A Peculiar People

(Exodus 19:3-6Hosea 2:21-231 Peter 2:9-10)

If you’re familiar with the King James Version, you probably realize that I took the title for this message from its translation of verse 9.  You might also remember that I referenced it in the first sermon of this series.  Our modern translations are right to use the word “chosen” instead, because the word “peculiar” doesn’t really get the right idea across anymore, but it’s too bad, really.  “Peculiar,” as the King James uses it, carries a sense of possession and uniqueness which the word “chosen” doesn’t.  I could say that this is my chosen shirt this morning, and I could say that Sara is my chosen wife, but I couldn’t say that this shirt is peculiar to me—I’m not emotionally invested in it, and there are a lot of other people who have shirts just like it.  Obviously, I wouldn’t normally call my wife peculiar, but in this sense, she’s peculiar to me alone.
Now, you might point out that I didn’t just choose her, she also chose me, and you don’t know how right you are; but that only strengthens the point, because we have also chosen God.  His choice of us is clearly first and greater, but it isn’t something that just happens to us—we respond to him, and so participate in his choice.  We’re bound to him by his act and our own, and so we’re doubly his, and his alone.  No one else has any claim on us—not even denominations that think they have a right to our property.  We are only God’s possession.
All that said, I’ll admit it’s not the whole reason I chose this title for the sermon.  The fact is, while Peter doesn’t explicitly say this, we are indeed a peculiar people as the world understands the word.  We are odd; we are atypical; we are outside our world’s idea of “normal.”  To say God has chosen us doesn’t just mean that he’s chosen us to be with him in the next life; he’s chosen us, as Peter makes clear, to do his work and serve his purposes in this one.  We are strange to this world because we’re turned toward God.
Peter tells us we are a separate nation from the nations of this world.  We are a nation set apart in allegiance to the King of heaven, to be his priests to the other nations.  As we see in Exodus 19, this is language used in the Old Testament to describe Israel and their mission.  God had made a covenant with Israel, and that was to define them in every respect.  They were to be holy to the Lord—different and distinct from the peoples around them in the way they lived life, the values they upheld and the goals they pursued—because their primary allegiance was to him rather than to any worldly powers.  Precisely in that, they were to serve as the priests of God to the world—the access point through whom the nations could come to God, and by whom they might be led to him.
Biblically, all our standards for life are to be disjointed from our culture and society.  How we do business, why we do business, how we talk to one another, how we use money, our attitudes toward material possessions, our view of sex, our ideas of what we deserve and what we don’t deserve—in all these things, and in everything else, we should be fundamentally different from those around us.  The purpose of everything we do is “to declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  That’s why we exist.  You want a mission statement?  In the big picture, that’s it.  Anything else you come up with has to point to that and end there.
The world worships itself, in various ways.  That worship defines the world, makes it what it is, and makes it do what it does.  When we go along with the world in its ways, we join in its worship, bowing at its altar.  That’s not who we have been called and created to be.  We are a people created by the entirely different worship of an entirely different God—a God who is neither ourselves nor defined by and for ourselves.  Everything we do is to be worship offered to him, and to flow out of our worship together as his people.  God has redeemed all of our life in Jesus Christ, all of it belongs to him, and so all of it is for him.

Our morality is to be not a matter of duty, but an offering of worship to God.  Our politics should be not about power and self-interest, but an offering of worship to God.  Our identity is truly found not in what the people of our town or in our broader culture see when they look at us, but in our worship of God.  And our witness to our world, our outreach and evangelism, aren’t things we do because we want the church to get bigger, but expressions of our worship of God.  We worship God, we learn to see how good and great and marvelous he is and how wonderful his grace, and so we talk about him wherever we go.  That’s the idea.

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