Pastor Joel Leyrer - Unity Sunday - Sunday, September 11, 2022

Text: 1 Peter 2:9-10

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Dear Friends in Christ, This is always a special service and a special Sunday. However, for reasons needing no explanation, the last couple of years were different. We retained the name and held a Unity Sunday on the second Sunday in September – just as we’ve been doing since the year 2000 – but we observed it according to our regular three-services-a-weekend schedule. Which kind of defeated the purpose.

Today we’re back to the way this service was originally envisioned and intended. We’re all here. In one place. At one time. A single service for a single congregation. Which makes today a celebration of unity for us as members and friends of St. John’s Lutheran Church. What a blessing.

But the blessing of today goes even deeper than recognizing the fellowship we enjoy as brothers and sisters in Christ. Today, gathered together in this single service, is the opportunity to get back to the basics and clearly define who we are and why we exist, both as a congregation and as individual Christians. Therefore, we can rightfully consider today to be

A CELEBRATION OF UNITY AND CLARITY

So who are we? Peter defines our identity in four short descriptive phrases, all of which are loaded with meaning and comfort.

#1 – We are a chosen people. The key word here is “chosen.” We, meaning Christians, are a chosen people. And God is the One who has chosen us.

With this phrase (as well as with the others he’ll be using) Peter calls to mind God’s Old Testament people, the Children of Israel. You may recall they were often referred to as God’s “chosen people.” But how is it they came by that title? We need to turn back to the Old Testament for the answer.

In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses makes it clear that Israel’s selection as God’s chosen people in the time before Christ had absolutely nothing to do with them and everything to do with God. God chose this people not because they were virtuous, but because he is gracious. In his grace and through his grace alone he selected the people of Israel to be the nation through whom the Savior of the world would come.

The point being made is that there is no connection between the word “chosen” and the idea of being deserving. Being chosen by God to be his child (whether in the Old Testament as it applied to Israel or in the New Testament as it applies to us as Christians) is purely a matter of his grace, not our personal merit. As Jesus once said to his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”

Think of what this means practically. No matter how badly or uncertainly we may feel our life is going and no matter what he may ask us to endure, one thing always there for our great comfort is this fact: God has chosen us to be his own. Consequently, can we not be confident that he who initiated an action that has repercussions and ramifications for all eternity will love and take care of us until that time? Yes, we can.

Who are we? We are a “chosen people.” What an honor! What a comfort!

#2 – We are a royal priesthood. Both words have significance. Let’s first take up the matter of our priesthood. The Old Testament again comes to mind. Back then the function of a priest was to be a mediator between God and man; sort of a broker between God and his people. The priest also offered sacrifices on behalf of the people. There was a strong relationship between God and his people, but there was also some distance.

All distance was removed, however, when God became one of us in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. He walked among his people, touched them, healed them, and died on the cross to take away their/our sins. At the moment of his death the Gospels tell us the curtain of the Great Temple was torn in half, symbolizing there was no longer any distance or brokering needed. Through faith in Christ we have direct access to God!

Now, and in that sense, we are all priests. We go directly to him in prayer. We give him praise directly through worship. No man stands between us and God; neither does any man stand over us in our relationship to God.

As priests, we also have the privilege of offering sacrifices. What kind? The Apostle Paul lays it out for in Romans 12. “Therefore, I urge you [Christians], in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” In other words, everything we are and everything we do is a thank-offering (i.e., a willing rather than compelled sacrifice) to God for all he has done for us. We’re all part of what the Reformers referred to as “the universal priesthood.”

But there is more. We are not just any priests; we are royal priests. Queen Elizabeth died this past week and with her passing and the various retrospectives on her life we’ve been reminded of all the trappings of pageantry and royalty. While interesting and intriguing, for us it is also completely un-relatable. Our closest brush with the regal life is sleeping on a king or queen size mattress.

Yet God declares us to be royalty. How is this?

We are royalty because we are sons and daughters of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Our connection to Christ makes us royalty. We may not particularly feel like royalty. We may not particularly be viewed as royalty. We may not particularly be treated as royalty. But that is what we are. The full meaning and magnitude of our crowns may be in heaven, but our royalty began the day we came to faith in Jesus.

Who are we? We are “a royal priesthood.” What an honor! What a comfort!

#3 – We are a holy nation. The key word here is “holy.” We need to understand it in a couple of different ways.

Certainly on our own we are an unholy nation. Peter makes that clear in the second verse of our text: “Once you were not a people… once you had not received mercy” he tells us. But then he goes on to say that “now we are” and “now we have.” This is a seismic shift. What happened?

Jesus happened.

We know how it works. As sinners before a perfect God who demands the same perfection in us, we fail. And we rightfully deserve the wages of sin: eternal death. Because of the work of Jesus Christ, however, we have been declared holy and righteous and forgiven. His perfect life became our perfect life. His sacrifice on Calvary washed away our sins. This we believe. God now views us through faith in his Son, and we who are by nature sinners are now seen as saints. That’s the first way in which we are a holy nation.

The second way that we are holy is according to the simplest definition of the word, which means to be “set apart.” As Christians, we are to be set apart from the world around us. Not physically, but spiritually. Not by our absence from the world, but by our actions in the world. Scripture makes it clear that the call to be a Christian is the call to be distinct before a watching world. Our lives are our testimony to the goodness of God and the joy we find in Jesus… so that perhaps through us others will come to know him.

Who are we? We are a “holy nation.” What an honor! What a privilege!

Peter then sums it all up by saying we are “God’s special possession.” That’s who we are. And the reason we exist is this: “That [we] may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Briefly and simply put, our overriding purpose in life is to glorify God. To bring him honor. To elevate his name. To lift high the cross. Both as individual Christians and collectively as a body of believers known as St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Wauwatosa.

Given the social and moral climate of the world around us, never has it been more important that we as individuals represent Jesus well. Later on in this letter Peter recognized that the Christians of his day had minority status. Reading between the lines it’s apparent that at times they felt overwhelmed, outnumbered, and timid.

We can relate to that, can’t we? So he tells them and us not to fear, “but in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”

As practicing and devout Christians, we may not collectively form the landmass that once was. Now we may be more along the lines of strategically placed islands in a world adrift in godlessness and hopelessness and despair (because no matter how glowingly it is presented, that is the only life that is left without God at the center and Christ at the core). When people come to recognize this, they will instinctively swim to the shore…

And we are, and we represent, that shore.

Because we are the ones who know who we are. All because God in his grace let us know who he is. In Christ alone life has meaning and purpose and in Christ alone we – and all people – find our true identity.

But our Christianity is not and never was intended to be a solo flight. God gathers us into a family of believers. And when a family of believers is unified in their faith in and devotion to Jesus Christ and their desire to advance the Gospel message, God can use them to accomplish, in the words of Paul, “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.”

God has allowed us to experience that right here. Here’s a historical reference to back up that statement. Did you know it was on Unity Sunday exactly 20 years ago that we broke ground for this facility? The following Unity Sunday we dedicated this facility to the glory of God. This building has been a tool that God allowed us to expand our ministry. And it did just that. Within a couple of years we greatly increased our enrollment – and most importantly, our opportunity to share Jesus with the next generation.

Now we’re talking about the potential for expanding and enhancing this campus. Why? To build monuments to ourselves? No. Whatever the Lord has allowed us to do in the past and whatever he will allow us to do in the future has only one reason: To advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the surroundings where God has placed us.

So who are we? We are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” And why has God brought us to this particular place and time? Why has God gathered us into this family of believers known as St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church? “That [we] may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Which means today is a celebration of unity and clarity. Glory be to Jesus. Amen.