The Born Identity
1 Peter 1:1-12
Sermon by Tim Kuepfer
Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect.... chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father... God’s chosen.
So, is that also me? Am I one of God’s chosen ones? Am I one of God’s elect?
Peter knows he is. Jesus came right up to him, personally, on the shore of Lake Galilee, looked into his eyes: “Follow me.” What could Peter do? He chose to stand up, leave his nets, leave his family... and follow. He was called. He was chosen. “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, God’s elect, God’s chosen.”
But Jesus hasn’t exactly done that for you… or me, right? Peter even points out the difference in verse 8: “Though you have not seen him (as I have), you still love him.”
Yes, but… what if I’m not chosen. Peter knows Jesus chose him and loves him. The big question Jesus asked Peter over and over was, “Do you love me?”
“I’ve seen him, and I love him,” Peter would say. “And you guys, though you have not seen him, you still love him.”
But, do I? Am I elect? Am I chosen? If God elects, if God chooses… does that not mean some are not chosen, some are not “elect,” right?
When I lived in Alberta back in the ‘80’s (just to clarify, for you young people, that was the 1980’s, not the 1880’s), there was this farmer in our neighbourhood who grew up in a strict Calvinist church and family. The Calvinists are particularly known for their clear teaching on God’s election. Predestination. Some are chosen by God for salvation, and others are not chosen, not elect. Not predestined. You and I have nothing to do with our salvation. Nothing you or I can do to earn salvation. It is completely a gift from God. Completely God’s choice. His grace to some… and not to others.
Well, this farmer used to go out under the stars of the big Alberta sky (you’ve not seen a big sky until you’ve been outside on the Prairies), and he would brandish his fist toward those stars, and scream at God, “Why did you not choose me?” He was convinced he was one of the damned. Convinced God had not chosen him. How did he know it? He just sensed it, deep in his soul.
Yikes. So it’s your feelings, your emotions, your inner vibes… that’s how you know whether God has chosen you or not?
Terrifying, isn’t it?
So I too believe in God’s election. I believe it is God who saves us, who rescues and restores us. I believe I cannot save myself. But I am not a Calvinist. I think that farmer was massively wrong, not just about his feelings, but about his theology. I think John Calvin, amazing Bible scholar though he was, was massively wrong too about predestination, and God’s election.
You see, election wasn’t a Christian idea originally. It’s not something that began with Peter or Paul, or even with Jesus walking up to his disciples and saying, “Follow me. I’ve elected you, chosen you to be one of my disciples.”
No, election began way back at the beginning, with God saying to Abraham: “I have chosen you. I have elected you.”
And from that point on the children of Abraham saw themselves as God’s Chosen People. Well, not all of them. One famous passage in Scripture says, “Jacob have I loved (Jacob have I chosen); Esau have I hated.” Which sounds really harsh, right? God hates Esau?
Actually, not really. Jewish hyperbole. God makes lots of promises to Esau in other places in the Bible. So what is going on?
Remember Jacob’s other name? Israel. The Children of Israel (Jacob) are God’s chosen people. Remember “Fiddler on the Roof”? Tevye’s talks with God are raw and blunt. Just like so many of the prayers of the Psalms: real, honest conversations with God. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlYwHwV4OuU
Tevye understands election. John Calvin should have watched Fiddler on the Roof.
Here’s what election, biblically speaking—the election of Abraham and Jacob/Israel, the election of God’s people—, is all about:
a) It is the election of God’s people! Not of individuals. Predestination and election is always in reference to the people of Israel, and later the election of the church. There’s no such thing in the Bible as, “This person is elect; this one is not. You are elect, you are not.” No, the elect are one whole entity— the community of the elect. Not individuals. Community. Will you choose to be a part of the elect community?
b) The Bible never says God elects for salvation, but rather that God elects for a vocation. God elected (chose!) Abraham to be the Father of many nations. God chose Israel (not Esau, or Edom) for the unique vocation of bringing God’s salvation to all nations. One nation chosen, in order that the whole world would be blessed. Israel is chosen for a very special task: to give God a good name to all the nations.
