“You are a chosen people, “says Peter in God’s Word.
What does it mean to be a chosen people? If we look to this history of Israel, we find much to enlighten us. God draws up with Abraham and Sarah a covenant which passes through the generations of Israel. God agrees to be the God of Israel and Israel agrees to be God’s people. The terms of which this covenant stands is God’s faithfulness. Even when Israel fails to live up to their end of the covenant, God remains faithful, providing for them deliverance from their enemies, sustaining them with food in the wilderness, raising up leaders to rule over them. Even when the people rebel and their leaders turn away from God, God remains faithful, promising them through the prophets a new age where God’s peace and justice would reign.
Israel’s status as a chosen people is not because of something they’ve done, or because of their degree of faith. Indeed, being chosen by God is no status at all. It doesn’t come with special privileges, but special responsibilities. They do not receive favor from other nations because of their special relationship with God. Quite the opposite is true. Because they refuse to bow down to the gods and authorities of other nations, because they remain loyal to the God of their father Abraham and their mother Sarah, they are persecuted.
This is the dilemma that is facing the community of Gentile believers in Asia Minor to whom 1 Peter was written. The author is suggesting that now they, too, are part of the covenant God made with Israel. In Christ, a door has been opened that all people might come to know God, that all people might be part of God’s covenant. Christ is the cornerstone, chosen and precious in God’s sight. This very cornerstone is a stumbling block for many who refuse to accept Christ and the persecution of God’s own people continues. Just as Israel, as God’s chosen people, have experienced persecution throughout the ages, now these Gentile believers were coming to know how difficult it is to remain faithful to God.
Being chosen by God does not grant us special privileges, but special responsibilities. We are “elected” in Christ not to serve in some honorary post; we are commissioned to serve. This aspect of being a chosen people is perhaps the most difficult to hear. It is encouraging, even empowering, but it leaves us with special responsibilities we often feel inadequate to meet.
One of my favorite movies is the movie “Tender Mercies”. The movie opens as Robert Duvall is thrown face-first onto the floor of a hotel room.
He’s hit rock bottom. In his career. In his family. In his alcoholism. It is on the floor of this hotel room that he begins to experience an opportunity for a new life. He gets a job cleaning up around the hotel and pumping gas. He makes friends with his female employer and her young son. Throughout the movie he slowly accepts the opportunity for a new life and this culminates towards the end of the movie with his baptism. The last scene is one of my favorites. He is out with the young boy in the fields, tossing a football, sharing in the joy of new life.
One of the most difficult things about being a people chosen by God is that we have to start from scratch. We need to be fed spiritual milk, depending on God’s daily provisions as an infant relies on his mother’s breast.
What needs to happen that we might allow ourselves to be dependent on God? Unfortunately, it often takes some kind of illness, or gradual decline to convince us of our dependence.
I became aware of how difficult it is to be dependent as I spent a summer in Georgia working on a farm. An elderly woman, Florence Jordan, was experiencing an illness and she needed someone to care for her. Being a strong woman, someone who always cared for others and received little for herself, she found this extremely difficult. She let me help her mostly because I was a stranger and I didn’t ask a lot of questions. I found much joy in my relationship with Florence. When she died it seemed she had found some peace, having accepted the care of others and come to know more fully her dependence on God.
It is okay to depend on God’s tender mercies. As a child draws nourishment from her mother’s breast, so we draw nourishment for our souls from the spiritual milk God provides for us in Jesus Christ. When we take this energy, this nourishment and offer ourselves in service to God and one another, we are built into a spiritual household where God’s praises are sung, where peace and justice are the law of the land. Where we once were no people, we are now God’s people, drawing on God’s mercy to declare wonderful deeds in the darkness of the world. Like our spiritual father Abraham, in Jesus Christ we are blessed to be a blessing.