1 Peter 2:9-12 9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the people who are God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10At one time you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. At one time you were not shown mercy, but now you have been shown mercy.
11Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and temporary residents in the world, to abstain from the desires of the sinful flesh, which war against your soul. 12Live an honorable life among the Gentiles so that even though they slander you as evildoers, when they observe your noble deeds, they may glorify God on the day he visits us.
Imagine that you are looking for a church home. What are you looking for in a church and a pastor?
Would you go to the church down the block if you knew that the pastor is an ex-con? Would you attend the church a few streets over, knowing that the foreign mission pastor had once denied Jesus to escape persecution in his home country? Would you want to attend a church knowing that both associate pastors have trouble controlling their anger?
A new church is starting in our community with a two-pastor team. Would you be excited to attend that church if you learned that before he became a Christian, the senior pastor used his position as an IRS auditor to extort money from people. The assistant pastor, also a convert, funneled money through a Middle Eastern terrorist group before going to seminary.
Could you ever enter the church when it was reported in the newspaper that your pastor was previously convicted of murder?
Would you worship at any of these churches, knowing what you do about the personal histories of these pastors? What if you learned they were hand-picked by Jesus? What if it was Silas who had been thrown in prison for preaching Christ in Philippi? Or Peter who had denied Jesus to escape detection by a servant girl. James and John had once been given the nickname by Jesus of “Sons of Thunder,” because of their tempers. Matthew had been a tax collector and Simon was a zealot before they were called to be Jesus’ disciples. Before becoming an apostle, Paul had put Christians to death for their faith in Christ.
What are you looking for in your Christian spouse, your Christian co-workers, your Christian friends and fellow church members? Would you quickly become uncomfortable if you knew the person sitting next to you should be in jail? Are you content letting your daughter date an adulterer? Can you trust your friend knowing that she is a gossip, liar, and back-stabber? Are you eager to hang out with someone who used to be a pagan, atheist or agnostic?
This kind of behavior may shock us. But, if we really think about it, that’s the way we all are. … Or, at least, the way we used to be.
At our birth, we were unbelievers – pagans, agnostics, and atheists. We lie, deceive, and gossip. Any kind of lustful thought is considered adultery. Any kind of hateful word or thought is considered murder. And for all these crimes, we should be put in jail.
St. Peter proclaims that we are different. Whether we are pastors or people in the pews, Christ has made us different than what we once were. At our birth, we were one thing. At our second birth in our baptism, we became something totally different.
Peter proclaims the majestic new identity we enjoy as reborn Christians: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the people who are God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. At one time you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. At one time you were not shown mercy, but now you have been shown mercy.”
You are a “chosen people.” God so loved not only the world, but He so loved you personally, individually, specifically. Despite your sin; despite your running away from Him; despite your horrible background; God chose you. You did not choose Him. The Old Testament Israelites didn’t do anything to be chosen out of all the peoples of the world. God chose them to be His chosen people. Nor is there anything special in you that made God love you. You are chosen.
You are chosen to be a “royal priesthood.” You are royalty in Christ’s kingdom. You are priests in His priesthood. Your vocation is to gather your family around Word and Sacrament. You lead them to church for worship. As priests, you have full and free access to communicate with God, to pray directly through Him. You are commissioned to a lifelong special ministry of worship in church, that is coupled with worship in the home.
You are chosen to be a holy nation. You are part of God’s nation. The United States isn’t God’s nation. It’s just another nation among the many nations in God’s creation. What makes this nation so special is that it is holy. It is righteous. It is washed clean of sins in the blood of Jesus Christ, this holy nation’s supreme ruler. As God’s nation, you are set apart to do God’s will.
You are chosen as a people belonging to God. When we don’t know who we are, we tend to ball ourselves up into the fetal position. We have no sense of meaning, purpose or place. We simply exist and let circumstances define us. But, God tells us exactly who we are! We belong to Him. He formed us in our mother’s womb. After the devil had stolen us, Jesus bought us back through His innocent suffering and death. Each time we sin and try to crawl back to the devil, the Holy Spirit calls us and claims us once again for His holy family. We belong to God.
You were called out of darkness into his marvelous light. Jesus teaches that you are to be salt and light on the earth. We know the secular world is falling apart with its lack of morals. As Christian parents, Christian Americans, and members of the Christian Church, we are to season our speech with salt. We share God’s truths whether people society likes it or not. We are part of a Christian counterculture.
