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5th Sunday after Epiphany
1 Peter 2:9-12

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, friends in Christ, I’m learning something about living in northern Minnesota.  Since winters are rather long and rather cold and you’re pretty much cooped up inside, you tend to spend as much time as possible during the summer months outside.  Well, there was a day last summer when my wife had put our children down for a nap and I was either outside or at church working and one or both of our older girls woke up and my wife took them outside for a bit, but in the meantime my 2 year old son woke up and found no one home, he was all alone.  When Katie came back inside he was standing by the window balling and crying, “Where’s mom?”  He felt we had left him all alone.

And think about it, what happens when a young child is unknowingly separated from his or her mom or dad in a large store?  How does the teenager feel when he or she is the last one picked when two groups are picking teams?  What happens when the athlete is cut from the team?  What happens when one friend is never given an invite to the party?  How does it feel for the employee to be suddenly laid off or fired with no good reason?  Either intentionally or unintentionally all of those situations express one of the harshest sentiments that a human being can feel: You are not important, we don’t need you, we don’t really care about you, you don’t really belong.  And that hurts, it cuts, it makes us feel awful.

Why is that?  Because human beings have this intense desire for “belonging.”  We want to be part of something, we want to be included, we want to belong.  What we do NOT want is to be left alone, we don’t want to be left out, to be the outsider, to be left in isolation.  We want to belong, we want to be important, we want our lives to have meaning and purpose.

And so we search for belonging first in our family, then perhaps friends, and if that doesn’t work many find belonging by becoming part of a gang, others by being part of a sports team, or being a member of this organization or group,  or even find belonging at work.  Perhaps part of the success of all these social media sites like Facebook and Twitter is they appeal to our desire to belong, to be part of a network of friends.  But while it’s nice to belong to a family or different groups, none of those things will really fulfill our deepest desire of belonging because none of those things are what is most important.

What is most important is belonging to God.  But that’s not something natural for us, that’s not how any of us was born into this world.  In fact, ever since Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and chose to give their allegiance to Satan, every one of their descendants, you and me included, has been born in their sinfulness, estranged from God, enemies of God, belonging to Satan.  In fact, our text puts it this way, “Once you were not a people,” “Once you had not received mercy.”  God doesn’t need anything, He doesn’t need us, we have nothing to offer him that he doesn’t already have.  Really, by rights, God should have nothing to do with us.  Complete opposites have nothing to do with each other.  Light wants nothing to do with darkness, hot wants nothing to do with the cold, the living don’t really want anything to do with the dead.  So, by rights, God who is perfect, holy, righteous, and just should want nothing to do with sinful humans, like us, who are full of greed, anger, impatience, jealousy, pride, and selfishness.  Are we really that bad?  God even says that our righteous acts are like filthy rags in his sight!  If that’s what our good things look like to him, what about our sin?!

You know, one thing that’s been rather recently re-introduced into my home is dirty diapers.  Once that diaper is removed it doesn’t belong in our house, it’s stinky, it’s smelly, it’s full of germs, it’s disgusting, the sooner we can get it out of the house and in the garbage, the better!  The sooner that piece of disgustingness is removed from our sight, removed from our present, the better!

That’s how God who is perfect and holy should feel about each one of us.  God ought to say to each one of us, “You wreak with sin, I want nothing to do with you, you are not mine, you don’t belong, the sooner you can be cast away from my presence the better, I don’t want you.”  Ouch!  That’s what we deserve, we deserve this label: NOT the people of God.

But then something happened.  One very dark day God piled the sins of the entire world and laid them on one person.  And since rotten sins of the world were placed on him in justice God abandoned him, turned his back on him, in essence told him, “You do not belong.”  Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  You see, instead of telling you that you don’t belong, God took your sins and put them on Jesus and told Jesus he didn’t belong.  Your rottenness, your filth, your sins…are gone!  And then, through the Word of God and the Sacrament of Baptism God worked an incredible change inside of you.  He took you from unbelief to faith.  He connected you to Jesus, clothed you in the righteous robes of Jesus, and said to you, “Not guilty.”

And so, your status before God has changed!  You are a “chosen people”- God sought you out and brought you to faith.  You are “a royal priesthood” – you are part of God’s royal household and you are a priest, that means you have full and free access to communicate with God, to pray to him directly, to serve him.  You are “a holy nation” – by faith in Jesus you are part of the great army of believers, part of the great Christian church of all time, clothed in Jesus’ holiness.  You are a “people belonging to God” – literally the Greek says, “A people for the purpose of possessing” – The flavor of it is this: God isn’t glumly saying, “Okay, I know I’m stuck with you.  I guess you can be part of My people.”  No.  Rather, God is saying delightedly, “You’re a person whom I WANT as part of my people.  I DESIRE you to be part of my people.  I WANT you as part of my people.”  GOD … wants … ME?!?!?  Yes, that’s exactly what God is saying!  God is saying that He WANTS you and me as part of His people.  What an amazing status you and I have before God all because of Jesus!

And it’s only from knowing who we are that we are God’s special possessions, that we can properly understand why we’re here, what our purpose in life is. Why are we here?  “That you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  In other words, we live our lives to say thank you to God who loved us first.  Our lives are one great big thank you note to God.  We can give glory to God in EVERYTHING we do!

And, that gives your life an amazing value, amazing importance!  Why so?  God tells us: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”  Unbelievers are watching you and me.  They want to know if Christianity makes a difference.  If the unbeliever looks at us believers and sees us being just as angry, just as selfish, just as worldly, just as impatient, unkind, etc., as the rest of the world, the unbeliever is going to think, “Well, what’s the point of Christianity?  What’s the point of going to church?  After all, they don’t seem to be living any better than I am!”

But contrast, if the unbeliever sees us as being honest, kind, patient, caring, fair, loving, forgiving, unselfish, etc., the unbeliever is going to think, “I wonder what those people have?  In fact, I think I’d like to have what they have!”  And that often opens up opportunity for us to talk to people about Jesus, and what He’s done.

So what does that say about your life?  It tells us that the way we live our lives is HUGELY important!  It tells us that the way we live our lives has amazing impact!  Now, we want to be clear.  The good things that we do in life – God doesn’t need them, he doesn’t need anything.  We don’t need them because we have all we need in Jesus.  But the good things that we do in life are hugely important to unbelievers.  Often the way we live our lives opens up opportunities for us share the message of the Savior with others.  And so, God may use our lives to have an eternal impact on other people!  Talk about purpose, importance, value!  Why am I here?  To allow others to see the love of God in me and through me, so that others might end up in heaven!  Amazingly important!

But do we do it perfectly?  No.  We still fail, we still come up short.  But Jesus didn’t fail.  And since He didn’t fail and since He went to the cross to willingly pay for all your sins, you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God!  You are a person whom God wants as His very own.  And knowing that we’re empowered and motivated to be who God wants us to be.

So, are you a child wanting to be included, a teenager looking to fit in, an adult searching for a sense of belonging?  Look to your God, your saving God, you belong to Him, and that’s what matters most!  Amen.