Sunday, August 12, 2007

Psalm 33:12-22 (1 Peter 2:9-10) - “We’re a Chosen People. . .We’re a Holy Nation”

11th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14)
(Year C - Lutheran Service Book Readings)
Thursday, August 9, and Sunday, August 12, 2007

We’re a chosen people. (sung)

Repeat this after me.

We’re a chosen people. (congregation repeats)
We’re a royal priesthood. (congregation repeats)
We’re a holy nation. (congregation repeats)

That’s a little melody line that was used at the National Youth Gathering in Orlando to start each mass event. The leader sang the line, and then 26,000 youth and leaders repeated it back, singing these words from our theme verse from 1 Peter chapter 2, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

I’ll warn you right now that this won’t be the only sermon where I make reference to the National Youth Gathering. Our team of 15 youth and 3 adults had an incredible experience, and they are coming back with a vision for how to share that enthusiasm for the Lord, a specific plan they’ve already started working on, so I know I’ll talk about the National Youth Gathering again in a sermon in September.

I want to tell you about the National Youth Gathering, because it was so wonderful to spend five days hearing God’s Word, worshipping, singing, dancing, praying, and celebrating Jesus Christ with 26,000 other people. But I also want to tell you about it, because it helped us really realize that God has chosen us—all of us—to be His people, His chosen ones, His priesthood, His servants, His holy nation, a people belonging to God. Which brings us back to the song. Sing it again, repeating after me.

We’re a chosen people. (congregation repeats)
We’re a royal priesthood. (congregation repeats)
We’re a holy nation. (congregation repeats)

When Peter in his letter says that we are chosen, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, he’s connecting us to the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, Israel was the chosen one, the priesthood, the holy nation, the people belonging to God, but now that Christ has come, Peter is showing us that we’re a chosen people, we’re a holy nation. All of the blessings and promises that God showered upon Israel in the Old Testament now apply to us through Jesus.

In fact, that’s the connection to be made with our psalm reading today from Psalm 33. When Psalm 33 says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,” it is talking about us. We as believers in Christ, disciples of Jesus, the Church of God, we are the nation that is blessed by God. And when I say we are the nation, I’m not talking about our country, our physical, governmental, geographical nation-state.

One of our Christian clipart collections in the office includes the image you have on your insert in today’s bulletin. The one in the top left-hand corner that shows an American flag, a church steeple, and those words from Psalm 33, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD.” That image sends the completely wrong message if we really understand Psalm 33, if we really understand what it means to be the Church, if we really understand Peter’s words about being a holy nation.

The clipart image implies that we’re blessed because we’re Americans, that Psalm 33 is talking about America trusting in God, that somehow being an American is why we are a chosen people, a holy nation. This clipart is completely misleading. The word “nation” is Psalm 33 has nothing to do with the United States of America. Find a pencil or pen in your pews, find a big, fat marker if you happen to have one in your purse or pocket, and cross that image out. “The nation whose God is the Lord” isn’t about America; “the nation” we’re talking about is the Church, Christians wherever they are.

Think about it for a moment. If this clipart image was right, it would mean that anyone outside the United States of America is not included in the full promise of God. If America is the blessed nation, then what about my friend from the seminary who was called to serve a congregation in Canada? Are he and his congregation less blessed? Could they change the clipart to have a Canadian flag like you have on your insert, or would they just always have to say, “If only we were Americans, we could be that blessed”?

That can’t be what Psalm 33 and 1 Peter are about. When we sing, We’re a holy nation, it’s not about being American or Canadian. Cross out the clipart image with the Canadian flag.

Now, of course, you see there in the bottom left-hand corner another option we might think of right away. If America isn’t the blessed nation that Psalm 33 is talking about, then perhaps it is talking about Israel, today’s Israel. Except that right off the bat we’ve got to admit that Israel doesn’t seem to be the blessed nation talked about in the Old Testament. The borders of modern Israel don’t match the borders described in the God’s original Promised Land land grant. And even more than that, how can we as believers in Jesus, those who believe that Jesus is the Promised Savior, the One who fulfills God’s plan of salvation from the Old Testament, how could we call modern Israel the blessed nation when today’s Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One?

Modern Israel can’t be what Psalm 33 and 1 Peter are about. Cross that one out, too. Make sure you’ve crossed out the clipart images with the American flag, the Canadian flag, and the Israeli flag. Cross those three out until you’ve just got the one in the bottom right-hand corner, the one with just the church steeple, the one with no flag, no nation-state. Psalm 33, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,” this verse isn’t about geographical boundaries; it’s about the nation of God that transcends, goes across all boundaries, the nation of Christ, the Church, the followers of Jesus throughout the world.

