Ezekiel 18: 5 – 9 & 30 – 32; 1 Corinthians 12:3; John 13: 31 – 35
The world has it’s share of peculiar people. Bill Boaks started a political party called ADMIRAL (‘Association of Democratic Monarchists Independently Representing All Ladies’), of which he was the only member. Boaks had a hatred for cars and purposely held up traffic by repeatedly crossing the road with a pram full of bricks, and by sitting in the middle of the highway in a deckchair reading the newspaper, so that people would give up their cars in favour of buses and helicopters. Ironically, Boak’s died because he fell off a bus and banged his head. Sir Tatton Sykes had a pathological hatred of flowers. If he saw one while out walking he would flog it to death with his walking stick. He also ate nothing but rice pudding. Brinsley le Poer Trench wrote many books and articles explaining his belief that alien beings had emerged through tunnels, at the North and South Poles, from a civilisation that existed beneath the Earth’s crust. With these sorts of eccentrics running lose on the streets one would wonder why God felt the need to choose for himself “a peculiar people” (Deuteronomy 14:2)
Today is World Wide Communion Sunday. It’s one of those times in the year when we celebrate our unity with Christians around the globe. Although that connection spans all 7 continents and includes a wide diversity of people of every race, colour, culture, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, denomination, political persuasion and personality type, many of whom are strangers, our connection with one another is as intimate as the blood that runs through out veins because together we are The Body of Christ. Together we are God’s peculiar people. “A people holy to the Lord your God …chosen to be his treasured possession.” (Deuteronomy 14: 2). “A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…” (1 Peter 2: 9). A faithful people “set apart for the Lord” (Psalm 4:3). To be faithful to Christ is to be peculiar. Yet, given Christians don’t wear signs or have visible markings, how do we recognize one another? What identifies us as a group? What connects us? What makes us unique? What makes us faithful? What makes us peculiar?
Jesus had an interesting take on this. He said, “love one another. Just as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13: 35). Notice what Jesus zeros in on – we are not known by our love for our family and friends per se, or for our care of the poor, or for our love to those of other religions although all those things are important. What identifies us is our love for “one another”. When people look at Christians wat they should see is a group of people who honour one another, care for one another, build each other up and have an emotional bond. A group who trusts one another and prays for each other. When they see us work together, they should be impressed with our love and cheerful spirit. Because “we” means everyone God sends us, we’re inclusive of others. When someone offers to do something in what we consider “our domain” then we rejoice in their gifts and in their willingness to use them; We make room for them because it’s not “our domain”, it’s God’s domain. Christians should be known as people who rejoice with one another and weep with one another. We’re to be people who repent and forgive and who put harmony and unity before all else. During World War II, to extend his control, Hitler commanded all Churches to fuse with the state. Among the Brethren Assemblies, half complied and half refused. Those who complied had an easier time. Those who didn’t, faced harsh persecution. Among those who resisted, almost every family lost someone in a concentration camp. After the war, feelings of bitterness ran deep between the two groups. Finally, it became clear that the rift needed to be healed. Leaders from each group met at a quiet retreat. For several days, each person spent time in prayer, examining his own heart in the light of Christ’s commands. Then they came together. When asked what they did next, one man replied, “We were just one”. When love prevails among believers, especially in times of disagreement, we present to the world as the Body of Christ. If it didn’t say “church” on the sign outside; when people come into our building would they know we’re Christians? What behaviours and feelings do you need to pray about and confess in order for others to recognize us as Christ’s disciples? The trait of Christians everywhere is our love for one another.
Christians are also united by God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ, which we have received by faith. Wherever we go in the world we’re part of a peculiar group who professes “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3) Living Faithstates, “Christ died for our sins. The innocent one bore our condemnation on the cross. He suffered and was put to death for the sin of the world…but God raised him from the dead. His resurrection means that our faith is not empty, that final victory is assured over all evil powers which destroy and deform life, and that death, the last enemy, is conquered.” As Christendom fades, the essence of our faith is indeed peculiar to people. Many people think our beliefs are preposterous; they ask: what kind of “God” succumbs to death; what kind of man comes back to life once they’re dead? Christians around the world respond: The kind of God who loves his creation and every person in it. The kind of man who is also God. There is no way to get around the peculiarity of our faith, we can only stand fast in it. The atheist philosopher David Hume, once met a friend who was hurrying to hear George Whitfield preach. Hume asked, “Surely you don’t believe what Whitfield preaches do you?” The friend responded, “No, I don’t, but he does.” Christians around the globe believe in Jesus Christ.
Christians are also unique because we not only believe “Jesus is Lord” we also surrender ourselves to Jesus’ lordship. This makes us peculiar, like salmon swimming upstream. According to Dr. Adrian Furnham in Psychology Today we live in a narcissistic culture, “Narcissists… are ‘self-people’ – self-asserting, self-possessed, self-aggrandizing, self-preoccupied, self-loving – and ultimately self-destructive. Ultimately the paradox of narcissism is that it is the faith of those without faith; the cult of personal relations for those who are disenchanted with personal relations.” By contrast the theologianPeter T. Forsythe said, “The first duty of every soul is to find, not its freedom, but its Master”. At the heart of every Christian’s faith is not self but Christ. Christians, by the power of Holy Spirit, live not for ourselves but for Christ. Since Jesus is Lord, we are his loyal subjects, ready and willing to do whatever he asks. No Christian is greater than our King. When Edward VI, the king of England in the 16th century, attended a worship service, he stood while the Word of God was read. He took notes during the sermon and later studied them with great care. Through the week he earnestly tried to apply them to his life. As subjects of Jesus we earnestly try to live in obedience to his word. We’re honoured to come into his presence in worship and in prayer. We seek to listen and discern the Spirit’s will. We earnestly try to follow. All Christians live in submission to Christ.
Many Christians think what separates us from others is the desire, if not the ability, to be “good” by following “the rules”. There’s nothing unique about our “goodness”. Like us, many people manage, from time to time, to do something good. Many people of other faith traditions are good people. As peculiar people, we’re called to be “holy”. Holy doesn’t mean we act pious, virtuous or devout. People like that can have a “holier than thou” attitude, which is very unholy. To be holy is to be “set apart” for God’s glory. Our purpose and goals are surprisingly different from the world around us. Holiness begins with poverty of spirit – with the knowledge that we need redemption. Christians are contrite people who are ready to confess our short-comings and failures. We’re humble people who seek the forgiveness, not only of God but of those we’ve hurt. In a world motivated by anger and revenge, we’re motivated by Christ’s forgiveness which causes us to show forgiveness and mercy to others. Where others seek to be acknowledged, we seek to be “the last”. We’re people not of rules and law, but of grace – quick to show love because God has loved us. Christians shun the things the world turns into idols. Whether in our relationships or our ethical dealings with people, we don’t use people or take advantage of them. We treat ourselves and others with respect. We’re charitable – we see the needs of others, physically and spiritually, and look for ways to meet them. We don’t judge. Being holy is a daily, moment by moment exercising of a lifestyle that glorifies God. We often fail. We may not always recognize another Christian by their holiness, or they us, but we’re one with our brothers and sisters in Christ in our desire to be a peculiar people, set apart from the worldly ways which surround us.
Today we come to the table of our Lord with Christians all over the world. It’s a great mystery and honour that we’re chosen by God to be a part of his peculiar people. The word peculiar means exceptional or odd. As the Church we may seem odd to others, but I pray we will exceptional for God.