Thursday, June 26, 2014

Aliens. (1 Peter 2:11-12 - Sermon) 
Jesus' life was entirely alien to the ways of the world. The culture of the Kingdom of God is alien to the spirit of violent, selfish empire. Followers of Jesus are called to live differently than those around them, ministering life even in the midst of darkness. 1 Peter 2:1-12 describes an alien people, a strange people, a set-apart people sent into the world as ambassadors of the good news of a new order, a new kingdom to come, and a completely different kind of King that has turned the whole corrupt world upside down.

(Of course Peter isn't literally talking about extraterrestrial life. He is talking about an alien life, a different and separate and wholly other way of being. However, when this sermon was shared on June 22, it sparked some interesting conversation about aliens and the gospel. You can read some of my own conclusions from that conversation at the end of this article, posted in a different font after the footer. You can listen to the audio of this sermon in a different window by clicking here.)

1 Peter 2:1-12 (NASB)
Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For this is contained in Scripture:

“Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve,

“The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the very corner stone,”

8 and,

“A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”;

for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

You are an alien. You are a stranger.

The words "alien" and "stranger" here describe someone who is a visitor to another country, yet they keep their citizenship of their native land. They are not settlers, but they do intend to stay.

In some translations it uses the word "exile". In one, it calls us, "refugees". I don't prefer either of these because in English, they both imply people who are the victims of, or, at best, the survivors of, some tragedy. I don't believe 1 Peter intends any such connotation. In this passage, we are not acted upon by our circumstances. On the contrary, we are active. Another translation uses the word "sojourner". I like that. But my favourite translation is the one found here in the New American Standard: Alien.

An alien is different. It's from another world.
Listen to the full audio of this sermon here.

The first aliens that always come to me mind are the xenomorphs from the Ridley Scott film, Alien, and its sequels. They're a poor general illustration for this message, because they have no culture of which to speak, and are only alien in the most frightful sense of the word.
Pictured: Nightmare Fuel
The next aliens I think of are E.T. and the District 9 aliens. Both of these are visitors to earth, that really want to phone home.
Pictured: All the money
Next time you feel like you want to pray, remember you're an alien and think to yourself, "E.T. phone home".

Sympathetic Character
The District 9 aliens also work because (SPOILERS) when a human being comes in contact with them, he actually begins to change. Setting aside the refugee status of these aliens, and their deep desire to just leave the world behind, they remind me of Christians because we, like them, are carrying an incredibly dangerous living agent of change within us. To come in contact with the Divine Life within a believer is to experience complete metamorphosis, from the inside out (SPOILERS END).

Avatar might give us a similar illustration. The violent, military agent of empire is affected by the love of the alien Navi, becomes part of her people, and then by her is introduced to her Divine Spurce. Then, changed in both mind, heart, and body, he acts on the side of the peaceful alien community in resistance to their enemies, though he had once been one of them. But Avatar is a terrible movie, so I won't bring it up again.
Pictured: Incomprehensibly, all the money.
We aren't attacking this temporal world or infiltrating it. We're visiting, and we're here to share the good news that there are many of us, because the new world of which we are citizens is coming, and the king has already taken possession. It's good news, because he is an entirely different kind of king, one who sets people free.

We're not aliens that ask to be taken to the leader. The question is irrelevant. We don't want people to take us to their leader. We want to take them to our liberator.

In this passage, Peter describes two ways we are to live as aliens in the world. First, we are to resist the desires of our fallen nature that destroy us from within. Secondly, we are to live in active engagement with this world in such a way as to be seen by others for the glory of God.

Abstain From Fleshly Lusts

1 Peter 2:11 (NASB)
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.

We don’t sin by accident. We sin because we still want to. We sin because our old nature still desires it.

James 1:13-15 (NASB)
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

This passage from James always reminds me of one of the most fascinating parasitic relationships in nature of which I’ve ever read. The relationship is between a wasp (Costa Rica - Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga)
Our Villain
and a spider (Plesiometa argyra).
Our Hero
The spider, like most, spins a fairly standard spiral-shaped web to catch its prey. However, when stung by its wasp nemesis and paralyzed, its parasitic enemy lays its egg in the spider’s body, setting into motion a major change in the spider’s most basic behaviour.

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.
On the first few nights of the growth of the wasp spawn, the spider continues to spin webs, and catch and eat insects as usual. But after only a few days, something very strange happens. Instead of the spider’s usual routine awakening just before dawn to spin its regular web, she wakes up much earlier, and builds an entirely different structure:

Pictured: Our Hero's Nightmare Fuel.
The seed of the wasp has taken over the spider’s mind. Soon after this strange new abomination has been erected, the new wasp bursts forth, killing its host, and matures within a cocoon hanging from the centre of the ideal shelter it has built for itself using the castoff body of our poor fallen hero.

Sometimes nature is even more terrifying than some of our best horror fiction.

James’ description of sin and death is much like this relationship of the spider to the wasp. For days, that spider awakens and continues making her web like usual, as though nothing is wrong, though death itself is growing in and on her. No matter how this spider tries to act otherwise, because of the accursed sting, she will eventually be the builder of her own murderer’s home. To live, she needs the death within her to be surgically removed.

