We can almost see them – an ordinary group of early Christians, somewhere in the early Mediterranean world. They’re likely worshipping in someone’s house. Their teacher reads to them this morning’s text, taken from what we call Peter’s first letter.
These newly baptized believers’ teacher begins by telling them that they resemble what verse 2 calls “newborn babies.” After all, God’s Holy Spirit has recently been given them new birth. So the members of Peter’s first audience have just begun to live as Christians.
Verse 4 also implies that many of these new Christians have shared Christ’s fate. They’ve suffered “rejection” by their families and friends, a rejection all too familiar for God’s people.
Hussein was a Kuwaiti who had been a Christian for less than two years. He lived under the threat of legal execution after an Islamic court convicted him of apostasy. The court also directed that Ali’s marriage be dissolved and all his possessions be distributed to his children. His estranged wife also refused to let him visit those children because he became a Christian.
“Newborns” like Hussein sometimes endure rejection by people whom they love. Their teacher insists, however, that they are, in the words of verse 4, “chosen by God and precious to him.” What our world has rejected, God has chosen, not because we deserve God’s favor, but simply because God mercifully loves us.
God views people whom most of their world views as worthless as “precious,” as like valuable gemstones. God’s adopted sons and daughter are, in fact, so precious to God that God sent God’s only Son to die for ordinary but chosen folks like those who proclaim and hear 1 Peter 2.
God has chosen these Christians, Peter reports in verse 5, to be a “royal priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” At one time only special people were priests. Now, however, Peter insists that every baptized person is a priest who can offer gifts to God on behalf of the world.
At one time God largely applied verse 9’s terms like “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” to Israel. God gave Israelites such a close relationship with himself that their access to God was priestly. Our holy God lived among them, making them holy.
The people of Israel, however, broke God’s covenant with them. They stained themselves with immorality and idolatry, in other words, most unholy things. The Israelites, as a result, made themselves “not a people” (10).
God, however, promised a marvelous restoration. God vowed to gather a remnant of Israel to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. Yet God also promised to make a remnant of Gentiles part of God’s chosen, holy nation. So now Peter can call Jewish and Gentile baptized people a “royal priesthood.” After all, now all Christians are chosen, royal, holy, God’s own in Christ.
Yet since that may sound strange to people who hardly think of ourselves as royalty, think of how it sounded even stranger to those early Christians. Those that included Peter’s first audience were a tiny minority that seemed unimportant.
So why did God choose this tiny group of ordinary-seeming Christians? While citizens of the 21st century generally link chosenness to privilege and comfortable lives, here Peter links it to responsibility. After all, in verse 9 the apostle insists God chose God’s people so that we “may declare the praises of him who called” us “out of darkness into his wonderful light.” When God’s precious people are baptized, God calls us to proclaim God’s “praises” and “mighty deeds.”
“Once we were not a people,” the teacher adds in verse 10. At one time Jesus’ followers were nobodies who had nothing in common with each other. Now, however, we can look around the global church and see family. God has chosen all who are baptized into Christ Jesus to be royalty, members of God’s royal family, not only God’s adopted children, but also Christian brothers and sisters.
Now God expects members of God’s royal family to make “declaring” God’s “praises” a priority. Worship services resemble family reunions where we gather with our family to praise God, not to gain his favor, but to respond to his grace.
We actively seek the blessing that God certainly promises to God’s dearly beloved people when we worship the Lord. However, giving, not receiving, is at the heart of our worship. So God’s people gather weekly to, among other things, declare God’s praises.
However, since God also calls God’s adopted children to declare God’s praises to the people who surround us, we may be like the Jewish Christian who had an urgent question he wanted to ask God. When he got to heaven, God told him “I’ve been waiting for you. What’s your question?”
So the man asked him, “Lord, is it true that we’re the chosen people.” God answered, “Yes, I chose you to be my holy people. But is there more?” “Yes,” replied the Jewish Christian, “what I really want to know is . . .” He paused for a moment before adding, “Would you mind choosing someone else for a change?”
Those who proclaim and hear this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson may be the only preachers God has put in our little corners of God’s world. We may be the only person our neighbors have to “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
I think of the couple that tried very hard to hold their marriage together. They endured repeated attempts at counseling and therapy. Yet after years of effort, the husband and wife regretfully decided to end their marriage. They decided, however, to do their best to do it well.
