1 Peter 2:9-10
Most of us have sad stories about not being chosen. Remember those days in elementary school? During recess a group of us would line up against the wall so that teams could be chosen for dodge ball. The same two boys always ended up being the captains. They were the ones who did the choosing. I don’t know how it was that they were always the captains. I don’t remember anyone choosing them to be captains. I think they chose themselves. The rest of us evidently allowed them to do that, because no one ever complained or put themselves forward as a captain.
I was always chosen near the end or at the end. You know, with the rest of the kids that were hurriedly divided up as the extras that were either not cool enough, or good enough to even be chosen. We were just separated like cattle. Bodies to be cast to one side or the other.
There certainly are times when we are chosen, and we know in our heart of hearts that there was nothing we did that affected that choosing. Some call it destiny, or fate, or chance. I prefer to think of it as something that God is up to behind the scenes. For God’s own reasons, God chooses, and lives are forever changed. God selects someone out of a group of others, like David chosen out of all the rest of his older brothers, and that choosing creates ripple effects usually not just in their life, but in a lot of lives surrounding the chosen one.
In the Old Testament, the Jews defined themselves as God’s chosen people. Chosen for a special destiny. Chosen for a special mission. Chosen to be a witness to the nations. In the musical, “Fiddler On The Roof,” the old town Rabbi says, “We know, O God, we are your chosen people; but isn’t it time you chose someone else.”
God eventually did choose some others, or at least expanded His circle of who was chosen. Through Jesus Christ, from New Testament times on, God includes the church as part of those who are the chosen. Let’s find out what that means, according to Peter.
You’ll notice Peter addresses his letter to Christians who are “...exiles, scattered to the four winds.” They weren’t scattered because they decided to move to a new town. They were scattered because people who followed Jesus, who were chosen to be the church, were being searched out and killed in gruesome ways by Jewish religious officials and partly by the Roman government.
The Christians reading Peter’s letter might be thinking along the lines of the "Fiddler on the Roof" Rabbi’s prayer to God, “... it’s maybe time you chose some other people.” If life is getting really awful and scary, you might be reassessing what it means to be chosen, to be and remain faithful. You might be wondering what kind of “night-and-day” difference God has really affected in your life.
Have you been chosen to go from nothing to something, only to be torched in Nero’s gardens? Have you been chosen to go from rejected to accepted, only to become lion fodder in the arena? Have you been chosen to be priestly, only to become a human sacrifice, not on an altar, but on the torture table of some Roman sadist with a saw?
So, being chosen by God doesn’t spare you from the chaos and craziness in the world. Fortunately we don’t live with those same kinds of circumstances that Peter’s letter-readers had to live with. We get to come here to worship, and not worry that the police are going to bust down the door and haul us all away to do unspeakably awful things to our bodies. Even if we did, it wouldn’t change the fact that we’ve been given an identity by God as people He has chosen. What’s important is that we’ve been given an identity and we must be a people who are constantly living into that identity, as God’s chosen people.
As we examine that identity, let’s ask some simple questions that Peter answers in this single sentence of his letter. The first question is, Who’s chosen? “You” are, Peter writes. But not you, individually. This isn’t about you, personally. It’s about you, plural. All of you.
I met a guy in seminary from Georgia, who became one of my close friends while we were there. He came up to me one day and said, “What y’all doin’?” I was by myself so I looked around me to see who “all” he was talking to. I thought a bunch of people must have snuck up behind me. Or, maybe he thought I had developed multiple personalities. But it was just me, so I discovered, in the south, “y’all” is singular. If you wanted to address a group of people it was, “All, y’all.” That’s what Peter was saying in his letter (if he lived in the south): “You, all y’all, are the ones chosen by God.”
We all got chosen by God in one fell swoop. We’re all in this together. This isn’t about individuals. It’s about us. It’s about making a stronger, more profound impact on God’s team as “all y’all” rather than just a bunch of individual “y’alls.”
Which leads us to another question Peter tries to answer, “What have we been chosen by God for?” It’s clear that for Peter being chosen doesn’t have anything to do with getting status or notoriety. When I was a kid, and we were all up against the wall at recess, like I explained earlier, there was usually one of the captains who was cooler than the other. Like Ken Montgomery. Just being chosen by him was the best. It elevated everyone’s status just because we were on his team, and he chose us.