Which is why the Bible is so clear that God wants everybody to be saved. It is not God’s will that anybody should perish. So God chooses a people, God chooses the apostles, God chooses us— the Church— to let Chinatown know how good God is, how much God loves... everybody!
The question is not: “Am I one of the elect?” The question is, “Will I choose to join the elect? Will I participate in the community God has chosen? Or will I willfully choose to stand outside the chosen community?
Here’s one of the nagging problems that keeps haunting God’s people: We keep acting like election is our entitlement. We keep acting like it’s our born identity. I’m born a Christian. I’m born a Jew. I’m born a Mennonite. Of course, I’m part of God’s elect. What are ya talkin’ about?
But God explicitly keeps saying, “I’m giving all of you the very same dignity. “I have chosen you. But I will not coerce you. I will not force you into my ‘elect.’ Will you now freely choose me? Will you accept my choice, my love? Will you choose to be born again… or (as we’ll see next week) Peter puts it, “Born... not through the sex act, but through Jesus!” Choose to be born again! Stop putting yourself on the outside.
Is God choosy? Of course! God chose you! But here’s the question: Will you choose back? That’s why baptism is so very, very important. Make a decision! Stop hanging out in the wastelands of agnosticism.
One of my favourite quotes from the Life of Pi is this:
“It's not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for awhile. We all must pass through the garden of Gethsemane. ... But to choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as means of transportation.”
Choose to be a part of the chosen! Elect to join the elect! Enter into this glorious dignity God grants every single one of us. God will not violate your “image-of-God-ness.” God chooses, and then grants you the very same “God” choice. You are chosen. Now, act like God, and choose back!
Why might we refuse our new-born identity? Why might we say, “I choose to not be a part of the chosen”?
Because, verse 1, God chooses us to be Castaways. Just like Jesus. We are elect, in order to be... exiles. God’s elect…aliens. Does that not sound like an oxymoron?
Alien Vocation: Castaways
Let’s break this down. Just like “election” language comes from the Children of Israel, same thing for this “exile” or “alien” language. God’s people were aliens, where? [In Egypt] For how long? [Over 400 years.]
God’s people were dislocated. They were refugees. Disenfranchised, with no legal protection or rights. They were non-citizen residents— hated, despised, feared, dehumanized. Just like refugees today. Aliens. “Scum of Egypt.” We keep hearing this negative language in our media: “Swarms of alien migrants.” I went to Africa to work; I was called an “expat.” Africans come to work in Canada. They’re not expatriates; they’re migrants. Those “illegal migrants” “swarming” (like insects) across our borders, invading our borders… those “fortune-seekers.”
So who wants to be chosen for that? Who’d want to be a “chosen castaway?” An elect “alien”?
It’s who we are, says Peter. Live like aliens.
I’d rather be a citizen. I want my rights. I want to be entitled to the good life. I’m entitled to hoard and exhaust and overuse as many of this world’s resources as I can possibly get my hands on.
Military protection, a first-rate education, the most advanced health care in the world, clean water— it’s my right. And I can do whatever I want with God’s creation. It’s mine to exploit.
But keep out the refugees.
This week CBC published an article on how the majority of Canadians are now anti-refugee: “Turn off the refugee tap.” Canada for Canadians. We Canadian citizens: we have our rights. July 1 and July 4: Patriotism means we are exceptional. Keep Canada... Canadian!
“No,” says Peter. Choose to join the Elect and your rights are gone. Choose to join the Elect— the Jesus-Nation— and now you are like this little 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who was detained at the Mexican border. And because she was an “alien,” she was given no water, and she died of dehydration, denied immediate medical aid while in Border Control custody— a castaway refugee.
It’s what God’s people experienced in Egypt. It’s what Peter is speaking about when he says we are chosen by God, to be refugees, aliens, exiles.
That was her born identity. This little girl was born without privilege. Just like the Children of Israel for 400 years: born into slavery, born aliens.
Peter says to us, “Be born again. Choose to be aliens. Choose to “live as foreigners and strangers.”
It’s one of the big reasons we’re destroying creation. Why our planet in such grim and seriously alarming trouble.
