…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.
A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. The writer
of I Peter is writing to people in the early Church, people who were trying to live
the Christian life in a hostile world. They were trying to be faithful in a world that
either scorned or punished them for it.That must have been terribly hard. And
yet, I find myself wondering if keeping the faith in the face of persecution might
be a little easier than keeping it in the face of a culture that finds it irrelevant and
not worth taking seriously. That is the world we live in today. We live in a world
where soccer games and marathons and all kinds of other activities take the place
of Christians gathering to worship, and perhaps even more difficult, where trying
to live a life of holiness sounds like some crazy cult behavior.
But like it or not, we are the people to whom this letter is written. We here in the
Indian Hill Church have been called by God, chosen by God, to be a holy people.
Now before we get all pious and sentimental, let’s think about what that means.
It’s not nearly as romantic as it sounds!
The Gospel for today has a very familiar quotation, one that is misused way too
often. Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one
comes to the Father except through me.” Christians just love to use this sentence
to exclude people who believe differently than we do. But Jesus was not our
Savior because he was Jesus, he was our Savior because he loved us with infinite
love and sacrificed himself for our sake and for the sake of the world. That love is
the way and the truth and the life, because that love is the love of God. In other
words, we come to God when we give ourselves in love for others.
Now again, the temptation is to get all misty-eyed about loving others. But
remember that loving others the way Jesus did it was to give all of himself, even
to death. And the other lesson that is appointed for this Sunday is the story of the
martyrdom of Stephen. Stephen’s love for God led to his being stoned to death.
Being the holy people of God carries real risk. And to be the royal priesthood and
chosen nation that we are called to be will set us apart from our culture and our
society, just as Stephen was set apart from his. What would happen if we put
God first – above every other commitment? Just imagine your typical week. How
would it look different if God came first? It might look quite strange, at least to
people who didn’t understand. People might be critical if you made choices for
love ahead of choices for pleasure. They might say you were too religious, they
might tell you that you were taking this church thing way too seriously. And for
most of us, being dismissed as a fool is harder than being thought wrong.
So following Jesus – which means putting God first, putting love first – is what
makes us holy. But it’s hard, involves risk, and leaves us open to criticism and shaming.