Below is my sermon from Sunday. You can also catch the audio here.
Missional Community (1 Peter 2:9-10) | 08.27.17| Kevin P. Larson
We like to keep it upbeat here at Karis Church. Therefore, I’m going to start this week like I started it last week - by talking about death. We imagined we were looking at a dead man lying on a table, a believer who had lost his faith. We did an autopsy on the man. How did he get to this place? Why did he die? Our answer was pretty simple. He almost certainly pulled away from his church. He tried to go about the Christian life alone. And Satan ate him for lunch. We were made for gospel community. And we are protected by that gospel community.
Now I want us to take a look at another dead body. Imagine a church. A church that’s dead. They may have a building, but it’s falling apart. Very few people come around any more. Those who do, don’t really care - at least about people other than themselves. They’re not doing any ministry. They’re just paying the light bill - or at least they used to be able to do that. How did they get to that place? How can it be avoided?
A man named Thom Rainer has studied dead bodies for years. He’s written a book on the subject. It’s called Autopsy of a Deceased Church. In an article by the same name, he lists eleven things he has learned examining deceased churches. Listen to these:
1 The church refused to look like the community.
2 The church had no community-focused ministries.
3 Members became more focused on memorials.
4 The percentage of the budget for members’ needs kept increasing.
5 There were no evangelistic emphases.
6 The members had more and more arguments about what they wanted.
7 With few exceptions, pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter.
8 The church rarely prayed together.
9 The church had no clarity as to why it existed.
10 The members idolized another era.
11 The facilities continued to deteriorate.
What’s the theme of Rainer’s study? What pattern emerges as we think about that list? I don’t think it’s too complicated. We’ll get to that in depth soon enough.
Here’s how you could take last week’s sermon and run with it. You could think: I’m made for community. I’m protected by that community. This world is really dangerous. I really love these people around me. Therefore, I’m gonna hole up with them. And we’ll all wait. Together. Until Jesus comes.
But that won’t work. That’s because of passages like the one we just read. The Lord has a calling for us in this world. A calling together. We’ll get into that together here in 1 Peter 2. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Before we go there, like last week, I first want to go back. Way back.
Made for a Mission
Let’s go back to eternity past. Again, you have Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwelling in perfect community. Maybe you’ve never thought of God that way, but it’s true. Three persons. One God. In diversity, unity, and love. God is completely self-sufficient. He’s completely content. Now that’s a good plan, don’t you think, for eternity? Why mess with that?
But you know what happens. He doesn’t keep it to Himself. He lets it overflow. He majorly inconveniences Himself. He creates. For reasons we may never understand, He shares who He is. With us. He embarks on a mission. The Lord is determined to share His glory with the world.
Now as the pinnacle of that creation, back in Genesis 1, He makes a man, Adam. He gives him a woman, Eve. God gives them to one another. But they’re not supposed to just gaze into each other’s eyes for all eternity. No. This isn’t the Hallmark Network.
The Lord gives them a mission, what’s been called the cultural mandate. Yeah, they’re to make babies, but they’re also to build cities. They’re to make culture. God calls them to subdue the earth. They’re to have dominion over all living things. The Lord makes them kings under Him. They’re to take God’s image, they’re to spread His reign, His glory, across the earth.
But we know how that goes. Miserably. They try to do things their way. They want to spread their reign and glory. Everything gets cursed. And suddenly being fruitful gets really painful. Cultivating the earth becomes exceedingly difficult. And sin and death begin to be what fill the earth.
But even back in that garden, the Lord runs after His people. His missionary heart is seen in the opening pages of Scripture. When Adam and Eve sin, God pursues them. He calls out to that couple, in Genesis 3:9, saying, “Where are you?” And there, in that same chapter, He gives a promise. We hear the first word on God’s coming creation rescue plan in verse 15. The offspring of Eve would one day crush the offspring of Satan. God would keep on pursuing His people. But things were gonna get a lot worse before they got better. And the Lord could have easily just walked away.
