Sermon: A home for the elected and rejected
Easter Sunday: Sunday 10 May 2020
1 Peter 2.1-10
Rev. Daniel Mossfield
(Crookwell Uniting Church)
The first letter of Peter has some of the richest and most beautiful imagery in all of scripture for describing what it means to be the church. We heard some of it in our passage today: ‘You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…’
It also describes the Church as a spiritual house of living stones, and God’s own family revealing the beauty and holiness and love of the living God in the world:
A body who proclaims, ‘the mighty deeds of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.’
Yet, throughout my ministry, I have encountered many people for whom the church has been anything but this.
For them, the church has been the embodiment of hatred, judgment, exclusion, and hypocrisy.
Instead of being a family, the church has rejected and abandoned them for not being ‘holy enough’ or ‘fitting in.’
Instead of being a ‘spiritual house of living stones’, the church they have met is one obsessed with its physical buildings, and worldly wealth and power, such that it even prioritizes these over relationships with people.
And these friends of mine have concluded that if this is what it means to proclaim the mighty deeds of God, and to be holy as God is holy, then the God the Church seems to know is not one they want to know.
And ironically, I suspect that a contributing factor to some of our shortcomings as the Church is that we have misunderstood passages like this one from 1 Peter. We have misunderstood what it means to be ‘God’s own people.’
This letter, attributed to the apostle Peter, was not written to a community at the centre of society. It was not written to a community that held significant status and power. It was not even written to the ‘in-crowd’ of the emerging church.
It was written to a group of people who knew what it was to be rejected.
The churches who received this letter were made up of gentile converts to the emerging Christian faith. People who had encountered the story of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection and been moved to trust in God – to faith in the living Christ.
Consequently, they had found themselves strangers in their previous communities – ‘aliens and exiles’ amongst the gentile pagan world, which rejected this growing Christian sect as a superstitious, if not dangerous delusion.
For their faith and trust in God, they were marginalized, excluded from society, and treated as outcasts at best, or openly persecuted at worst. We also know they were poor, having little access to material wealth, though whether this was a cause or a consequence of their faith is unclear.
So, being rejected like this by the outside world, it was a good thing that in the body of Christ – the Church – they had found nothing but welcome.
Instead, the church, which began as a sect of the Jewish faith, had been in serious debates about whether gentiles should even be included in the community of Christ.
After all, these Jewish Christians could point to many passages of Scripture that said that gentiles were unclean, unworthy and outside the covenant and promises of God.
‘The Bible says so’ has always been a good go-to for excluding those we don’t like from the church.
Now, I don’t think that these Christians necessarily had sinister motives. I believe they took seriously the words of God in Leviticus to ‘be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy’ and feared that to allow in gentile believers was to compromise their place as a holy and chosen people.
But they forgot two things:
Firstly, they were to be a holy people for the sake and service of all people.
And, secondly, the forgot the grace and power of God. They forgot that ‘you shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy’ was not a command. It was a promise of God’s transforming grace.
Thankfully, the Council of Jerusalem around the year 50, after much prayer and discernment, decided to allow gentile converts into the Church.
And they did so in no small part thanks to the testimony of Peter, who had been shown a vision by God, who had told Peter ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’
Or, perhaps, ‘those who God has called holy, you must not call unholy.’
And perhaps this vision helps explain our reading today.
Because here, Peter writes to these rejected outcasts to proclaim the good news that God does not value things the way that humans do. Instead, God in Christ knows what it is to be rejected.
God, in Christ, knows what it is to be rejected.
For in the cross, Jesus has suffered the most shameful form of rejection there is – public, painful, humiliating, death…
But suffering at the hands of humans is not the same as being rejected by God.
For Jesus, in his death and rejection, has also been resurrected and elected to new life. God has honoured the shamed one. God has lifted to new hope the crucified Christ, and made him the cornerstone of the Church…
A Church in which those who have been marginalized are given a new name and new identity: ‘chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, God’s own people’.
A Church where the rejected are elected.
Whether you are the farmer in dispute with your neighbour; the single mother experiencing judgment and gossip in a country town; the gay kid kicked out of home by the parents who were meant to look after you; the person suffering anxiety and depression trying to make others understand you can’t come out to see them; or, even the Minister afraid that you will be rejected by your people because of a sermon you have preached – hear the good news:
Your value does not depend on being accepted by other people. Your identity does not depend on the church affirming you. Your worth does not even depend on your own sense of self-esteem.
For you are a ‘chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people’, built on the cornerstone of the crucified and risen one.
You are God’s.
So, do not be ashamed. Be holy, as God is making you holy, so that you proclaim the mighty acts of the one who called you out of darkness and into marvelous light. Amen.