Be Who You Are
1 Peter 1:13-2:3
Introduction: Be a Baby
This summer we’re doing an 8 week series on Peter’s letter. In our introductory sermon we noticed how Peter keeps emphasizing our double-identity: we are chosen by God our Father. But we are also aliens in the world. The world should find us strange, odd, curious, weird. Not that I’m asking us to be especially weird. At least, I don’t really want ME to be weirder than I already am.
But if we are following Jesus we will be out of sync with our culture, with our neighbours, with our colleagues. Our values and our goals and our whole perspective on life will be weird to others, and that should not surprise or alarm us. Our way of looking at popularity, at our jobs, at money, at other people, and even the way we see ourselves… is going to be odd, if we are following Jesus.
Today Peter says, “Let me put that double-identity together for you: You are new-born babies. Peter says this to us three different times, right up front. “You are new-born (alien!) babies. [3 Slides!] Yes, that’s odd. Nicodemus was rather nonplussed too when Jesus told him, “You need to be born again.” Your mother’s water broke, and you were born! “Now you need to be born of water again,” said Jesus, to Nicodemus. “That’s odd,” said Nicodemus. “Yes,” said Jesus, “You are a different kind of ‘alien’ baby!”
Be who you are! Be a baby! What kind of baby? Be a different kind of baby. Peter says: Be a “holy” baby.
Be a Holy Baby
Holy… different. Set apart from the rest. Odd. Alien. Just like God is holy, be holy.
It’s what Jesus taught us to pray: “Hallowed (holy) be your name.” Let us give you a good NAME, a good reputation, simply by being like you— odd, alien, from a different world, different— like you are different.
What does this look like, this holiness? It looks like Pure love!
God is LOVE! Utter, pure, sincere love. That is God’s CORE identity. Which means we are meant to have that core identity too. We are odd because we love sincerely, deeply… from the heart!
What does that look like? How to possibly describe pure love? Much easier to describe what it is not. So Peter gives us a list of five opposites of love:
Malice. Ever meet a malicious baby? Me neither. This word “malice” has the idea of trouble following you. Wherever you go, there’s trouble. You can move neighbourhoods, or churches, or get a new circle of friends. And still… trouble. Can I encourage you to ask yourself (it’s a hard question): “Might the problem be me?
Deceit. Again, you can’t imagine a deceitful baby, can you? Babies are utterly guileless. What you see is what you get. Actually this is a natural word for Peter because it’s a fishing word, a word for baiting a hook. You have to completely conceal the shiny metal hook with a juicy, wriggling worm. Not a sign of anything dangerous inside… just a wonderful meal. The fish comes along, chomp, and… oh, the deceit. The pain. This word refers to using words like that… slippery words. That can be taken two ways. They pierce, hurt. But you can always get out of it. “I didn’t really say that.” Politicians are really good at this kind of double-talk deceit.
Hypocrisy. The next step up from deceit. Living a double-life. Pretending to love and care for someone, but talking about them behind their backs to your other friends. Ugh. Opposite of sincere love, from the heart.
Envy. Not jealousy. Jealousy is looking at someone’s great life and wishing you could have that too. But envy is the next step down. It’s wishing the other person didn’t have it. You don’t necessarily want what they have, but, “She doesn’t deserve him,” or “She’s way too good for him.”
Slander. Ruining someone else’s reputation. The very opposite of “Hallowed be thy name.”
But we are meant to be different. We are called to be unique, creating curiosity. Winsome and compelling in our alien-ness. “Be holy, because I am holy!”
But how? How can I be a holy baby? Be a Hungry Baby!
Be a Hungry Baby
“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk!... Taste that the Lord is good! That is a beautiful, tender, softhearted, sweet Mother image for God. [Father wound — Mother love]
You do not need to teach a newborn baby to be hungry. The piercing cry of a baby is unmistakable, and every instinct in that little one is to find the breast. There’s this passionate, eager searching for the breast. A baby is not just hungry; her little tummy aches for milk.
If only I could ache for God, and for God’s Word, like that. Why don’t I have any appetite? Why is it so difficult for me to spend much time at all connecting to God’s Word? Why is everything else so much more attractive, so much more compelling,so much more alluring than the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word?
Well, is it perhaps the junk food? Feed a baby chocolate milk, and I suppose Mom’s pure milk will start seeming pretty bland. Companies like Nestle have come under (rightful) condemnation for campaigns to convince Moms in places like Haiti to stop breastfeeding, and use their milk substitutes instead. Feed a baby ice cream, or coca cola, or cheetos… and, yeah, they’ll probably lose their craving for pure spiritual milk too!
So how about us? What kinds of junk food are we gorging on? Is there good reason I’m bored with the good stuff… with God’s Word? Is there good reason I’m just not very hungry for God?
David was known as a man after God’s own heart, and he was constantly writing poetry and prayers about his longing for God (Psalm 42) and his love for God’s pure word. The longest poem in the Bible by far is Psalm 119. It is one great, extended, 176 verse, sustained accolade to God’s Word. Verse 9…
Pure hearts are different, weird, alien. So much mitigates against the path to purity. But there is one way for sure not to have a pure heart: it’s staying away from God’s Word. Not cultivating an appetite for God. Not hiding God’s Word in our hearts.
