The Hope of Being Chosen (Saved from Chance)
Now, this might surprise probably none of you, but I was not the most coordinated or athletic of children.
The only sport I ever formally played was basketball… in third grade. I think I played for two minutes in the second game, and I warmed the bench the rest of the season.
PE was forced on me—as it is on many of my kind. And honestly, I didn’t mind it much unless we were playing team sports. Then it was horrible. Because team sports meant real competition—it meant team captains, and team captains meant choosing teams, and choosing teams meant being picked last or nearly so. I can’t tell you how many times I fantasized—in full technicolor, like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”—of being chosen, of being wanted, of being the one that would save our team. Needless to say, it never happened.
I’m sure these traumas left their mark on my psyche, but in graduate school I learned there was something worse than not being chosen—and that was chance.
My advisor intended to ensure everyone had to participate with some regularity, so he had a system: he would work through the room person by person as we moved line by line through our translation exercises. Like many other students of all ages, we would usually count ahead to see when our turn would come, in order to make sure we were sufficiently prepared to answer his probing questions. But my advisor—by accident or intent—would lose his place after teaching us about some obscure grammatical feature, and then he would guess where in the room to pick up again.
All of a sudden, predictability went out the window. All of a sudden, we were subjected to the cruelty of chance.
We would freeze, careful to not make sudden movements.
We would cast our eyes down to our desks and papers in order to avoid making dangerous eye contact with the apex predator before us.
And then—it seemed more often than not—he would say: “Uh, Michael, why don’t you pick it up here?”
Chance, I learned, could be far crueler than not being chosen.
The scripture text today intends to guide readers from chance to being chosen, from a place of helplessness to one of intention, purpose, and affirmation.
Suckling at Jesus’ Teat
Peter begins (in v.2) by likening his hearers to newborn babies. This is where we begin—all new and fresh and innocent, yet driven only by instincts aimed at self-survival. And there is one instinct Peter wants us to focus on for this analogy—the instinct to nurse. This is a deep longing that is so powerful it overwhelms everything else. That, Peter says, is the kind of longing we will have for “spiritual milk” if we “have tasted that the Lord is good” (v.3).
But the word translated here “spiritual” doesn’t really mean what you think it does. It’s actually the Greek word from which we get the word “logical.” Understood this way, we could say that: Just as a newborn baby longs for the food that is appropriate to its growth and development, so we Christians will long for the “food” that is logical and appropriate for our own growth and development (see Ray Summers, “1 Peter,” in The Broadman Bible Commentary, p.155).
It’s a more helpful reading, for sure; but that is not the way I choose to read it here. You see, the word translated “spiritual” here is built off of the word translated “word” in John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
“The Word” is how John’s gospel introduces Jesus in its telling of God’s redemptive work. I think Peter is building off of this concept (as does Paul in other places), suggesting that the “milk” that we hunger for as desperately as a newborn is the milk of Jesus. At least one ancient writer makes this graphic, speaking of [quote] “the nourishing substance of milk swelling out from the breasts of [Christ’s] love” (see Clement of Alexandria in ANF02, “The Instructor,” Book I, Chapter VI, paragraphs 218-220; available here).
If we have indeed discovered the goodness of God, we will nurse ourselves on the the milk of Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, the Living Water—desiring and becoming what we eat.
Now if it’s not yet obvious, Peter is a Jedi master of the mixed metaphor, and this mashup of Jesus and a nursing mother is just the beginning. He moves on in v.4 to some mixed metaphors about stones in order to continue his instruction on how to move from being a victim of chance to the joy of being chosen.
We are told to “come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious” (v.4 RSV). The reference here is obviously Jesus, even before we look to the rest of scripture—which make the connection to Christ even more clear.
There are a series of OT quotations in vv.6-8—from Isaiah and the Psalms. Each is chosen by Peter to reveal a different reality about who Jesus is, yet one of them stands out. A quotation of Psalm 118:22 is found in v.7: “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner” (RSV). This is a verse Jesus has quoted to describe his own rejection by the Jews in an encounter recorded in both Matt 21:42 and Mk 12:10. But it is also picked up by several NT writers, weaving its way into sermons and instructions in Acts 4:11, 1Cor 3:11, and Eph 2:19-22.
In our scriptures, this quotation has become an intrinsic part of how we understand the person and work of Jesus. Jesus did not fit the plans of this world—not even those of the religious leaders. Yet the one who was rejected and oppressed—persecuted to the point of death—became one who is called “chosen and precious” in God’s sight.
What an amazing word of hope to Peter’s audience, to those who are facing persecution and very real suffering! We worship a God who sees and values differently than does our world. The people who are meaningless, useless, barely-human cogs in the wheel of commerce—these may be “chosen and precious” in God’s sight. Amen? Amen.
