One of the great things about the National Youth Conference that we send our teenagers to attend every other summer is to help them see that they are a part of something much larger than they realize. The Evangelical Free Church has about 1400 congregations, and when the youth of all of them gather for a national conference, it can have about five to six thousand attendees. Our students get to see that they are far from alone in the world as Christians.
We all are bolstered by that awareness. Sometimes we get the Elijah complex — you know, from the Old Testament when the prophet ran away from Jezebel and felt all alone, saying, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
God basically says to him, “Oh, shut up and stop your whining! Here are some tasks I am sending you to go do; I have 7,000 in Israel that have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
The opening and closing words of New Testament letters just seem to be simple greetings and howdys and fare-thee-wells. But they contain some interesting meaning. So don’t overlook them.
In our final thoughts on 1 Peter as we wrap up this series, we see his farewell words coming on the heels of teaching about the common experience of persecution around the world, to essentially be saying to the chosen strangers to whom he wrote, “Hey, there are a lot of us in this together.”
5:12 – With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.
13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love.
Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
Peter sends greetings from two well-known personages of the early church era: Silas and Mark. Along with that are greetings from “she who is in Babylon,” which is a code way of saying, “those who are in the church in Rome — the center of the cultural / political world — send their greetings to you as fellow chosen strangers.”
The greeting with a kiss is the Eastern, cultural greeting, sorta like us giving a quick hug and slap on the shoulder of someone you see as a close teammate and member of the family of faith. When I have travelled in these parts of the world and been obligated to observe the custom, I always had to remind myself … it’s right, then left … always afraid I’d “zig” when they “zagged” and we’d have an awkward meet-me-in-the-middle moment!
But something else has always been true of these travels I have made, often to places and gatherings of Christians where we were unable to communicate well. There was an unmistakable feeling in the room that we were family … that we were in this thing together.
An example of this was in Uzbekistan. We were in a church gathering of about 75-100 people. Our hosts pointed to a number of men sitting in the back, telling us they were KGB agents who watch everything that goes on. Just today, I read in a newsletter that reports on persecution around the world that in Tashkent, Uzbekistan (that place we were), recently the government came into a church gathering and beat many of the Christians assembled there. I find myself wondering if it is the place we were a number of years ago.
We are in it together — with those brothers on the other side of the world, and with each other. And if we are in it together, for it to work, we have to be together.
Imagine a Thanksgiving dinner with relatives who gather from near and far. One guy runs in just at dinner time, says nothing much, grabs a Turkey leg and gobbles it down; and then he stuffs some stuffing in his jacket that he never took off, finally leaving without saying anything. That would be pretty weird.
But, just as strange as the relative pictured above is a family system that allows this to happen without seeking to engage the person. Imagine them all talking to each other and watching this scene happen without any personal interaction!
And beyond that, just as strange, is a family system where one part of the family has an unresolved offense with another part of the family at the other end of the table, and everyone in between needs to quietly keep it sorted out and navigate the estranged feelings.
You would say that is a weird family, but too often that is what a church family is like. It is just as weird to be a Christian who runs into church on Sunday just after the service starts, eats up what is there, and then runs out to the car without interacting or getting engaged in the family life. It is equally as strange to watch and allow a person to do that, and really strange to allow unresolved conflicts to fester over extended times.
We are in this faith thing together as chosen strangers. Times could get really bad. We need to be united with one another.
(Our devotional writing will be gone for about a week, but then we will be back with our next series that talks about “What is the Gospel?” This will be the 20th sermon series with written devotionals on this site.)