|Living Stones by Hilda|
What does it mean to be chosen? Does it matter who does the choosing and when you get chosen? Some of us know the feeling of being the last one chosen for a team.
Perhaps you watched or at least paid attention to the recent NFL draft. In the NFL draft, the team with the league’s worst record goes first. So, the Cincinnati Bengals chose quarterback Joe Burrough to be the savior of their franchise. That’s a big load to put on the shoulders of a young quarterback, but it’s an honor to go first. For their part, the Lions got to pick third. Then there’s the last player chosen in the draft, who takes home the title of “Mr. Irrelevant.”
The word “chosen” figures prominently in 1 Peter 2. Peter invites us to come to Jesus, the “living stone” that was rejected by humanity but is “chosen and precious in God’s sight.” Later in the reading, Peter informs us that we are part of a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” Peter invites to allow God to build us into “a spiritual house,” as “living stones,” with Jesus being the “cornerstone” that is “chosen and precious” in the sight of God. Yes, Jesus is the one who binds us together in all our diversity.
Peter writes this word about chosenness to a community that is experiencing some form of exile. He wants this community that is dispersed across Asia Minor to know that they now belong to God’s family in Christ. We don’t know what kind of suffering they were experiencing, but they were struggling. We can say the same about ourselves. We are experiencing a form of exile. We can’t meet together in person, but Peter wants us to know that in Christ we are living stones built into a spiritual house or temple. While it feels as if we’re exiles, we’re learning that the church is more than a building. We’re being reminded that the church is people, and the foundation of this church, as the hymn declares, is “Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Here’s the good news. There are no “irrelevant” members of this community. There isn’t a first pick or a last pick, there is only one pick, and that pick is Jesus through whom we are built into the spiritual house as “living stones” and members of a “holy priesthood.”
Not only has God chosen us in Christ, but God has given us a new identity. The reading closes with a riff on the names the prophet Hosea gave to his children. These aren’t the kinds of names we should give our children, but Hosea was using these children to reveal God’s judgment on Israel. So he named his daughter “No Mercy,” because God wasn’t going to show mercy or compassion to Israel. Then, he named his son “Not My People” (Hos. 1:6-9) But then in chapter two of the book, God turns things around by showing mercy to Hosea’s daughter “No Mercy.” God said to “Not My People,” “You are My People” (Hos. 2:21-23). This is what I hear in this reference, when God chooses us we take on a new identity. We become those living stones that God uses to build a spiritual house with Christ as the cornerstone so now we carry the name “My People.”
Not only that but, if we are living stones we are part of something bigger than ourselves. While, our society celebrates individuality, which makes sense to us, it’s not the way early Christians or Jews viewed themselves or their world. Paul spoke to this reality in his discussion of spiritual gifts. While each of us have different gifts, abilities, and interests, that help define our identities, according to Paul, we’re all part of one body. Or to put it in Peter’s terms, we are living stones built into a spiritual house (1 Cor. 12). Paul also reminds us that every member of the body is important. No one is irrelevant. We are all chosen and precious in the sight of God.
Not only are we living stones, but we are part of a holy or royal priesthood. This means we can offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” This reference to a holy priesthood serves as the foundation for the idea of a priesthood of all believers. What Peter means by this is that the spiritual sacrifices we offer reflect the way we live the Christian life. David Bartlett puts it this way: “The sacrifice these Christians were called to live—and we are called to live as well—is a life without malice, guile, insincerity, envy, or slander, which 1 Peter says we have to put off with our faith” [“The First Letter of Peter,” NIB, 12:269].
The message Peter offers us today, as members of the “exile of dispersion,” is that God has chosen us to be living stones built into a spiritual house. May Peter’s invitation to come to Jesus, the living stone, who was rejected by humanity, but chosen and precious of God, give us hope as we continue this season of wandering. May we take hold of the message of the hymn: “Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ the head and cornerstone, chosen of the Lord and precious, binding all the church in one.” [Chalice Hymnal, 275].