THE LITTLE WHITE CHURCH
GOD'S BLESSED SAINTS
INTRO: In Christ, loving greetings to each of you from myself and the family. It's an honor to have been invited to provide this message, and I thank you.
So many of you fondly think of St. Stephen's as your "little white church" on the ridge, and rightly so. It's especially appropriate in this year in which you observe and celebrate 150 years as God's flock in this place, though, to be reminded of your real identity and worth in God's own estimation as His special PEOPLE. - You are the "CHURCH," which literally means "those who are called out." You are "fellow citizens with the Saints and members of the Household of God" according to Ephesians, so you are Saints yourselves! - A "Saint" is "a Holy person," one who has been set apart by God in a special way.
Martin Luther claimed that John's Gospel and the Bible books of Romans and First Peter are the most important witnesses to the Gospel of Christ. He had a very high regard for Peter's First Epistle among all the others, in other words, and this text comes from its second chapter:
"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous Light. Once you were no people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (vs. 9-10)
In those words Peter has described God's people on God's mission by God's grace! - It's a picture of the Church, those who ARE called out. It's God's OWN picture of who its members are, what they do, and why they do it.
WHO YOU ARE
The description begins by saying, "You are a CHOSEN RACE." - Peter didn't write that to the Jewish people who regarded themselves as God's specially chosen nation. He meant all Christian believers including you, because you HAVE been chosen by God through Jesus Christ! You are God's Number 1, His elect and elite!
The Infinite Creator has chosen you, a finite creature. The All Holy God has chosen you, an ever-stumbling sinner. The God of beauty and order has chosen you who have been scarred with the ugly guilt of rebellion.
The earliest Christians seem to have mostly come from the lowest social classes. It must have been mind-stunning for them to contemplate the claim: "You are a chosen race." - But it's really just as amazing for us today! How could any of us ever qualify to be Number 1 in God's sight? - In truth we don't of course. We have hopelessly DISqualified ourselves by our sin, in fact, and yet STILL God HAS chosen us through the sufferings, death and resurrection of Christ our Savior.
"You are.. a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD," Peter continued. And here he wasn't writing only to those ordained as Pastors, but again to all true Christian believers! The title "Royal Priesthood" here is one of the foundations for Luther during the Reformation to insist on emphasizing the doctrine known as "the universal priesthood of all believers."
A "Priest" is one who has direct access to God through Christ, and who offers sacrifices and assists others in being brought to God. - The Latin word for "Priest" means "bridge builder." As Christians we have humanity's great High Priest Jesus Christ as our own bridge to God, and therefore we offer ourselves as living sacrifices whose lives and words and deeds show others the way and make a bridge for them.
Luther wrote:-- "We are all priests before God, if we are Christians. It would please me very much if this word 'priest' was used as commonly as the term 'Christian' is applied to us. Those baptized and 'priests' and Christians are all one and the same." - A certain Bible version, rather than using the term "Royal Priesthood," says "You are the KING's Priests," and that IS who you are and Whose you are!
Peter wasn't done, though. "You are.. a HOLY NATION," he added. -Now, "Holy" doesn't designate being without sin here, but means "set apart, consecrated, unique and different from the world." "Holy" because God's Holy SPIRIT dwells in the hearts of believers and makes them different!
Among all the groups of people in the world, Christian believers truly ARE the "Holy Nation," given the unique role that God has intended for them to play in this world. Peter's Epistle earlier contrasted the futile, stumbling ways of the UNbelieving world.
Then comes Peter's glorious climax: "You are.. GOD'S OWN PEOPLE." - We don't own ourselves. God does! He purchased us with the price of Christ's blood and therefore regards us as more precious than anything we could imagine. Believers belong to God and to no other;- not to themselves, not to Satan and not to the world. "I have called you by name; you are Mine," God says to every individual believer, which gives all those who are in the true faith an infinite security.
All put together it's one of the most striking descriptions of God's Saints and Church in the entire Bible:-- "...A CHOSEN RACE, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, GOD'S OWN PEOPLE." Even the sky isn't the limit when it comes to the measure of God's regard for you through Christ. No-where in the universe can you find anyone who thinks more highly of you or loves you more dearly than God does! -- It all starts with who you ARE in God's eyes, and then the rest falls into place...
WHAT YOU DO
When Peter established who and what God's people are, he secondly set forth what they DO. You ARE God's own, he wrote, "that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous Light." Saint Paul also wrote that "He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
Where the text speaks of declaring God's wonderful deeds, a modern Bible-version says "To proclaim God's triumphs!" - With the high privilege of being who we are comes the sacred responsibility of doing what we do. We proclaim the triumphs of our God, and nobody else does it except the people of God! Christ's Great Commission is His giving to us the role of Santa Claus in dispensing His Gospel!
Luther wrote:-- "Let it be your chief work to proclaim the Gospel.. and (to) call everyone into the Light into which YOU have been called." - Evangelism and Mission work ARE Christianity's "chief work." Jesus isn't just the leader of some private, cozy club. He wants the stranger and those who are different. He wants everyone! - When a congregation exhibits Christ's own way of tenderly inviting people, it TRUMPETS the praises and triumphs of God!
It truly is an honor that God has given His people the joyful service of sharing His Gospel. He could do it far better Himself, or maybe get it done through dazzling messenger Angels, but He wants to use YOU! You are CHOSEN, ROYAL, HOLY and OWNED that "you MAY declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness..."
WHY YOU DO IT
Peter then explained, thirdly, WHY that's so, which is that "Once you were NO people, but now you are GOD's people; once you had NOT received mercy, but now you HAVE received mercy." - Saint Paul emphasized it similarly when he wrote that we were ONCE "Dead in trespasses and sins." -- The spiritual biography of every Christian is from rags to riches, pauper to prince, nobody to somebody by the mercy of God. Believers declare God's wonderful deeds because He took them when they were nothing and made them eternally valuable through Christ's work. The Bible says, "You were a burning stick snatched from the fire."
The words "But now" make all the difference! But now you ARE God's people; But now you HAVE received mercy! - It can only be so because of Calvary's harsh wooden Cross where God personally invested in you the very blood of His only-begotten Son, and all the anguish and pains of hell endured by Jesus at His crucifixion for our sakes. Then God raised Him up alive again as the certain sign of His appeasement and complete satisfaction with the atoning price for our sin.
A radio Bible teacher once described his understanding of the difference between "grace" and "mercy." He explained that it's like opposite sides of the same coin. "Grace" is getting what we don't deserve. "Mercy" is NOT getting what we DO deserve. Both apply here! We deserve to be "nobodies" as we once were, but now we are the prized possession of the Almighty One and Only God, which we certainly never HAVE deserved.
God's love given to us through His own Son, Jesus Christ, formed the words "But Now..." The change from nobodies to God's "Somebodies," from NO mercy to having it, has come by both the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ! Once you were NOT of any account, BUT NOW God has a whole NEW picture of you. Scripture assures us, "If anyone is in Christ, he IS a new creation."
CONCL: You, as Christian believers, ARE God's specially CHOSEN ones, His ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a HOLY NATION, GOD'S OWN PEOPLE. That REALLY IS GOD's perspective towards you, told with authority and from the personal experience of the once fearful disciple Peter who took so long to come to grips with it himself;- and the motivation to "declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous Light" is as powerful as can be, because "Once you WERE NO people, but now you ARE GOD's people; Once you had NOT received mercy, but now you HAVE received mercy."
Living by faith and walking in Word and Sacrament, true Christian believers ARE the "CHURCH," God's called out ones. You are the "SAINTS," God's precious, holy possession! AMEN.