But that’s not what’s going on when we get chosen by God. It doesn’t mean we are cooler or better than anyone else. It doesn’t mean that our status is suddenly elevated, that our stock as a human being just went through the roof. To be chosen by God, as Peter describes it means being chosen for responsibility. Being chosen doesn’t mean we get to sit back and do nothing; thinking that being chosen was all it was about. And just because the world may be chaotic and scary, and we may be in survival mode, doesn’t mean we get to run and hide. We have to, as the chosen ones, live out of our new identities as the chosen, right in the middle of life.
For Peter, that new identity is best described as the “high calling of priestly work.” All y’all have been chosen to be priests. Isn’t that a kick? Now does that mean that you have to wear those black shirts with the uncomfortable tight white collars, and say words in Latin that no one understands? Does that mean that you have to all of a sudden become celibate and give up your marriages? Thankfully, a big NO to all of that.
But Peter describes what it means to be chosen for priestly work in the rest of the sentence. First it means to be chosen to be a holy people. The word “holy” literally means something or someone who has been set apart for a special purpose. So to be chosen for priestly work means that each of you is to help everyone else to see how each of you is special. As a congregation you are to do the work of understanding how God has set all of you apart, in a together kind of way, for a special purpose. God has chosen this congregation, and set them in this community, for a special purpose. Do we have an understanding of what that is? Do we know what that purpose might be? That’s why we worship and study and pray and fellowship together, not just for our own fun, but to discern how God has set all y’all aside for a special purpose in this place. And I think, because we have done so much worship, study and prayer together, is the reason we have been able to create such a clear "vivid vision" for the next three years.
Next Peter says that the high calling of priestly work is to tell others about the night-and-day difference God has made in your life. Individually, and as a congregation, the expectation is that you don’t get to ever stay the same. We are, all of us, moving from something to something else. You aren’t the same person you were 5 years ago. Nor, hopefully, are we the same congregation we were 5 years ago. We have made some changes ourselves, or changes have been thrust upon us.
The great thing with God is that these changes are of an upward nature; they are positive rather than negative, in God’s way of doing things. The movement of change as Peter describes it is from “nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.” These kinds of changes are going on continually in our lives, which means that God is continually active in those changes in our lives. So, it is our priestly work to tell each other, to tell others the nature of those movements in our lives. They encourage all of us as we are willing to share what’s different in our life, and how God has helped shape those differences.
In my mind, this kind of story-telling has to be done with a lot of grace-full listening. The changes and identity shaping circumstances may have been a result of stupid things we did, or bad choices, or hurtful actions by others. Like I said, just because we are chosen doesn’t mean that we stop being human beings and start acting like angels. Or that life magically gets easier.
Life together means giving each other a lot of grace, helping each other find the forgiveness, acceptance and embrace that we need to go on. And then tell each other those stories of how that happened, for our mutual encouragement. If God really makes a difference in our individual lives and in our life together, that’s where the story has to begin and be told.
Peter calls being chosen by God a “high calling.” I’ve talked to so many people who feel like their lives aren’t counting for much of anything; that they aren’t participating in anything that they would describe as a high calling. They feel they don’t have purpose. They don’t feel like they are doing anything that has the conviction of God behind it. They don’t feel like they are in the grip of doing anything that resembles some profound motivation. I hear the same from congregations as well, as I moderate different Sessions around our presbytery, lately.
How much of what all y’all does flows out of this kind of motivation? Isn’t that something that we all desire, either as individual believers or as a congregation? We want to do something that gives us the sense of being God-connected. We want to know that we are doing something worthwhile in a meaningful sense. That what we are doing is somehow making a difference and having a worthy impact.
This kind of identity can only come through doing the priestly work Peter has described that God has chosen all y’all for. Only in our identity as chosen by God will we find that sense of calling and satisfaction that we may have lost along the way. It means being a part of a community that knows it is chosen to courageously share the subtle and profound movements in their life together, and help God and help each other make it come out right, make it a positive shift rather than negative. That’s meaningful and priestly work.
It also means keeping a sense of holiness about what all y’all are doing. That we, together, have been set aside by God, chosen by God, for a special purpose. We can only find that out together. We can only celebrate that together. We can only keep at that kind of holiness together. That’s who we are. That’s who God chose us to be and to do.