Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Chosen Ones

1 Peter 2:2-10

I knew an older gentleman who lived on the property at the Santa Barbara church. He had served as a kind of property manager, but by the time I met him, he was around 80 and had slowed down just a bit. Still, I was amazed at how he could take junk and turn it into something useful. Indeed, in Harold’s eyes, it seemed, nothing was useless. All you needed was a little imagination.

The world is full of people, communities, and even nations that feel useless. We call it low self-esteem. It plays havoc on people’s lives, and in some cases even pushes people into violence. Just think about the young man who went on a killing spree just a year ago at Virginia Tech or the boys who shot up Combine High School several years back. In both cases the perpetrators believed that they were worthless and had nothing to live for. While these are extreme examples, the anger and humiliation that they felt afflict many in our world.
Peter writes to people on the margins of society and tells them that although the world might not be paying attention to them, God is. In fact, he tells them that they are God’s chosen ones. In this passage, Peter uses a number of images to express this sense of chosenness.

Peter begins by describing God’s people as living stones, which God is using to build the new temple. And while we’re the living stones, Jesus is the cornerstone, a stone that the world itself rejected and tossed aside. But, God has reversed this verdict with the resurrection, so that what the world has rejected God is using to build his wondrous new Temple.

This imagery has a number of implications. First of all, it suggests that we’re all part of a building, and therefore we don’t stand alone. Who we are, and what we do, as the people of God, affects the lives of others. Paul uses similar imagery when speaking of God’s people as parts of a body, with each member being important. As Paul reminds us; We each bring different gifts to the community, without which the body is diminished.
The use of the temple imagery reminds Peter that Temples have priests. So, even as we are the living stones, we’re also the priests who serve this temple. In this capacity as priests, we come before God offering up worthy sacrifices that bring honor to God. But, we’re not just called to be priests, we’re called to be part of a royal priesthood. Even as we serve as intercessors for one another before God, we’re also heirs of God’s kingdom and called to share in God’s reign. To be called a priest and a member of royalty suggests that we’re somebody important.
If we’re part of God’s Holy Temple, both as its foundation and as its royal priests, we’re also called to be part of the chosen race and holy nation. Here he picks up on the idea that God has chosen the Jewish people to be his own. That is the message that begins early in the Old Testament. We watch as God chooses Abraham and Sarah and promises to make their descendants a people of purpose. Through them God will bless the nations. What Peter does here is expand that calling to include not only the Jews, but Gentiles as well. It’s not that God rejects Jews in favor of Gentiles, it is simply the next stage in God’s work of reconciliation is beginning.
To be chosen, Peter says to us, is to be made clean. We’re not just a chosen people, we’re a holy one as well. Since it appears that this letter is addressed to those being baptized, it would seem that Peter is suggesting that in our baptism God washes us clean, making it possible for us to start life anew. As Paul would say, the old is gone and everything is made new. Indeed, God can take what seems like junk and make it something of value. As a result there’s no one person, who’s without value in the eyes of God.

We call this the doctrine of election. This doctrine suggests that we will find the key to our identity in our relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s not our family, jobs, education, places of birth, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or even our ethnicity. What defines us is Christ. Everything else might be important, but they’re secondary to this relationship. As Paul wrote in Galatians, "there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise." (Gal. 3:28-29). It’s fine for us to celebrate our heritage and our accomplishments, but no matter whether we’re Hispanic, Ukrainian, African-American, Irish, English, Italian, Korean or Japanese, ultimately we are who we are because we’re chosen by God. When we see each other in this light then the differences disappear into the background, and we discover that we’re one people, one nation, and that we’re created by and loved by God.

Chapter 2 begins with the admonishment to "get rid of all malicious behavior and deceit" (vs. 1, NLT). Why does Peter call on them to put away such things? For one thing, Peter wants them to know that their character proclaims the mighty acts of God to the world. William Willimon tells of a young girl who displayed this sense of purpose:

Everyone else in her group at school left the new girl to herself at lunch. She was new, from another part of the world. She never spoke in class and when she did, few could understand her, with her strange way of talking, her accent.

So when she got up and moved over to her table in the cafeteria at lunchtime, people looked up and noticed. Later, when one of the others asked, "what you doin' actin' so nice to that weird new girl?" She responded, "It just seemed like the right thing for me to do."

"Why?" persisted the other girl.

"I'm, I'm trying to be a Christian," she said in reply.

Without words, this young girl raised the banner of God's kingdom by attempting to include an outsider.

Willimon comments further:

In this world of conformists and people who "go along to get along," it is rather amazing that there's anyone who stands up, stands alone. Yet such are the gifts of God. Our gifts to God.1

We have been chosen by God to embody God’s love for the world. In order for this to happen God has made us to be the living stones of his temple so that we might "proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." Let us, therefore, seek to embody God's glory and love for the world God has created. To do so will expand the borders of God’s kingdom so that others might enjoy that relationship with God that we have discovered. And when we do this, we bring honor and glory to the one who has created us with a purpose.
1. William Willimon, Pulpit Resources, (April, May, June, 1999): 25.
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church
Lompoc, CA
5th Sunday of Easter
April 20, 2008

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