After their divorce hearing, their judge told the court and them: “I want to say that in all my years on the bench, I have never presided over a divorce like this. This is the way it ought to be done, if it must be done. You two have done this with such class, with such care for your children, and even for one another. How, why did you do it?”
The woman looked at the judge and said, “Why? We’re . . . Christians. We have a duty to do this with love, and with care for one another.” Are we saying too much if we call these flawed yet godly people “priests” who act like “royalty?”
All of her classmates left the new refugee from another part of the world to sit by herself at lunch. She never talked in class. When she did talk, few could understand her because she had a different way of talking.
So when one girl got up and moved to sit with the new girl at lunchtime, her friends looked up and noticed. One of them asked, “Why are you acting so nice to that weird new kid?” The girl answered, “It just seemed like the right thing for me to do.” “But why?” persisted the other girl. “I’m … I’m trying to be a Christian.”
We live in a world of conformists where no one likes to stick out and be noticed. Even Jesus’ followers generally like to just blend in with the crowd. So we’re always amazed when someone stands up and stands alone.
This, however, is one of God’s gifts to us and our gifts to God. When God’s adopted sons and daughters were baptized, God called us to be God priests, to serve Christ and to proclaim his praises. God has, in other words, made us royalty who declare God’s praises.
Of course, we don’t declare God’s praises simply by singing Christian songs or even witnessing to people. God’s priests also declare his praises by acting in Christlike ways toward the people who surround us. Our challenge is to determine just how and when to combine those spoken and acted testimonies.
Some of us are priests partially because some ordinary Christian lived out his or her faith before us in a convincing way. We saw Christ in and through him or her in such a way that we said “yes.” Someone at work, in school or next door declared the “praises of him who called you” in such a way that you felt called.
Yet perhaps that Jewish Christian’s plea to God makes sense. Maybe Jesus’ followers too feel like saying, “Would you mind choosing someone else for a while?” God has, after all, given us a great responsibility. God has shown you and me great mercy so that we can, in turn, show great mercy to others.
So God’s priests pray, “Lord, bless those people who have COVID-19 or are adversely affected by this pandemic. Help those who are caring for and about its various victims. Be merciful to people who must make complex decisions about how to deal with us. Lord, be with people whom physical distancing had made extra sad or lonely.”
How do you think God would answer priests like us? Our text suggests that he’d tell his royal children, “What more do you want me to do? I’ve given you my Son – go share his good news with the lost. I’ve given you my Holy Spirit – trust him to guide you as you address the injustices of your society.”
God’s dearly beloved people may sometimes feel like responding to God, “Would you mind choosing someone else for a change?” Those who proclaim 1 Peter 2 might, however, invite our hearers to imagine if each of us were to totally submit to God and live like God’s chosen priests.
What if every one of Jesus’ followers would try to touch just one person with God’s love every day, even if its via the phone or an email? How many people would we touch? Now multiply that by the number of Christians in our own communities. How many needy people could we impact on a daily basis?
The need in this time of pandemic is perhaps especially great. Our gifts, however, are even greater. For God hasn’t just given God’s adopted sons and daughters a royal calling. The Holy Spirit has also empowered Christians with gifts and the Spirit’s daily presence in our lives.
The racism, poverty and injustice of our world are so pervasive that they may threaten to overwhelm us. Even God’s priests may assume that we can do little to make a difference. That makes me think, however, of a story Dr. Laura Schlesinger tells.
A woman walks down the beach and sees thousands of starfish, bleached and baked by the sun, dying for a lack of water. So she begins to pick them up and throw them back into the water.
A man who meets her walking down the beach asks what she’s doing. The woman replies, “I’m trying to save these dying starfish.” “How can you possibly expect to help all these starfish?” the man asks.
“I don’t expect to help all of them,” the woman answers. “I’m just trying to make a difference, one by one.” With that she turns away, picks up yet another starfish, throws it back into the ocean and says, “That’s one life I saved.”
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Sermon Commentary for Sunday, May 10, 2020
1 Peter 2:2-10 Commentary