We’re a holy nation. A holy nation of God, chosen citizens of heaven, citizens of the kingdom of God.

Look at the reading from Hebrews chapter 11. The writer holds up Abraham as an example of having faith in God. Abraham trusted God when God promised that Abraham’s offspring would become a great nation. Yet, even when Abraham had been shown the Promised Land, a geographical location, even when Abraham had seen that the generations after him would call that Promised Land their home, still Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” It wasn’t about physical geography; it was about being called, chosen, and brought together to be a people belonging to God.

And so in that way, we’ve got to get rid of the other clipart images, and really more than clipart, we’ve got to get rid of that idea that somehow we’re more blessed because we’re Americans or that America is equal to Israel in the Old Testament or that God brought about His plan of salvation on July 4, 1776. Instead, we say with the writer of Hebrews, “We are longing for a better country—a heavenly one.”

We’re a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, because of Jesus Christ, because of the cross and resurrection, because of God’s grace, because of God’s continuous work in the world to bring people to a knowledge of Him, because of God’s Word, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That’s why you are blessed, that’s why you are chosen, that’s why you are forgiven, that’s the source of your true identity, that’s why you have the promise of living forever after death.

And that’s why I was so disappointed that one of our speakers at the National Youth Gathering was wearing a polo shirt with an American flag all across it. It’s like this clipart image with the American flag and the church steeple—that speaker’s shirt implied that we’re chosen because we’re American.

When that speaker appeared on stage, it took my eyes off of the truth of what Peter is saying. When Peter says that we are a holy nation, it has nothing to do with being Americans. Peter had no clue that America would ever exist. We’re a holy nation as the Church. The Church is the blessed nation, receiving all of God’s promises that He made to Israel in the Old Testament. The Promised Land isn’t between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts; the Promised Land is in eternal life. Yes, America was called the New World when the Europeans discovered it, but we’re waiting for the true New World, the day when Jesus returns again and brings us to live with Him forever.

This is the truth, a worldwide truth, and no matter where you were born, live, or die, no matter where your passport is from, you are citizens of God’s holy nation, God’s Church, God’s people called by His Holy Spirit, God’s chosen ones in Jesus Christ.

So with those other clipart images crossed out, I want you to stop thinking of flags and geography and nation-states, and then let’s read Psalm 33 again. This time apply those words to the Church, to all people around the world who have been given faith in Jesus Christ. Look at Psalm 33 as I walk through it.

Blessed is the nation,
[Blessed is the Church] whose God is the LORD,
the people God chose for his inheritance,.
[the believers in Jesus that God chose to inherit eternal life,
a much bigger promise that any kind of Manifest Destiny].
From heaven the LORD looks down and sees ALL mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches ALL who live on earth—
he who forms the hearts of ALL,
who considers everything they do.
No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
[No president, prime minister, congress, parliament, or dictator
is saved by his military].
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
[A tank, fighter jet, submarine, or battleship cannot save].
But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him,
[wherever they live],
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
[The Lord looks upon all people everywhere
who have been given faith through the Holy Spirit],
[He looks upon them] to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.
[He watches over them physically.
Blesses them in their physical needs,
but more than that, He has their eternal salvation in mind].
We wait in hope for the LORD;
[We the Church throughout the world wait in hope for the Lord].
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
[It’s not just a phrase on a coin, “In God We Trust.”
It’s our faith, our belief, what guides us as a Church:
We trust in the Name of God—
and not just some generic god.
We trust in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We trust in this God who will save us.]
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD,
even as we put our hope in you.
[Here we are not saying, “God bless America.”
Certainly we pray that God will watch over our country,
but when we pray in Psalm 33,
when we pray for the nation to be blessed,
we are asking for God’s unfailing love to be on His Church,
His people in Christ around the world.
May we be blessed by Him—
strengthened in faith,
forgiven for our sins,
prepared for service in His name,
protected from the evil one who would rip away our faith.
And we are confident of God’s love and protection upon us, because]

We’re a chosen people. (congregation repeats)
We’re a royal priesthood. (congregation repeats)
We’re a holy nation. (congregation repeats)

It is through Jesus Christ that you are chosen to be His servants, to be His holy Church, taking His message of forgiveness and salvation to all people.