But He doesn’t. He reaches down to Abraham in the desert. The Lord promises to make a nation out of him. In Genesis 12, God promises him not just descendants, but also land. But beyond that, in verses 2 and 3, He promises to make him a blessing. Through Abraham and His family, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” That’s the pledge God makes with him.
God would bless the world through that nation, through Abraham’s descendants. And we know the name His descendants would take - Israel. God rescues them from slavery and then gives them His law. In Exodus 19, right before God gives them the Ten Commandments, He tells His people this:
Ex. 19:5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;
Ex. 19:6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’
In other words, “If you listen to me, you can be kings, showing my rule to the world. You can be priests, bringing my truth to the nations. You can be a holy nation, a city on a hill, drawing the all the peoples of the world to me.” They would become a “light for the nations” as Isaiah 49:6 puts it.
But that doesn’t happen, does it? Israel fails. They become dark like the nations surrounding them. Instead of standing out and drawing the nations in, they blend right in with them and have no impact at all. And as a result, they are judged. So would God’s desires go unfulfilled? Would these prophecies go unfulfilled?
Well, the world stays covered in that darkness for hundreds of years. That is, until Jesus bursts on the scene. In the New Testament, God puts on flesh. Jesus comes to earth, anointed by the Holy Spirit. He rubs shoulders with those He has made. He serves and loves those who have turned their backs on him.
The Lord comes again saying, “Where are you?” He proclaims that He is the “light of the world.” He does everything Israel was supposed to do. He announces a new kingdom. He calls a people to Himself - not 12 tribes, as in Israel, but 12 disciples. They form a missionary band with Him. They would be the foundation of His new people, the church. He begins to spread the blessing promised to Abraham. As it turns out, He also is the fulfillment of that promise.
Nevertheless, He is nailed to the cross. The sky goes black as He takes the punishment for the sins of His people. But the sun shines like never before just three days later. He rises again, showing that everything sad is about to come untrue. He ascends to heaven and sits at the right hand of His Father.
But His mission isn’t ending. It’s taking another form. Through His people. He begins building His church. He pours out His Holy Spirit on them, on us. He goes about making a people who wouldn’t just be all about themselves, but would have a passion for the nations, and most of all for the glory of their God. Those in Christ, the sons of Abraham, would be a blessing to the world. They would be the “light of the world,” as Matthew 5:14 puts it. They would shine that light so others might see and praise the Lord.
Friends, that’s us. Community wasn’t meant to be an end unto itself. No. We were made for something more. And that brings us to our passage for today, 1 Peter 2:9-10.
Made for a Mission
Peter the apostle is writing to Gentile believers in what’s modern-day Turkey. He’s encouraging them to keep going, to keep sharing, in the face of suffering. He’s encouraging them in their identity. He’s reminding them of their purpose. Listen to what He says in that first half of verse 9 again:
1 Pet. 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Now those words might strike you as familiar. Do they ring a bell? They’re almost word for word what we read back in Exodus 19, verses 5 and 6. The Lord calls us a new Israel. We’re His people. He is our God. And we’re His plan A for reaching the world.
Notice the identity He gives us. We’re His “chosen race.” Just as with Israel, God chose us - not based on anything we’d done or ever would do, but purely by His mercy.
But now the Lord chooses a people made up of every tribe and tongue and nation. We’re all one race, children of Adam. Now He’s making a new race under the true, better, second Adam, Jesus.
We’re His “royal priesthood.” We no longer have to go through a priest. If we’re believers, we are priests. But what do priests do? They don’t hang out in a church and sing and pray all the time. They represent God to man and represent man to God. They proclaim the truths of God to men and women. They go to the Lord in prayer on behalf of other human beings. Being a priest, if you didn’t realize it, is a missional position.
And this Lord, the real Lord, says that we will be royals. That’s who we are now. We’re kings under Christ. In the new heavens and the new earth, we’ll reign with Christ forever and ever, Scripture says. But here and now we have authority with Jesus, under Jesus. This isn’t talking about us having power or wealth. It’s about us showing the way we were meant to relate to His creation. We are kings when we exercise dominion over the earth through our work. This is you framing a house. Or you writing a short story. Or planting a garden. Or cooking a meal.
