Last Sunday Kolby kicked off a new sermon series called “Fitting In” based on 1 Peter. We carefully selected this book of the Bible for the Church Season at Restoration because the ideas in our Community Group study on Jamie Smith’s book You Are What You Love beautifully dovetail with the message of the Apostle Peter to first century Christians.
We think of the Apostle Peter fishing on the Sea of Galilee but by the time 1 Peter was written his life had changed greatly. Though the Church got its start in Jerusalem, it quickly scattered and spread through neighboring regions because of wide-spread persecution. Peter the provincial fisherman is now in Rome, the capital of the expansive Roman empire, and offering pastoral guidance to churches in Roman cities located in what is now Northern Turkey.
The Apostle Peter seems to be writing to both Jewish and Gentile Christians who are learning what it means to follow Jesus while living in a culture that does not accept or welcome their new faith. To be a Roman citizen was to live in a culture permeated with pagan liturgies centered around the gods of the ancient world and the worship of the emperor. Paganism offered the promise of control over the unpredictable elements of life—offer the right god or goddess the right offering and he or she will cause you to succeed. Your trade likely had a patron god or goddess. Your trade guild likely met in the temple of that god or goddess. To work in your trade and have a camaraderie with your fellow tradesmen was to do so under the watchful eyes of the gods.
In addition, the Roman Emperor declared himself divine and demanded worship. His image appeared everywhere and was honored by Roman citizens. In wartime he was praised as a savior and in peacetime as a benevolent benefactor. The Christian declaration that Jesus is Lord ran completely contrary to the demand for total loyalty to the emperor. In the language of Jamie Smith, Christians in the Roman Empire had learned a secular liturgy that gave them the habits to live as successful Roman citizens. But now that a rival King Jesus laid claim to the lives of his followers and they needed to find a new way of living in the world.
The Apostle Peter writes to give them a new liturgy that will form them for their new hope for the future, that is “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” He gives them a new identity as exiles, people living far from their true homeland, and calls them to find their new identity not as Roman citizens but as the Church. As they learn to be God’s holy people at work, in relationships, and even in their civic responsibilities, God is forming them as citizens of his coming Kingdom. Following Jesus has caused them to no longer fit in their communities but they fit perfectly in his Church.
It is my hope that you are able to hear Peter’s words to the first century Church and that God uses this season to speak to Restoration about rejecting the secular liturgies that permeate our lives. He is calling us to be shaped by the worship and practice of the Church. We are made to fit in to the CHURCH!