See God’s Word isn’t just good advice. It’s not just telling us how to live flourishing lives, how to be fully human, fully alive. God’s Word is more like a blood transfusion. There’s transformative power in God’s Word that brings us alive. Have you ever seen someone close to death get a blood transfusion? The transformation is astonishing! Peter says God’s Word is living and enduring, and powerful, and life-giving. We are born again by the Living Word. Who is— of course— Jesus.
We cannot birth ourselves. We cannot transform ourselves. Babies just born. They get chosen. They’re helpless. Us too: we need the blood transfusion. But that’s fine. That’s the definition of babies… helpless! Most other mammals are born, and immediately walking around— tottering, but walking! Human babies— it takes us a year! We are the most helpless of all creatures.
So… be a different kind of baby— a holy baby. Also, be a hungry baby. And 3rd, be a helpless baby.
Be a Helpless Baby
Here’s the thing: Jesus is not only holy— different, alien, unique, from a different kingdom altogether. Jesus is not only our pure, spiritual milk we’re meant to really crave— that transforms us. Jesus is also helpless. Notice what Peter calls him: God’s Lamb, whose precious blood was poured out.
Jesus gave up his power. That’s what it means to be God— to give up power. To not grasp after the silver and gold that we keep thinking gives us power. Throughout Peter’s letter he is going to tell us we are called to give up our power too, just like Jesus.
In my Timbits I began the story of my longtime friend Shaykh Murtaza Bachoo, from the Shia mosque on #5 Road. He had contacted me a few months back because he had been approached by a young woman from his mosque who was in a relationship with another (Christian background) woman. She trusted him enough to come and talk with him. Even though the country from which Murtaza comes prescribes the death penalty for “homosexual acts,” and it’s quite common to prescribe gender reassignment surgery for both lesbians and gays in that country as a way of “solving” the “problem” of their being trapped in the “wrong” body. Of course, being pushed into hormone therapy and even surgery by police and by clerics has its own set of problems, as you can imagine. As BBC has documented from time to time.
But it’s different here. In Canada, the mosque is not backed up by the state. In fact, in western countries Muslims are experiencing what Christians have known from the beginning: alienation. Being a marginalized religion. We expect to be different. We expect to be foreigners, aliens and strangers in a strange land.
So Murtaza and I talked about that. We talked about what it means for the church and the mosque to be without coercive power. Islam, from the beginning, has always expected to be in power. Religion and the state expects to work hand in hand in the “Ummah,” or the Muslim “kingdom of God.”
But we follow a Lamb. We follow a God who became utterly helpless. Who never carried a weapon. Who does not shed any blood, except his own. Who came to his own as a stranger and alien. Who came as a helpless baby, and who died as a little lamb— helpless.
And that is, precisely, how God wins. When Christianity tries to be anything else but powerless, it becomes a monster. It does horrible things like the “crusades.” Christianity loses. We become an abomination to our neighbours and to our culture when we try to cling to power and claim to be a “Christian nation.” I think we become an abomination to Jesus when we forget that we are strangers, foreigners— without status, without wealth, without privilege or rights… just like him! Holy!
The only way we can win is by following the Lamb, and being helpless babies. That is the way to victory in the Kingdom of Jesus. Holy in our love. And hungry to be holy. And helpless in our hunger too.
So our hearts must go out especially to “sexual minorities.” We use the only power ever given to us— sincere love, from the heart. Especially for those who have been bullied by the powerful, and oppressed and pushed to the margins because they are “different,” Those forced into “alien” status, without rights and privileges.
Conclusion: How Our Baby Identity Guides Us
Now, I recognize you are anxious to hear more on this subject. This affects so many people. Yet it’s also become so political, so highly controversial, that— on both sides— NO DISCUSSION. MY MIND IS MADE UP. THE ANSWER IS OBVIOUS. I hesitate to say any more, because I fear you will forget everything else I have already said: Be who you are! Be born-again babies— holy, hungry, helpless babies.
But let me conclude yet by framing this yet in terms of identity.
We love because he first loved us. We have sincere love for each other, loving deeply, from the heart… because that is how we have been loved. Our Father God with a Mother’s Heart loves us unconditionally, and the way others will know that is when we love just like God loves. We get our identity through others.
Just like a baby gets its first and primary identity through Mom and Dad, the people and person closest and most important to us always gives us our core identity.
I can say to myself, “I’m loveable, beautiful, intelligent, funny… but if people near you tell you otherwise, you won’t believe it. That won’t be your identity.
That’s why Traditional cultures everywhere, your identity is formed by your place in the tribe, your place in your extended family and community. I am the husband of Sandra, the son of Mervin and Norma Kuepfer, the grandson of Katie and Sam Jantzi, the father of Joshua, Matthew and Zachary. A farmer on the farm of my father and his father, and his father before him. Everybody around me informs me who I am.
What is an adequate identity? As we have become more transient, less rooted in our community, more individual, we have started saying, “Look deep inside, for your core identity!” Others around you can’t be trusted. You need to find your own. And so, in recent times, we’ve looked at our deepest desires, and among our deepest desires are our sexual desires, and we have reshaped our core identity around our desires. We now “self-identify” rather than letting others define us.
We do need others to tell us: “I’m enough. I’m a beautiful baby. I don’t have to succeed. I’m a perfect baby. All the people who matter most to me tell me that I am enough.
You need to hear God say, “You’re enough.” Let God give you your first and core identity. God will satisfy your hunger and protect you in your helplessness. God can make you holy.