A ‘Good Letter’ Day

As we rise to our feet and Bless God we to are transported to our spiritual home. For now we may be elect exiles in a world in which we don’t belong, but when we lift our voices in praise we are transported into the very presence of the one with whom we will spend eternity.

Who collects the mail in your place? When you go to the mailbox what are you feeling?

Is it with a feeling of anxiety and reluctance, thinking what bills will be there for me today? Which real estate agent wants to sell my home for me?

Or maybe it is with a feeling of expectation and wonder, like what are we going to discover? Am I going to receive something special? Some good news! Maybe it is around birthday time, will anyone remember to send me a card?

The churches of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia received some mail one day, and it was a good mail day! As they recognized who it was from I can imagine how it lifted their spirits, just like we would be lifted upon receiving mail from a loved one we don’t get to see often. This was a letter signed by “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” In his letter he provides instruction on how to live as a believer. He includes such advice as; the need to submit to rulers and masters, as well as responsibilities that wives have to their husbands, and husbands to their wives. He speaks of suffering, and most wonderfully, he paints a strong picture of a faithful, believing life in the face of the reality that our time here is short and the end of all things is near.

Often in the days we are living people are tempted to look at some of the writings of the New Testament letters and take them to sound like a bunch of laws, much like the commandments from Sinai, but I don’t believe that this approach is helpful or correct. What Peter and his contemporaries are trying to do with these instructions is to help these believers in a potentially hostile world to live at peace with one another and with those around them, and this will more than likely be in stark contrast to what may otherwise be the norm. And in doing so they will provide a clear witness to the presence of Jesus Christ – alive in them!

Overwhelmingly First Peter is a letter of hope – especially in the few short verses that we are reading together today. He writes:letter

1PETER, AN apostle of Jesus Christ, writing to the elect exiles of the dispersion scattered abroad in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,

Right from the beginning he uses three strong nouns to describe those to whom he is writing. He calls them “the elect exiles of the dispersion.” We don’t really understand the importance of these words from the start, but as we read on we discover how significant they are and how they become the foundation from which Peter builds the entire letter. They are full of meaning and hope and they undergird and support everything that Peter wants to say to these precious friends and loved ones of his.

Elect

The word ‘elect’ simply means ‘chosen’ and throughout the Bible ‘chosen’ is an intimate term that is most often used to speak of those whom God loves.

In Ezekiel 16:4 – 14 God paints a picture that beautifully describes what he means when he speaks of his electing choice of Israel. It is a special picture that describes God’s electing love! They had been born helpless and vulnerable, but they were given life, even more than that, they were given status and significance because of the grace of God’s electing love. What great comfort and mercy and love is contained in this word elect! When Peter uses the word to describe us he wants us to know of God’s great love for us It is not to be waved in front of others to declare that we are better than others, it should be used to comfort and encourage those in the faith.

Exiles of the dispersion

The other two nouns that Peter uses make up the phrase “exiles of the dispersion” and yet somehow it would seem that this would be a contradiction when placed alongside the word “elect.” If we are chosen by God, set apart and adorned as special, recipients of his grace and mercy poured out upon us, then how can we be “exiles of the dispersion.” These words bring the thought of pain, loss, of being an outcast and separated from one another.

But for Peter there was no contradiction. As the letter unfolds we will discover that Peter wants to use this phrase “exiles of the dispersion” to describe the normal state of every follower of Jesus while they remain in this world. C.S.Lewis describes it this way:

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all of the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.

According to Peter, this is all a part of the mysterious plan of God. There is no accident that these three nouns make up this phrase – “the elect exiles of the dispersion.” Peter goes on to say that we are:

“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ:”

In the strongest possible way, Peter is saying that God is behind all this. Christians are those who are chosen by God and called to live in this world.

Living as the elect exiles of the dispersion

Now all this could sound like a great big wet sponge to those of us “elect exiles of the dispersion”, especially those suffering for their faith. We are chosen by God, we are set apart for greatness according to his mercy and grace, but we are called to live and to submit in a world that is hostile to the life and message we proclaim. It doesn’t sound too crash hot to me!

But Peter says NO! It is crash hot! It is awesome, and right from the start Peter tells us how it can be so… he proclaims:

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

His introductory prayer of praise sounds strikingly close to the ancient Hebrew prayer called Shemoneh ‘Esreh (Hesreh) or The eighteen blessings. The eighteen blessings were recited three times each day in the synagogue, and each one ended with the refrain, “Blessed be Thou, O Lord.” That meant that the words “Blessed be Thou, O Lord” echoed from the house of God no fewer than 54 times each day

In his letter to us today, Peter calls upon us, wherever we are, to stand and praise God, to bless God, as it were, with eighteen blessings, because he knows that when the blessings are made by the faithful, their hearts and minds will be transported across the distance that separates them from their homeland. In the context of these churches – exiled from Jerusalem – it takes them back to the temple to the land and people they had to leave behind, a land that is intimately connected to their soul even their very sense of being.

For us, as we rise to our feet and Bless God we to are transported to our spiritual home. For now we may be elect exiles in a world in which we don’t belong, but when we lift our voices in praise we are transported into the very presence of the one with whom we will spend eternity.