“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s chosen strangers in the world … ” 1 Peter 1:1a CEB
There had been many prayers offered on behalf of those heading off to a communist country. It was an 11-day learning trip for 11 seminarians. Several books had already been read and discussed. Books about the culture, religious beliefs, occult practices, and government of the country. The leader of the trip had lived in the country before it became a communist country; he was filled with stories from his time there. With every book that was read, discussion held, and story told there was a sense of great anticipation for the trip. The day had finally come for the trip to begin. On the flight down there was a reverent silence in anticipation of what God would do with this group of future pastors. Then the plane landed in Havana, Cuba and everyone deplaned and headed to the terminal. Once in the terminal the group went through the Cuban equivalent of Customs and Border Control. It was very different from the United States process. It was way more serious and it seemed like much more was on the line. Once cleared we all headed to get our bags and meet our transportation. I had been a little delayed in getting my bag. When I looked up, my group was nowhere to be seen. I walked outside of the terminal to the transportation area and looked for my group, but they were not there. I stood still, in a little bit of shock, for what seemed like 10-15 minutes. There was a sea of Cuban people waiting for their family members to arrive. A sea of Cuban men and women and children and one lone gringo. The feeling was rather immediate that I was a stranger in a foreign land.
Have you ever had that feeling? It was extremely uncomfortable to be standing there alone in a communist country and not know a soul. It turns out I was only standing there a couple of minutes before one of my group came around the corner and asked what I was doing. Of course, I walked very fast toward them and was reunited with my group. For a moment, though, I truly felt like a stranger in a foreign land—and it wasn’t a pleasant feeling. The rest of the trip was amazing and the people of Cuba were incredibly kind, generous, and loving. We were greeted in every place we went with radical hospitality and treated like celebrities. Yet, we were still strangers in a foreign land. This was again evident when we were walking through Havana toward the end of our trip. We were approaching the United States Embassy in Havana and the closer we got the more Cuban military personnel we began to see. We were being watched. When I went to the Hotel National to call Debbie it was obvious I was a stranger in a foreign land as an attendant took the number and sent me to a completely enclosed glass phone booth. As we talked for a prescribed number of minutes I was told that someone would be listening to our conversation and it could be cut off if they felt I was sharing too much. It all led me to feel like a stranger in this beautiful country full of wonderful people.
The Apostle Peter seems to want the followers of Jesus in his day to understand that this is the reality of their existence. They are strangers in the world in which they live. They have been scattered in different directions and live in very different places. They have two things in common: 1) they are chosen, and 2) they are strangers in the world. It is precisely because of their first commonality that they find themselves having the second piece in common. Those who follow Jesus are chosen by Jesus to carry out the will of God in the world. Immediately, this puts them at odds with the world in terms of purpose and worldview. To be chosen by Jesus was to literally be set apart from the culture and world in which they lived. There would be those who would seek to persecute them, throw them in prison, and even kill them because they were chosen. They were truly strangers in the world because they followed Jesus and were chosen to live for him. I believe this is still true today. Those who choose to follow Jesus are chosen to live for Jesus in this world. That means we are strangers in the world in which we live—in Valrico, Riverview, FishHawk, Brandon, Dover, Seffner, Tampa, and wherever we go. We are chosen and set apart to see as Jesus sees, love like Jesus loves, and follow Jesus in everything we do.
The question is, “Do you feel chosen?” or “Do you feel like a stranger in the world?” If you answer yes to either question it is because you are chosen by Christ. When we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ we are chosen. Chosen to do God’s will with our life. Chosen to represent Jesus in everything we do everywhere we go. We are chosen to be used by God. So will you allow yourself to be used by God today? Will you follow the Holy Spirit’s leading today? Will you talk to someone who needs someone to listen? Will you offer love to someone who is hurting? Will you be a chosen stranger in the world today? It is as simple as a conversation, a listening ear, a hug, a smile, a helping hand. Go and be that stranger because you are chosen by Jesus.
This Sunday we begin a new message series entitled “Chosen.” We will explore the way we are chosen by Jesus and set apart as strangers in the world. We will explore what it means to live as chosen people as we work our way through the New Testament books of 1 and 2 Peter. I hope you will join me this Sunday at 8:15|NINE45|11:15 a.m. for worship. You can also go to SAUMC.NET and join us via livestream. The best is yet to come. I love you all and can’t wait to see you in church!