Our resistance to the lust of the flesh in 1 Peter will be utterly futile if it does not follow the miraculous intervention of God in our lives to remove our sin from within us, the iniquity from which comes our sin that will eventually lead to our death. Only be death may we be made free from this curse. By our faith in the death of Jesus upon the Roman cross, this sin within us, the seed of our wasp, is crucified along with him. If we die with him, we are also resurrected on the other side of the grave with Jesus, and given the power of God in our very being to resist sin and live for life from that day forward.

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (NASB)
O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus' Cross purchased for us not only a one-time forgiveness, but a lifetime of growing in purity.

1 Peter 1:22-23 (NASB)
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.

1 Peter 2:1-3 (NASB)
Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.

We resist sin by knowing the Word and living according to it. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe (Romans 1:16-17).

2 Peter 1:2-4 (NASB)
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

The Word of God, God’s promises to us, is a gift by which we may partake in the divine nature. We are changed from the inside out. So we do not simply try our hardest not to sin. If that’s all we do, we will fail. Instead, by faith we know and love the Word, and as we apply it to ourselves, we are changed from the inside out by the power of the presence of God.

Aliens are different. Being holy is to be different. Holiness, being set apart, allows us to see God more clearly. In the end, our faith in God’s holy work in us will let us see God face to face. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5).

Be Excellent Aliens To Your Neighbours

1 Peter 2:12 (NASB)
Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Jesus has called us to be holy because God is holy.

1 Peter 1:14-16 (NASB)
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior;

because it is written,

"You shall be holy, for I am holy."

God made a covenant with the people of God in the earth. Before giving the law, God called Israel a "nation of priests".

Exodus 19:4-6 (NASB)
‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. 5 Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”

We are now called to be these priests to the world. We are ambassadors of the coming kingdom. We are to demonstrate the culture and values of the Kingdom of God to our neighbours living in a world still bound by oppression and slavery because of sin.

1 Peter 2:4-5 (NASB)
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

"Alien" also reminds us of the OT law about mercy to the alien. We minister mercy to the aliens, but not as outsiders to needy “others” like a charity. We love those who don't fit in. We don't fit in, either. We love the alien because we also are aliens who are loved by God. We live in solidarity with the most hurting and outcast of the world.

To be "strange" is one of the worst sins of the contemporary world. It is often more acceptable to be a Christian who is hip than holy, even if hip requires a compromise. We are not called to leave the world. We're stinking around. But we should not be surprised if our otherworldly culture strikes our neighbours as strange.

If we are trying very hard to be hip, we are choosing to beg for the affirmation that have made outcasts of those to whom God most calls us to serve. If we seek to hide our alien nature, we lose the opportunity to be even more present to the many in this world who also feel like aliens among us, yet don't have a home like we do. God is ready to grant citizenship to the least likely of the world, no background check or application process necessary. They, like us, are looking for their home. Let us not try so hard to win the favour of the world's most impressively integrated citizens at the expense of the marginalized who are waiting for what we have.

Peter gives us no excuse to separate ourselves from our neighbours. We aren’t squatters living in the lobby of the world just for the night, ready to get away as soon as the sun comes up. We’re renting an apartment, and joining the condo association.

Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NASB)
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, 5 ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. 7 Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’

Life in Christ is about pursuing the beautiful, not avoiding the impure. We live intentionally outward, letting the consequence of the life of God in us to be seen.

Matthew 5:13-16 (NASB)
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Be an alien. Live a life according to the Word of God, in resistance to your flesh. Let the compassion and justice of The Kingdom of God be seen in your life as you love and bless the world in which you have made your home. May God be glorified by all our neighbours as they come to know that the very presence of God has come to dwell among them.

Next Thursday, July 3, 2014: 1 Peter 2:21-25 - Following our Lord, the Suffering Saviour
Next Tuesday, July 1, 2014: Isaiah 11 - The New King and the New Kingdom
Click the image for the complete series.

1 comment:

  1. Here's a question I was asked about aliens after preaching this sermon, and my response. Fun!

    If aliens exist.... Do you think Christ suffered multiple deaths on the many alien planets?

    It's an interesting question for a thought experiment. I don't personally believe in aliens beyond an abstract affirmation that the scientific possibility exists.

    C.S. Lewis took the question seriously. In his space trilogy, aliens are all very honoured to meet humans, because it was in their form that the Creator was incarnated.

    Larry Norman (70s Jesus Freak Rock and Roller) included this line in one of his songs:

    If there's life on other planets
    I'm sure that he must know
    And he's been there once already
    And has died to save their souls

    Pope Francis even considered the question just last May 12. As an illustration of the openness of the gospel, he said that he would be willing to baptize an alien if they wished. His intention wasn't to make any statement beyond inclusivity, but I think he made a good point. He reads the Bible's narrative as a story of the doors of salvation being progressively opened wider, always stretching the boundaries of the grace of those within it. I read it the same way.

    I think that we can actually find an answer in scripture. Romans 8 says this (verses 20 and 21):

    "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. "

    The full story of salvation is one not just for individual humans, or humanity as a unit, but for all of Creation. The chapter is saying that this full redemption is accomplished through Christ's death, is working its way through the world now, and will eventually result in a complete restoration that is as much a resurrection of all of Creation as was Jesus' resurrection a restoration and glorification of his body.

    So, if aliens exist, and if we believe that they are part of Creation, then I think that C.S. Lewis' theoretical answer is harmonious with scripture. Christ's death is Once For All, and I think that can include aliens.