step off the hampster-wheel!


We can set a contrast in many ways, e.g. through honesty and integrity, treating each person with dignity as a person loved by God, showing grace instead of anger, working out forgiveness, being a person of peace (and prayer) in the midst of adversity.

Where I see a need for difference more generally is throughout the world of our workplaces. A broad observation is that our work is effectively grinding all of us down, no matter what type of work, which sector, professional or labourer. It appears that workplaces no longer set sensible boundaries for us, and would happily have us work to unhealthy excess.

Surely this is where we can and need to be different, both in attitude to what work is about and because of our underlying value system? For sure we can have jobs just like others - we need to provide for our families, and work can be both fulfilling and align with our calling. Yet as Christ followers our work ultimately does not define us: being in Christ defines us, and calling/work flows from this. So as with those Roman Christians, we live & work among yet as if transients, i.e. with our ultimate priority elsewhere. So with work we can set boundaries on what is appropriate, and find when and where to draw a line.

Of course there are times when we have to step up or even grit our teeth for a period or a project. Yet there are also times to step off. The trick is to know the difference! For to be different is in the long run to make sure that we can be present for people. Our value system is not money, status or even career, but being available for people. That availability includes family, church family, and being present for all kinds of people in ministry situations. Remember that ministry works best through relationship - can the person in front of you meet Christ through you?

Here we value people paid or unpaid who can be present, alongside and open to others. This is so valuable that we will accept living with less in order to do so. It requires a different mindset: to be precious living stones set in just the right place by Christ rather than squeezed, constrained and crushed by the concrete monolith of today's relentless consumer society.

Hence the challenge is about one change to be able to step off the hampster wheel! It is actively being different - not lazy, not slouching, to value being present and for people around us.

Peter finishes with a call to live exemplary lives. We are ambassadors for Christ. We represent Him. So we function as the spiritual temple, the connection point between people who are far from God and God Himself. To the average onlooker this at first looks peculiar, but it something that also looks attractive, to want to look into more.

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