He calls us a “holy nation.” God is forming a new nation. A holy nation. To be holy, again, means two things. It means to be set apart from the world, made special, deemed different. But it also means to be devoted to God and His glory and purposes. We’re to be a distinct counter-culture. We’re to be that city on a hill. A glimpse of the new heavens and new earth. But it’s not that we’re to be and do those things. We are holy in His sight. We just have to be who we are.
That idea is carried on in His next designation for us. We are a “people for His own possession.” Now God, of course, owns everything. Everything is His “possession.” This must mean something else.
Some have said this word brings to mind ancient kings who would store precious things in a special closet or safe, things only available to him. That, I think, fits. We’re His alone. We’re precious in His eyes. That’s what the Lord says about us.
We’re His treasured, special possession. We’re set apart for Him, devoted to His purposes. He’s made us priests. He’s called us kings. He’s chosen us to be a part of His people. That’s who we are. That’s our identity.
But He’s also given us a purpose. Look at the rest of verse 9 again. “…that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” It’s not too hard to understand. Our God and Father, who pulled us out of the darkness, who brought us into the light, wants us to go out - in word and deed - telling people how incredibly awesome He is. That’s our calling. That’s the purpose that goes with the identity. In Christ’s strength, He wants us to shine, to radiate His glory, to the world.
Here in Karis Church, we focus on four main things. Gatherings, MCs, Leadership Development, and Urban Ministry. Mission shapes each of those four areas. Take our Gatherings. Yes, these are primarily times of worship. But they’re meant to equip believers to go out and reach their neighbors. And we also want you to invite those neighbors here, and we want what’s going on here to at least be somewhat intelligible to them when they come.
Take our Missional Communities. We gather in smaller groups throughout the week. We live as family together. And we labor to make disciples. We try to help each other reach our coworkers and friends. We try to serve the city in some way as a group. We seek to “proclaim His excellencies” together.
Take Leadership Development. We want to equip you to take Jesus into your workplace or classroom. We work to train up MC leaders, Bible teachers, pastors, and church planters. Yes, we want to proclaim His excellencies here and now. But we’re also thinking about the kingdom. We’re looking to the future. We put time and money into training interns who can go out and build Christ’s church.
Take Urban Ministry. We strive to serve our city in word and deed. Especially in the First Ward and downtown, our desire to is minister to those hurting. We want to stick up for those who are oppressed. But we also want to engage the culture around us. We want to be in the thick of the arts and music scene. We want to take light where Christians for too long have feared to go. We strive to be “in the city, for the city.”
Karis, this is our responsibility. But sadly, in the American church today, we tend to shy away from it. Too much of the time, we don’t reflect His light. We don’t refract it to those around us. We’re more like the moon this past week. We just get in the way.
But why? This week, I was driving my daughter to middle school, and she told me about a dream she had. It was the end of the world. There was some kind of poison falling from the sky. Many people were dying. It was really scary. And then the world was over. And suddenly, everything was changed.
Here’s the first thing she saw in this new world, and she shared it with me with a straight face. Target was even more shiny and clean, and it had suddenly grown to be the size of the entire mall. And yeah, I’m sure there that even the unicorn frappucinos were free for everyone.
Last week, I mentioned a problem in American culture that we can so often miss. Individualism. This is a bit harder to ignore, but it’s just as true. Consumerism. We live predominantly as consumers, looking around for ways to get rid of our money, doing not much else but consume stuff - food, possessions, media, whatever.
And tragically, we bring this into the church. We enter a worship service wanting people to serve us. We want a perfect sermon. We want a rocking band. We want our kids to rave about how fun the kids’ program was. We want good tasting coffee. We need comfortable seats. The A/C needs to be set at just the right temperature. We don’t want it to last too long. We have other things to consume, after all.
