October 7, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
The Good and Beautiful Community
20th Sunday after Pentecost
The Peculiar Community
1 Peter 2:9-10 KJV; 1 John 4:7-12
A guy had been feeling down for so long that he finally decided to seek the aid of a psychiatrist. He went there, lay on the couch, spilled his guts, and then waited for the profound wisdom of the psychiatrist to make him feel better. The psychiatrist asked a few questions, took some notes, and then sat thinking in silence for a few minutes with a puzzled look on his face.
Suddenly, he looked up with an expression of delight and said, “Um, I think your problem is low self-esteem. It is very common among losers.” Peculiar?
A very homely person made an appointment with a psychiatrist. The homely person walked into the doctor’s office and said, “Doctor, I’m so depressed and lonely. I don’t have any friends, no one will come near me, and everybody laughs at me. Can you help me accept my ugliness?”
“I’m sure I can,” the psychiatrist replied. “Just go over and lie face down on that couch.” Peculiar?
Mary was having a tough day and had stretched herself out on the couch to do a bit of what she thought to be well-deserved complaining and self-pitying. She moaned to her mom and brother, “Nobody loves me…the whole world hates me!”
Her brother, occupied playing a game, hardly looked up at her and passed on this encouraging word, “That’s not true, Mary. Some people don’t even know you.” Peculiar?
Are there not times, brothers and sisters, when you and I have felt like one of these people? Our self-esteem is low, there is something about our bodies or personalities that seem to affect us and the people around us, or we just want to have our own fifteen minutes of a personal pity-party? Does that make us peculiar? Does that make us different from anyone else in the world? I kind of think not.
But the rock, the Apostle Peter, the foundation of the Christian church says this: [You] are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, [a] holy nation, a peculiar people. What’d he say? A peculiar people? You and me peculiar? “Peculiar” is a wonderful word from the King James Version of the Bible.
Dictionaries define it as “distinctive,” “odd,” “strange” and “weird.” In a word, peculiar means different. Different from the ordinary, the common, from everyone else. Christians are peculiar in that they are different from everyone else. Or are they? The true narrative is this: Christians are not always different, but they ought to be, and often are. More about these peculiar Christians in a moment, but first, would you pray with me?
During this month of October, you and I will be taking a journey through “The Good and Beautiful Community.” That is the title of the book by James Bryan Smith, “The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love.” We are going to take a peek at how God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit work in the peculiar, the serving, the Christ-centered, and the worshiping community. You see, your soul and my soul were designed by God to experience a good and beautiful community. Just like God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit live in perfect fellowship, you and I were meant to be in fellowship with one another and with the one who created us. It is this fellowship, this togetherness, this unity in our diversity that makes us peculiar.
As Christians, believe it or not, we are sometimes seen as the peculiar community by those outside the Christian faith. The difference is in how and why we live the way we do. James Bryan Smith says “we do so because we are following the example of Jesus, our teacher, and are being led by the Holy Spirit, our strength and comforter. And we are living in the strong and sustaining kingdom of God. We have from the very beginning.”
Around 150 A.D. in the Roman Empire, accusations had been spreading about a peculiar people called Christians. People were spreading false rumors saying that they were a dangerous, secret society filled with bizarre behavior. People were saying slanderous things about Christians, such as they practiced cannibalism (because during Communion they ate the “body and the blood of Jesus”).
But one author at the time, Athenagoras, wrote this important document about how the Christians were like other people, but also, how they were different. Listen to this excerpt.
“The difference between Christians and the rest of mankind is not a matter of nationality, or language, or customs. Christians do not live in separate cities of their own, speak any special dialect, nor practice any eccentric way of life…They pass their lives in whatever township – Greek or foreign – each man’s lot has determined; and conform to ordinary local usage in their clothing, diet, and other habits. Nevertheless, the organization of their community does exhibit some features that are remarkable, and even surprising. For instance, though they are residents at home in their own countries, their behavior there is more like transients…Though destiny has placed them here in the flesh, they do not live after the flesh; their days are passed on earth, but their citizenship is above in the heavens. They obey the prescribed laws, but in their own private lives they transcend the laws. They show love to all men – and all men persecute them. They are misunderstood, and condemned; yet by suffering death they are quickened into life. They are poor, yet making many rich; lacking all things, yet having all things in abundance…They repay [curses] with blessings, and abuse with courtesy. For the good they do, they suffer stripes as evildoers.
Smith says that “in outward ways they were no different from anyone else in the Roman Empire. They lived in the same homes, wore the same clothes and ate the same food as the average Roman citizen. They obeyed the laws – no one accused them of being thieves, of not paying their taxes or of harming others.”
“And yet,” Smith continues, “They were different. They obeyed earthly laws but lived by higher laws. They were members of the Roman Empire, but this world was not their home; their citizenship was in heaven. They endured suffering well and even blessed those who cursed them, as their teacher taught them to do – and as [Christ] himself did.”