Four Places of Transformation
So now again we move a bit forward and a bit backward at the same time as we look to draw the whole passage together: How do we experience the hope of being chosen? How are we transformed from victims of chance to “chosen and precious” in God’s sight?
I want to suggest four places of transformation and growth—four experiences or practices that are absolutely necessary, if we are going to be saved from chance and discover the hope of being chosen.
First, as we’ve already mentioned, we’ve got to have an experience of God. We have to have “tasted that the Lord is good.” If we’ve had a genuine experience of God, then that has left a mark on us, and we will be driven to tasting more of God’s goodness—to nourishing ourselves by Jesus Christ, as we grow into salvation.
Second, we present ourselves to God in order to be built into the Body of Christ. As Peter puts it in v.5, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house” (NIV). As the cornerstone, Christ is the one the rest of us are measured against; his placement orients us all. This is Peter’s version of the Body of Christ metaphor used by Paul, where Christ is the head and we are the eyes, noses, ears, hands, feet, and other unmentionable members.
An important note here is that this “house” is described as “spiritual” because it is where the Spirit of God resides. This is a different word than the one we encountered before. And it is important to realize that spiritual does not mean non-physical.
This means that we cannot be built alongside Christ as living stones if the Spirit does not reside in us. We each have the responsibility to cultivate an awareness of and submission to the Spirit of God that leads and comforts us. But the Spirit is not given to us for our own individual edification. We have a responsibility to submit to the Architect’s design, coming together with other stones to be built according to God’s intent.
Never forget: Stones are useless when left in the quarry—whether they live or not. And the Builder of Creation will reject spirit-less stones from the project being built.
Third, the way we practice submission to the Architect’s blueprint is through the offering of “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (v.5). The word translated “spiritual” here is of the “spiritual house” variety, NOT that used of “spiritual milk” in v.2.
Here, the word distinguishes the kind of sacrifices that are acceptable to God from the sacrifices offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. Christians (by this time) had begun to realize those sacrifices didn’t make sense anymore if Jesus’ own sacrifice had been once-for-all. They were beginning to realize the failings of a faith based solely in external religious rituals. And so Peter uses the term “spiritual sacrifices” to refer to a different kind of faith response—one that offered all of oneself all the time, instead of only outward actions from time to time.
The challenge for us today is moving beyond the rituals and cultural parts of Christianity to a genuine, sacrificial faith. Over the 2000 years of our faith, the powers and principalities of this world have found ways of coopting our faith for their own power and gain. Time and time again, the cause of Christ is undermined through subversive and unholy alliances with king and country. Just as in the early days of our faith, we need to hear these words of Peter and their reminder to hold the rituals of our faith cautiously, knowing that they are easily stolen from us by the powers of darkness.
Instead of rituals, we look to sacrifice and submission of our own desires to those of God.
Instead of the externally observed characteristics of a so-called Christian, we remember that transformation is an internal process brought about between a person and their God.
Fourth and finally, being chosen comes with responsibility. As Baptist historian Walter Shurden has written, since we have a Statue of Liberty on the east coast, we should have a statue of responsibility on the west (in Four Fragile Freedoms).
Being chosen by God means our identity is wrapped up in four realities, each requiring their own expression and action of love. [I wish I had time to flesh these out more, but perhaps thats a sermon for another day.] When we are chosen by God we become:
A. A chosen race, which recalls God’s choice of Israel as a people for his redemptive witness—with the purpose of redeeming all people and all of creation.
B. When we are chosen by God we become: A royal priesthood, suggesting a kingdom in which each citizen serves as a priest both for themselves and for each other. As Jesus reminds us in Matt 18:18: Whatever we bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever we loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. In context there, it’s quite clear that what he suggests is that followers of Jesus have the power to dispense forgiveness to each other—not just in the here and now, but perhaps also for eternity.
C. When we are chosen by God we become: A holy nation. This envisions a nation of people set apart to and bearing the nature of the holy God whom they worship and serve. By demonstrating the nature of the holy God in our lives, we shine as a light to the nations and a city on a hill—the light of Christ shining through us and beckoning others into the glow of God’s forgiveness and love.
D. When we are chosen by God we become: God’s own people—This expression is not a translation but a paraphrase of that last expression. More literally, this reads: “a people for his cherishing.” That’s a beautiful expression—it’s a beautiful reality.
(adapted from: Ray Summers, “1 Peter,” in The Broadman Bible Commentary, p.156).
Being chosen by God stands in contrast to the haphazard appearance of life. But when we follow the path of Jesus, we discover that life is not a series of accidental encounters but rather something purposeful. Only in discovering and living into those purposes does it make sense.
What hope there is in being chosen by our loving God! Amen!