Be Peculiar

by susan on May 19, 2014

early christiansYesterday at The Well, we explored another part of the letter of 1st Peter.  The audio version of this message is available here.

Be Peculiar
1 Peter 3:13-23

In a nation that still clings to its “christian” identity, it is hard for me to even imagine being persecuted for my faith. Whether we think about it or not, Christianity has been the dominant American religion for all of our lives.
Dominant, though does not always mean distinct.

Instead of a distinct faith, what we too often settle for is a culture of Christianity, a shadow of something that at one time was so compelling it was worth dying for.

Persecuted people have and still do die because they stake their lives on faith in Jesus. They refuse to compromise what is at the heart of their faith, at the heart of Jesus’ teachings and at the heart of his life, death and resurrection.

Peter, the fisherman who left his nets to follow Jesus was one of these people. Peter preached the gospel during the reign of Emperor Nero. Nero was known for his extreme persecution of Christians. He had even conveniently blamed them for the Great Fire that destroyed part of the inner city of Rome. Part of his persecution tactic was to set them on fire turning them into human torches.

Christian tradition holds that Peter was crucified by Rome under the leadership of Emperor Nero around 64 AD. It is believed that Peter was crucified upside down by request. He did not consider himself worthy of the same execution as Jesus.

Years before his death, you may recall that Peter heard and experienced the kingdom of God and he joined in a movement led by the subversive spirit of God. You could say he died for that which gave him life.

This is a far cry from the state of Christianity today, especially in America.
Christianity is used for political power, for prosperity and for exclusion. Christ followers have gone from being persecuted to persecuting others.

And, while this may seem to have given followers of Jesus an advantage in the world, it has also done immeasurable damage to the heart of what it means to be a believer in the resurrected Christ.

The Christians to whom the letter of 1st Peter was written are well acquainted with persecution. They are suffering for their faith. They are experiencing harassment and rejection from their society. Their Christian identities have made them suspect.

In short, they are peculiar people. They are peculiar because they refuse to practice the old Jewish religion and they also refused to join some pagan celebrations. They are peculiar because their community includes women and slaves. Some of these women and slaves further defy custom by worshiping a different God than their husbands or masters.
Their behaviors and habits challenge the very foundations of society.
They are a threat to the dominant culture.

These early Christians are encouraged in the letter of 1st Peter to do two things to survive in the world. First, know who you are in Christ. Have a strong sense of your identity. You are the new and living sanctuary of the living God – this letter refers to them as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood” dependant on God and one another for hope and life.
Second, know and respect the culture that you are part of. Do things like obey government officials, live in well ordered households and maintain a good reputation.

Notice what is missing from Peter’s advice. He does not tell them to have laws changed to enforce a “christian” worldview. He does not tell them to separate themselves from the rest of society by forming “christian” clubs, music, schools or lines of clothing. He tells them to live fully into their new identities, to respect societal structures and to expect opposition.

Peter does not anticipate a day when Jesus followers will be in the majority.

In fact, he instructs them about how to respond when their peculiarity gets the best of their neighbors and they begin asking questions like…
Why are you hanging out with those people? Where were you when the whole town went up to pay homage to Abundantia, the god of prosperity and abundance? Are you one of those crazy Jesus freaks?

If you have really received the gospel, your life will be re-arranged. The change will not come all at once. You will be set out on a journey. You will make different choices, you will spend your time in different ways, you will spend your money in different ways. You will forgive, love, commit, share and show compassion. You will rest from work, care for creation and come together at strange times to worship a God who you proclaim to have risen from the dead. You will drink of his blood and eat of his body and be transformed by these strange habits.

No wonder there will be a few raised eyebrows.
Christians are peculiar people.

Now, before you think that just being odd is enough (I know how comforting this can be for some of us!), and before you think that we ought to go around trying to say and do things that shock people, let me tell you that is not the point here at all.

Peter is letting these Christ-followers know that living their faith will lead them down a peculiar path.

He tells them how to deal with the questions and accusations that will surely ensue:

Don’t give the opposition a second thought. Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick.      -1 Peter 3:14-16, MSG

Christ followers lead lives that evoke curiosity, lives that cause their acquaintances to ask questions, lives that result in their being suspect and even lives that make them targets of accusation & harassment.

Is this true?
Is this true of our lives?
Do people have a reason to be curious?
Are we caught in a culture of christianity or are we being transformed by the power of Christ?

Peter assumed that if you had given your life to the saving power of the resurrected Lord and that if you were embracing the kingdom of God that Jesus announced, people would notice.
He tells these early Christians to..
Continue to make people curious.
Continue to live a questionable life.
Be ready for the questions, the accusations, the harassment and rejection.
Be ready, and when asked be prepared to explain why you do what you do.

I have to wonder if Jesus ever meant for his followers to become the established religion of any land. I have to doubt that he ever anticipated the way of suffering and resurrection would ever be popular, prosperity-based or pew-worthy.

Maybe instead of longing for the days when the nation was more Christian, we should just start following the distinct way of Jesus.
Nations were not made to be Christian. In fact, “Christian” makes a very poor adjective. Christians are people who have encountered the living power of God and whose lives should evoke curiosity in that God/

We have the opportunity to reignite and re-introduce people to a gospel that makes a difference in their lives and in this world. It will not happen by cramming it down their throats, but by being a part of each others’ lives, each others’ neighborhood and God’s world in a peculiar way.

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