And notice what Athenagoras said, “for the good they do.” Folks, it is no small thing to do good. Especially in a world in which there is so much wrongdoing. You see, it was, and is even now, peculiar to do good things for no good reason. When we do, people get suspicious. Despite all the false accusations against Christians and all the persecutions, Christianity survived and actually flourished. In 40 A.D. there were approximately 1,000 Christians. By 250 A.D. there were over 1.1 million Christians. And by 350 A.D. there were almost 34 million Christians in the world which represented almost 60% of the population.
The reason for the rapid growth in the Christian population was that the lives Christians were living were so attractive that others simply wanted to have what they had. Time and time again, I hear from people who want to confess their belief in Christ that they want to have the life that their Christian friends and neighbors have. A life of love, a life of mercy, a life of grace, a life of justice, and a life of joy in Christ.
Christians are peculiar because our God is peculiar. The god we love and serve is extraordinarily different than the gods humans design. When the Greeks and Romans created their pantheon of gods and goddesses, they looked remarkably like humans – often at their worst. Their gods lied and cheated and murdered. They committed adultery and punished each other out of anger and jealousy.
The God that Jesus reveals is peculiar. This God loves humans so much that he became one of them and died for them. This God forgives when it is not deserved. This God is generous, never vengeful. If the God of Jesus displays wrath, it is only because this God is good and loving, and is rightly against sin because it hurts his beloved children. No one could have made this story up. That is because in all of the other religions there is no God like the one Jesus revealed.
God’s ways are not our ways, and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. God’s values are different. Jesus revealed a God who was like no other god the world had ever heard of. This God was indeed peculiar.
John said this in 1 John 4: 7–10My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. 11–12My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other.
What a peculiar God. Our peculiar God transforms us into peculiar people, people who love others, even if they do not love us in return. As Christians, our doctrine is simple: as God is, so should his people be. If we do not love, we must not know God. God’s love was revealed among us in the person of Jesus. As Christians, we do what we do because Jesus is living in and through us.
Galatians 2:20 says this: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. As a peculiar people we ought to give love even before we get it in return. God did this for each one of us. Therefore, I think we could be considered maladjusted. That would actually be a compliment for you and me as Christians. “Look,” people will say, “there goes that peculiar, maladjusted preacher!”
Professor Cornel West put it well this way, “There have always been Christians who are well-adjusted to greed, well-adjusted to fear, well-adjusted to bigotry. There have always been Christians who are maladjusted to greed, maladjusted to fear, and maladjusted to bigotry.” I don’t know about you, but I am striving to be one of those Christians who is maladjusted.
Not all Christians are, but all Christians ought to be maladjusted to things like injustice, greed, materialism and racism. Too often we easily become well-adjusted to these things. It is easy to become well-adjusted to the culture we live in, the one that uses hate and violence to gain control, the one that treats people as objects for personal gain, the one that winks at immorality.
But you and I as Christians need to be a peculiar people, like our God is a peculiar God. We need to be maladjusted to things of this world and adjusted to the things of God. And we can only do that if we practice being a peculiar people.
So here is what I would suggest for you to do this week and in the weeks to come. Work hard to be a peculiar, maladjusted Christian. As they use to say on Mission Impossible: Here is your assignment if you choose to accept it. And I hope you choose to accept it.
First spend time with God. I would like for you to spend two hours with God this week. It doesn’t have to be all at once. Take ten minutes here and ten minutes there and spread it out over the week. Everyone can find ten minutes in their schedule once or twice a day to be with God. Even our corporate worship here can count for some of that time.
Find a quiet, restful place to be alone. Breathe deeply for a few seconds. Say a prayer like the Lord’s Prayer. Praise God. Take some time to write out your blessings. Maybe open your Bible to a favorite passage and read and reflect. And then don’t be afraid to speak to God directly. Ask God any questions you have and then listen for that still, small voice of God. Now God is probably not going to boom from the nearest hill with thunder and smoke, but he will speak in a quiet inner voice or through some of the thoughts you may have. Learn to listen.
And then secondly, I want you to do a peculiar act. Being peculiar is not only having a relationship with God but then acting out Godly things. I want you to try to do one unselfish and unexpected act of kindness or generosity each day.
Here are some suggestions for acts of maladjustment, but I’m sure you can think of your own. Ask for someone’s car keys and take the car to a car wash, or wash it by hand. Sweep the neighbors’ driveway. Clean up some part of the house, especially if you are not the one to always clean. Pay for the person behind you in the drive-thru. Let others go ahead of you in line. Engage with people by saying, “Hi, how are you today?” and then wait for an answer – don’t just walk on. I am sure you can think of many, many more.
I guarantee you, that if you do one random act of kindness each day, people will come to think of you as peculiar and maladjusted. What a joy that will be! Praise God! And maybe, just maybe, if they are unbelievers, like the early people in the Roman Empire, they will want to have what you have, a relationship with Christ. You are a peculiar people and God loves you that way!