We also know that this world is filled with darkness. The Lord knows it, too. To dispel the darkness, God sent His Son to be the light to the world. Jesus called us out of the darkness of sin and unbelief to live in the marvelous light of His salvation. Now the Lord calls His redeemed people to reflect Jesus’ blood-bought light. We shine by spreading the Good News of Jesus with our words and with our lives.
In this sinful environment, we chosen people should never be ashamed to share and show what we once were and what Jesus has made us to be. Jesus tells us a two-fold way to do this. First, as the salt of the earth, we should prevent that which is negative. That’s what salt does. It prevents corruption and spoilage. Second, we should be light, doing the positive work of dispelling darkness.
Peter encourages us: “Live an honorable life among the Gentiles so that even though they slander you as evildoers, when they observe your noble deeds, they may glorify God on the day he visits us.” As you live an outwardly Christian life, unbelievers will notice. Even though an unbelieving society will try to pressure you into conformity, they are watching how you act. They may not understand your beliefs, but there is no mistaking your love for Christ, your dedication to your family, your sacrifice for your church, your honesty, hard work, and respect for life. God willing, they will notice your godly and moral life. They may then be led to ask you why you live and act the way you do. Then the Holy Spirit can work through your gospel words, so that your unbelieving neighbors or family members may be chosen and changed, as well. You live like this “so that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Because you are chosen to live a different kind of life from the unbelievers, Peter urges you: “As aliens and temporary residents in the world, to abstain from the desires of the sinful flesh, which war against your soul.” You are to see yourself as a stranger in this world. Heaven is your home. You are just passing through. Remember, Satan owns your short-term gratification. Everything that slimy son of hell has to offer is for now. Rage, hatred, lust, hunger, possessions – all want to be gratified now. Satan doesn’t want you to think about the future. But long-term thinkers ponder the consequences of present actions. You aren’t living for this world. You are living for the world to come. The world Christ chose for you, claimed for you, won for you.
You might prefer attending a church with a holy pastor and righteous church members. But then, the church would be empty. You wouldn’t even be able to attend.
Peter takes our thinking about what makes a “good Christian,” and piles them up in a heap, and smashes them into a million little pieces with the cross of Christ. Jesus exchanges our pretend halos for a crown of thorns. When you complain that a pastor isn’t good enough, Jesus shows His nail-pierced hands which proclaim that He made that pastor good enough. When you are upset with something or somebody in the church and say, “I’ll never go to that church again,” Jesus reminds us, “I am the head of the Church; she is my bride. If you don’t love her, then you don’t love me.”
I asked earlier what are you looking for in a pastor and what are you looking for in Christian friends? The better question is, what is Christ looking for in you?
He’s not looking for perfection or holiness or light or mercy. Which is good … because He’s not going to find any of that in any of us. Instead, Christ loves the unlovable. He forgives the unforgivable. God pursues horrible sinners into their messes and leads them out the other side. He finds those filthy in their sins and broken by their guilt. He washes them clean in His baptismal waters. He makes them whole again with His forgiveness. He seeks out the hungry and depressed. He feeds us with His Word and encourages us with His Holy Supper.
He calls doubters, deniers, and persecutors into His public ministry. He chooses liars, thieves, adulterers, and murderers into His Church. The kind of people that we might be tempted to weed out of our churches, is exactly the kind of people that Christ chooses to fill up His churches … and put into His pulpits!
God doesn’t choose people because they are wealthy or healthy or righteous or wise. God chooses the broken, the weak, the downtrodden, the depressed and helpless. It’s OK to be weak. It’s OK to be broken. You don’t have to fix yourself so you’re good enough for God. Christ loves you in your brokenness. He shines His light through the cracks in your soul. His rough and bloody cross heals you, cleanses you, makes you better than OK.
Peter reminds us: “At one time you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. At one time you were not shown mercy, but now you have been shown mercy.” God chose you to be His people. He chose to show mercy to you. It is His choice and through His mercy that He fills our church and pulpit with all kinds of cowards, jerks, deadbeats, and all sorts of riffraff.
But look at what He has made us to be! A chosen people! Royal priests! God’s possessions! Salt! Light! Strangers in this world! Chosen out of the darkness to proclaim His praises in the light! Amen.