Who Are We? A Chosen Race - 1st Peter 2:9-10
I remember the pressure. All the kids in the neighborhood, really, as many kids as could get there from several streets around, would gather on that concrete slab, as we stood in the shadow of the backboard. The top two players would be identified and named as captains. The rest of us would stand around as each captain made their decisions. As selection after selection was made, the tension increased. None really wanted the “honor” that often fell upon me—the “honor” of being the last one chosen. I have to tell you, as I think back upon those days, I think being chose last carried with it more pressure than any other person chosen, because I think that those of us, and some of you here may one of us, but those of us chosen last felt the pressure to perform at such a level that the next time a game was played, we would be selected sooner, maybe even be named captain.
I will have to confess, though, that any dream I had of taking the court and proving myself to be worthy of being a first round draft pick, or even a captain, was quickly taken away when, on a rare occasion, the ball was ever passed to me. Once the ball was in my hands, providing I caught it, any efforts to move—dribble, pass, shoot, quickly reminded me of who I was—a non-athletic, uncoordinated, accident-prone, bookworm, basketball playing wannabe. No matter how many times I tried, the skill and coordination were not there. Sometimes we need events or people to remind us of who we are, or who we are supposed to be.
In the first ten verses of the second chapter of this first letter of Peter, Peter is reminding the people of the early church who they are supposed to be. Peter is not writing to a group of people who need to be humbled and “put back in their place” as the basketball did with me, but he was writing to a people who had been repeatedly humbled by the world and needed to be reminded, as the Church, who they truly were. Peter was writing to the Jews who, having heard and received the good news of Christ, had become the first Christians…they were not those that were centered there in Jerusalem, but those who, possibly having been in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, were scattered around Asia Minor, there families most likely having settled in those places during the previous exiles. They would have found themselves in the minority, or possibly alone, overshadowed by non-Christian Jews and the worshippers of the Roman and Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses, and most likely persecuted. It would have been easy for them to (1) get discouraged in their faith as they were questioned, put down, tortured, and watched others put to death, or (2) begin to slip back into their lives before Christ and the outpouring of the grace-giving Holy Spirit…lives marred by sin or conformed to the society around them, especially if slipping back into those lives would help them avoid persecution—they would be seen as “normal.” They needed to be reminded of who they were supposed to be. The truth of who they were, and who, as the Church, we are called to be, is summarized, I believe, in these verses: “But you are a chosen race, 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. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Each week, for the next several weeks, we are going to explores verses, asking “Who are we?” and answering it with part of this passage…today, as we ask “Who are we?” we hear Peter remind us, we are “a chosen race.”
“A chosen race.” I have to tell you, as I first began working on this sermon, I almost balked…I looked for other translations…I thought, “there’s got to be some better way to say this, but, really, there isn’t. Why would I hesitate? I hesitated because the connotation of “chosen race” brings to my mind so many evils in this world: the evil of Nazi Germany, the evil in the United States of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups, the evil of genocides and ethnic cleansings in Bosnia, Rhwanda, Cambodia, Iraq and Dafur (among other places). It conjured up, for me, this notion of folks that would hold up that one race of people, based on the color of their skin or the nation of origin, is superior to every race or ethnic group, and because of this, those “inferior” races should be eliminated. I know, and knew, that is not what Peter was getting at, but it still caused me to pause in the preparation of this sermon…until I came across a very powerful word in one of the commentaries I was reading (and those of you that are friends on Facebook will recognize this): “Especially in a time of ongoing racial tension Christians rightly recall that as Christians (not as Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, or Asian people) we are a chosen race. For Christians who take 1 Peter seriously, the line on the application that asks for race ought to be filled in: 'Christian.'"[i] I told Anita Friday morning that I think that will now be the answer I fill in on any of those applications and forms and other requests that try to force a division amongst people based on the color of our skin or ethnic origin.
So, then, if that is not what it means for us to claim to be “a chosen people,” then what does it mean? It simply serves to remind us that we are chosen…we didn’t choose God, from the beginning it is about God doing the choosing, all of God’s Word is a testament of that:
God chose to create and give life to humanity, as we read the story of Adam and Eve.
God chose to call Noah to bring creation through the flood.
God chose Abraham, and promised to make his descendants into a great people.
God chose Moses to bring his people out of slavery in Egypt.
God chose David to bring Israel out from under the tyranny of surrounding nations, and Solomon to build His Temple.
God chose Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, and all of the other prophets to proclaim His Will.
God chose Mary to give birth to the Savior of the World
Jesus chose James and John, Peter and Andrew, Nathaniel, Matthew, and the rest of the twelve.
Jesus chose Paul with blinding light on the road to Damascus.
And the list can go on and on and on…including God choosing each of us.
“Someone may want to say, “Hey I’m here because I chose God…I chose God first…He didn’t choose me.” It may seem that way, it may seem as if we are the ones who chose to come to God, however, God’s Word tells us differently:
Paul tells the church in Rome that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”[ii]
Paul tells the church in Corinth that just as no one who is filled by God’s Spirit can curse Jesus, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”[iii]
John says, “We love because he first loved us.”[iv]
God acts on us first…God chooses us first…John Wesley referred to this as prevenient grace…God working in our lives before we are even aware of it. That is why as Methodists we baptize infants as well as adults, it is the fact that before we can even choose to surrender ourselves to God, He is already, in fact, has already chosen us. We mark them all as sisters and brothers in Christ that God has chosen and called into a relationship with Himself and with us.
What does it mean for us to be God’s “chosen race,” God’s “chosen people”?
It means that God loves us. We may feel unloved and unwanted—we may have been rejected by a friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or even a spouse. We may have had family turn away from us, cast us aside, or even disown us. Despite all of this, God says “I love you and you are now part of my family.”
It means God sees value in us. If we cannot perform the way those around us want us to perform…if we cannot provide what someone wants us to provide, then there is a tendency in our society for people to be treated like an empty toilet paper roll—taken off the hanger, tossed in the trash, and replaced with a new roll. God made a King out of a forgotten shepherd boy…a disciple out of fishermen and tax collectors…an evangelist out of a foreign woman…an apostle out of a murderer…God chooses those that the world, and some of us, might toss out as worthless.
It means that God has a purpose for us…a purpose that can be trace all the way back to God choosing Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[v]
It is a purpose that Jesus alludes to in Matthew: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others…”[vi] and “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations….”[vii]
My brothers and sisters, the truth about being “the chosen race” of God, is that unlike the captain of a basketball team who really only wants the best players and may reluctantly take whoever is left at the end…and unlike the supremacists who think that anyone who does not look or talk or smell or eat like them should be eliminated, or at least shipped back somewhere else…God has desire is that all might come into relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ…God wants to ever expand this chosen race to include all who might respond to His grace…to everyone throughout the world so that God can say to them, as He says to us, “I choose you. I love you. I see value in you. I have a purpose for you…for ‘Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.’”
Who are we? Bearing the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we are a chosen race. Amen.