Because we’re determined to be citizens of this earth. We just want to be like everybody else. We want all our rights as citizens.
“I urge you,” says Peter. “Live as foreigners. Castaways. Aliens without legal rights and protections.” Verse 5: “Your true inheritance is being kept by God in heaven until ‘the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time’.”
There are untold rights & privileges that come with being chosen by God… chosen castaways. And we’ll get to some of that delayed gratification “heavenly” stuff as we progress through the series.
But first the cost of being chosen, to be a castaway… (Does the alliteration help? My sons would normally groan at this point!)
You are chosen by God, to be a castaway. Which means Cost. Suffering. You pay the price. You can become a casualty.
The Cost of Being Chosen Castaways: Casualties for Christ
Again, let’s set the context. You need to know Peter was writing this in Rome with Nero the emperor. And Nero’s ability to make people suffer was legendary. He hated Christians.
Our family visited Rome back in 2010, and we walked around these ruins of the emperor’s palace on Palatine Hill. Nero held massive garden parties here, illuminated at night by torches made out of Christians covered in tar.
So when Peter talks about Christians suffering, yeah, he knows what he’s talking about.
For us, on the other hand, life is amazing. Of course, we’re in the minority. Unlike most other Christians— even the Christians Iris is going to encourage and disciple over the next few weeks in China. Not to mention millions of Christians seriously suffering in Muslim majority countries, currently.
But, all this talk about suffering can make us really uncomfortable. So I’d rather talk about the suffering I get from an unreasonable boss. Or the suffering of having to study for a hard exam. Or the awful suffering of getting a flat tire... on my vacation! Or my suffering of being so far away from family, because I chose to live in Vancouver.
Now, not to minimize any of this, but I really don’t think this is what Peter is talking about. Besides, it doesn’t seem very respectful to trivialize the real suffering of my sisters and brothers around the world who are actual social castaways, elect aliens.
So how do we pay the cost? How do we become casualties, when we are really comfortable, and life is wonderful?
The obvious answer, I suppose, is: When one part of Christ’s body suffers, we all suffer. Remember: election is communal!
We are elect together. So I cannot ignore those horrifying reports of what is happening to the south of us. When I hear that at the Mexican/US border, thousands of little children are separated from their frantic parents, those are my peeps. Little ones told to comb out one another’s lice and go to sleep hungry on cold floors under bright lights.
Little children who have no one—no one at all, save one another—to comfort them. Surely we must find a way to suffer with them.
We Canadians can be kind of smug and look down our noses at “those Americans.” But that is kind of self-righteous! We Canadians exist in splendid isolation. We do not share a border with Mexico, like the USA. We do not live next to billions of impoverished southeast Asian nations, like Australia. Unlike Europe, we don’t live in proximity to Syria, Iraq, the Middle East and North Africa. And we are still afraid of refugees hurting our comfortable way of life? We should be ashamed of ourselves!
Before I wrap this up, we have a bit of time yet for Q&Eh.
So, practically, how do we respond to Peter who says over and over: “You are chosen castaways; be ready for the costs. You are handpicked by God— handpicked to be homeless, and hurt and for hardship. You are predestined by God… destined to be disenfranchised, and distressed.
One practical way: Give. Live simply. Live frugally. And give like crazy. The Old Testament said “tithe.” That should be the bare minimum. Christians: we have so much more than those First Testament people. I don’t think double that (20%) would cause too many of us here that much hardship.
No, you don’t have to give it all to the Church. I’m not sure we are the best stewards of it. If you believe in what the church is seeking to do and to be, I think you should give generously and faithfully.
But give where your heart takes you. Give to those who are caring for the children on the borders. Give to Ronny Heyboer’s amazing mission in Borneo. Give to Creation Care projects in South America.
It will transform your heart. Entitlement will begin to wash away. You will feel your heart born anew. You are chosen. Now choose your new identity: You are a Royal Priesthood, God’s Holy Nation (Christians, not Canadians), God’s special possession (you, not your stuff is your wealth). Live free! Live your New-Born identity!