When I was in elementary school, I was lousy at kick ball. During recess, whenever the teams were chosen, I always was the very last one anybody wanted on their team. When I was a senior in high school, I lost the election for class president by just a few votes. When I was newly ordained, I put my name in to be senior minister at a church I really, really wanted.
I guess we all know what it feels like not to be chosen. Most of us have some experience with being left out, excluded, dismissed. Actually though, I have much less experience with exclusion than a lot of people in this world; generally I have lived my life with privilege, so much so that, I admit, sometimes I think I did something to deserve it.
We’ve been walking with the ragtag people of God in these Living in The Story journeys. Abraham, Jacob, and then their descendants – enslaved and liberated, following the pillars of fire and cloud toward their Promised Land.
We’ve been watching how YHWH interrupted their lives and called them into relationship.
God’s Covenant with Abraham, with Jacob, with Israel.
God’s own people, chosen and beloved.
When we move to the New Testament, we still see the ancient story of Israel continuing and evolving. Notice how the author of First Peter sees the church as the continuation and enlargement the heritage of Israel.
In M. Eugene Boring’s commentary on First Peter, he says:
As heirs of Israel, Christian readers are addressed as “God’s own people” and those who have “received mercy.” First Peter understands that his Gentile (non-Jewish) readers have been incorporated into the continuing people of God.
This is remarkable: non-Jews sharing in the promises and blessings of the chosen people. Peter’s once-upon-a-time-pagan readers surely are remembering what life was like before Christ and now what their lives have become since Christ.
“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s own people.” Who could have imagined? You can almost hear Kris Kristofferson singing in the background:
Why me Lord?
What have I ever done
to deserve even one
of the blessings I’ve known…
Why me Lord?
What did I ever do
that was worth love from You
and the kindness You’ve shown…
Or if you are more the traditional sort, maybe you hear the soundtrack of Amazing Grace that saved a wretch like me or When nothing else could help – Love lifted me.
Dr. Boring goes on to comment how:
First Peter sees the church as a “chosen race” and a “holy people” not on the basis of nature, genetics, or social standing but by the act of God. Our testimony, therefore, is the declaration of God’s saving acts in history, from creation to eschaton – the completion and culmination of all things.
The testimony and witness of God’s own people is that – from the very beginning of time to the end of history, God is ever acting on behalf of the promises, redeeming all kinds of people and creating a cosmic community grounded in hope and grace.
“You are a chosen race,” (Peter says) “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Like the Israel of the Bible and of history, the church is called into being not for its own sake, but as an expression of the divine mission to the world. The church is charged with God’s mission; the gift becomes a responsibility. (M. Eugene Boring)
“The church” is the people. All of us together.
The community of Christ.
The heritage of God.
“The church” goes far beyond the boundaries that we set up in our little congregations and denominations. “The church” is about – or at least ought to be about – what God has done.
And Peter sees what-God-has-done-in-Jesus-Christ as the perfection of what God did for Israel in the Exodus story. Here in First Peter, images about the life of Israel from the Old Testament are applied directly to the church.
For Peter, this is our story. We all have been incorporated into mercy in this decidedly corporate understanding. Relationship with God is bound up with relationship with God’s people; again and again in Scripture, these two relationships are inseparable. We are not lone rangers. In the community God creates, we are not rugged individualists; we are “a people.”
The Christian witness has taken a beating lately. Every day I see articles about people who have become disenchanted with the church. “Spiritual but not religious” is the fastest growing demographic category, researchers tell us. Some call themselves the “Nones” and others call themselves the “Dones.”
Every where we turn, people who have been left out, who recognize that they are “not chosen” by insider religious types have said: “thanks but no thanks.” Especially young adults – when they see the institutional church being exclusive instead of inclusive, they question the authenticity of our so-called Christian message.
The church is called into being as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people in order that we may tell others, in order that we may demonstrate to others God’s amazing grace and mercy. Our mission is witness, our calling is to give testimony to what God has done in the world and in our lives.
Witness in both word and deed.
Each one of us individually and all of us together must offer bold and faithful testimony to the mercy of a God who – in Jesus Christ – has created a community where all are chosen, where all are welcomed, where all are loved.
Who could have ever imagined!
M. Eugene Boring, 1 Peter (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999).
Why Me Lord Songwriter: James Somerville Copyright: Notting Hill Music