On top of that, we want lots of programs. Bible studies to choose from. People to teach up our kids. Sports programs. Counseling groups. We’re looking for a really great church, a perfect church. In other words, one that meets our needs. Until it doesn’t. And then we go shopping again. Sometimes we even go to multiple churches, grabbing a service from one, utilizing a program from another. I mean, we sometimes go to both Target and Wal-Mart, right?
Now what’s happened is that church leaders have capitulated to this and have even facilitated it. They’ve become peddlers of religious goods and services. Christians wanna play, and they’re cool building folks a playground. After all, that’s what the customers want. Consumerism has given way to pragmatism. Whatever works, you do that. The customer is always right. Right? It doesn’t matter if it turns the whole Bible on its head.
This has also resulted in the majority of a church’s time and money being put into a Sunday morning show. It’s gotta be perfect. It’s gotta be epic. After all, they could go to the big house down the street. It ends up being a competition. Customers have to be won and then they have to be kept. Don’t they?
If that’s not disturbing enough, this has effectively changed the definition of a church in the minds of most people. As Ed Stetzer has put it, "When we build churches like theaters, we shouldn’t be surprised when people act like showgoers.” Church is a place. It’s an event. Not a family. Not a team. It’s a place where I go and get stuff, and most of the time, for free. Lights. Music. Laughs. Did I mention the coffee?
It’s also transformed the definition of a disciple. Christians are those that pray before most meals, listen to really bad radio stations, and attend a Sunday event 2-3 times a month. If you go to the show, you’re good to go. And if you hand out bulletins, you might even get some extra credit. That’s what a disciple is.
After all, we know what Jesus said, what we see in Mark 8:34: “If anyone would come after me, let him get in a reasonably short line for a killer hand-poured latte.” Or was it, “If anyone would come after me, let him enjoy a relatively short but extremely uplifting message?” No! Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus says, “Come and die. Die with me for this mission.”
Now I think for me - I think for most of us - we know we’ve been made for something more. We know this is not all there is. We want to fulfill God’s purpose for us. But we’re not sure how. We’re not sure how things have gotten so terribly wrong. We want to change. Why are we not as missional as we should be together?
Now there are a lot of things we could say. But I’m only going to mention one thing - what no doubt lies under the lie of consumerism. It’s selfishness. We like being comfortable. We like having our stuff.
We like having our stuff for ourselves. We have our faith. We have each other. We have a roof over our head. We’re good. It’s not just the people out there who think this, who are living like this. It’s the people in here. It’s us.
But there are two key things we have to remember, Karis, things that we have to continually beat into our heads. It’s not about us, but about them. If we’re Christians, we’ll worship Jesus together. We’ll get to do that side by side. The thing we won’t do in that day is tell people around us about Jesus.
We are God’s people. But we’re God’s people with a mission. It’s not about us, but them. No we don’t water things down. We can’t change who we are. But we have to work against this desire to sit around fat and happy. We’re here to give people the bread of life.
But really, it’s not about us, or them, but Him, right? We proclaim His “excellencies.” As Matthew 5:16 puts it, we shine our light “that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven.” Ultimately, it’s about Him. We want our city, our world, to see our Dad, and worship. He is the center of everything. Not really them. The key thing to remember, though: it’s not about us at all.
Here’s another thing we have to beat into our heads. It’s not what we can get, but what we can give. That’s the way of Jesus. That’s the path of the early church. If Paul and Peter and the boys walked into most American churches today - maybe even into ours - they’d go Jesus on us and start flipping tables. Because they wouldn’t see a band of missionaries. They’d see something more like a business. And they wouldn’t like what we’re selling.
If you think back to those eleven characteristics Rainer observed in dying churches, the theme was simple: they stopped thinking about the people outside of their doors. They long ago had begun to just think about themselves.
But here’s the sad thing. A few years ago, my wife took the kids and met her stepmom down at the lake. They took the kids out for dinner, and they chose Golden Corral. And, for the first time, my wife gave them no restrictions. So they ate helping after helping and dessert after dessert until they started turning green. Suddenly, my youngest made a beeline to the bathroom and emptied his stomach. My oldest fertilized the grass out in front of the place. They both looked green throughout a couple of rounds of mini golf following.
Friends, keeping it to ourselves is destructive. Trying to hide and hoard His grace will never leave us fulfilled. It’s only in dying that we will find life. That’s why we’re planting churches here, Japan, Brazil, and looking where to go next. That’s why we’re sending our best people all over the world. That’s why we give up our Saturdays. That’s why we hand over our evenings. We were made for a mission.
Moved by His Mission
But I want to go one more place before I close, and that place will bring us full circle. To get to why we avoid our mission so much of the time, I think we have to go even deeper. It’s in a deeper place than just our selfishness. Verse 10 helps us in this regard. Hear it again:
1Pet. 2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
A book I’ve really enjoyed is called Same Kind of Different As Me. It tells the true story of a wealthy Texas couple who come to know Jesus.
It takes the man, Ron, awhile, but his wife, Deborah, immediately pours her heart out in ministry to the homeless. They meet this man named Denver who was at first crusty and cold but eventually ends up softening and warming up to their love. She dies of cancer, but Denver and her husband end up best friends. And Denver is forever changed. And he’ll forever look differently at people who were once like him. And so will his friend Ron.
Here, in verse 10, Peter follows up our identity and our purpose with a reason. Here’s how we got that identity. Here’s why we should fulfill that purpose. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received.” Here God quotes words from Hosea over us. Once you and I were poor and cold and lonely, but the Lord showed mercy to us. He took us in. How can we not do that for others?
I’ve referenced Exodus 19 a couple of times. Again, it’s the verse behind verse 9. But I didn’t read the verse that comes right before. Right before the Lord talks about Israel being this treasured people, His kingdom of priests, His holy nation, He says this: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”
What should motivate them to live in this way? His grace. As we look at that homeless man, do we see ourselves? There but for the grace of God go I. What about the coworker that seems so hostile, so very far from God? That could still be me. Do we remember where we once were? If we can, it changes everything. We were not just made for a mission. We should be moved by His mission. His mission for us. That should move us back toward our calling, to reach those around us for Jesus. He came looking for us. And He carried us back home.
I’ve talked about consumerism. Last week, I talked about individualism. Here’s the worst “ism” of all. It’s legalism. We all deal with this, have to fight against it, whether or not we’ve ever entered the doors of a church. It’s this. I keep rules and then God or the gods likes me. Then you and others might like me, too. Maybe we say we get those rules from the Bible. Maybe we write them up ourselves. Perhaps we call ourselves religious. Maybe we don’t at all.
But it’s this: “I obey. Therefore, I’m accepted.” That’s religion. That’s legalism. That’s salvation through performance. But the gospel is something different. “I’m accepted. Therefore, I obey.” That’s salvation by amazing grace. That’s something beautiful. It’s freeing. It changes everything.
Brothers, sisters, maybe it’s not that we don’t want to share what we have - that we want to hoard it for ourselves. Maybe we’ve never received it. Or maybe we’ve just forgotten what we have. Maybe we’re not on mission for others, because we’ve forgotten His mission for us.
So how do we get back on track, living as a missional people? How does an evangelistic movement kick off anyhow? It comes through revival, through spiritual renewal, as we once again are blown away by the gospel. We should ask God to do that - in our hearts, and in our church. Then we might have the impact He wants us to have. As we can’t help but proclaim His excellencies.
A Missional Community
We, the people of Karis, are a people of the gospel. Who Jesus is and what He has done is the song of our hearts. He lived for us. He died for us. He rose again for us. That’s our hope. That’s our song.
But we also believe that song is meant to be sung together. We are community of the gospel. We need those other voices in our ears. God wants to hear us sing with one voice. But He doesn’t want us to keep it to ourselves.
We believe that song is meant to be sung in the streets. We sing about what our Lord has done for us. We proclaim together how awesome He is. We can’t hold it in. Those around us must hear. We are a missional community. We are made for a mission. We are moved by His mission. Let’s pray.