1,2 Peter | A people founded on love

A community grounded in Christ will be humble, hospitable and loving. (Listen.)

‘You are a chosen race,’ writes Peter, ‘a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.’ Really? In the leadup to the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), at least half a dozen LGBTIQA+ events here in Victoria have been cancelled. In the media and online, some far-right ‘Christians’ are claiming an exclusive truth and ‘breathing threats and murder’ towards gay people, trans people, and others; councils are so worried they are shutting things down.

As ‘God’s own people’, other ‘Christians’ are also politicizing basic healthcare, promoting legislation which harms women, people of colour, trans people and poor people and objecting to measures which alleviate poverty and suffering. As ‘a chosen race’, still others are embracing white supremacy and religious nationalism. Overseas, they use political lies, a corrupt judiciary and military tactics to seek a ‘Christian’ state in the US, and the expansion of a holy Russian Empire into Eastern Europe. Closer to home, the rhetoric of ‘holy nationhood’ is used to justify the colonization of this continent and the murder and dispossession of its First Peoples; even now, such readings have rarely been challenged by the majority church.

So when I hear Christians claim to be ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people’ from a position of dominance, my skin crawls. Yet I insist that, given some context, these words are actually good news—just not in the way many Christians seem to think. So let’s take a closer look.

In his letter, Peter is writing ‘to the exiles of the dispersion’ (1:1). That is, he is writing to disciples who had been scattered to the winds by violent fundamentalists. As the number of Jesus followers grew, some Jewish authorities had become nervous. They had organized the crucifixion of Jesus, yet even after his death, day by day more followers were being added to the number. So they began to persecute, even kill, those followers. Apostles were flogged; Stephen was stoned; and a man named Saul ‘was ravaging the church by entering house after house, dragging off both men and women and committing them to jail.’ (Acts 8:3). Indeed, he was ‘breathing threats and murder’ (9:1) as he travelled to Damascus to track down more Jesus-followers and extradite them to Jerusalem. Which is all to say, the recipients of Peter’s letter were a small, scattered, persecuted bunch. They’d been driven out of the religious community and even out of the region; they bore the brunt of a vicious religious fundamentalism.

And why? Because they placed their faith in Jesus, who showed that God’s grace isn’t exclusive and that love is more important than law. For it is this which enraged the fundamentalists. You might remember the first time a mob tried to drive Jesus off a cliff: it was when he reminded them that God’s generosity and healing had been shared with Gentiles. You might also remember some of the complaints made about him: that he ate with religious outsiders; that he declared all foods to be clean; that he offered healing on the sabbath; and that over and above law and judgement he offered love and mercy.

The fundamentalists were infuriated, too, that in teaching with the authority which comes with integrity, he was seen to be ‘not as their scribes’ (Matthew 7:29); and the astounded, delighted crowds were choosing to follow him. And so the fundamentalists had him killed. Then as the movement grew, they persecuted, arrested, killed, or drove away very many of his followers.

So in our context, Peter’s letter might be addressed to a gay Ugandan Christian fleeing for her life; or an Iranian sentenced to death for converting to Christianity; or a trans kid kicked out of home by his Christian family. It might be addressed to a lesbian couple refused communion and excommunicated from their church, or a trans man or autistic kid told to stay away from worship. It might be addressed to a gentle woman who has fled a violent marriage and a patriarchal theology, or a divorcee who is barred from church leadership and subsequently shunned.

It might also be addressed to a questioner or quester, who tries to believe but needs space for doubt: and who is told that a faithful person never questions and to come back when they have faith. Or it might be addressed to the person with a serious illness or a disabled child who has been told these are punishments from God; or the gay person who has been forced to undergo repeated ‘exorcisms’ until they ‘repent’ of their so-called sin. Indeed, this letter is addressed to anyone who has fled a home, church, or community because of a suffocating religiosity; it’s addressed to anyone who has escaped religious violence or religious rejection, and who yet has somehow, somewhere, retained a shred of faith. Which indeed is very many of us here at Sanctuary.

To us, then, Peter writes, ‘Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all trickery, insincerity, envy, and all slander.’ Let go of all that viciousness which has been heaped upon you, and do not take it on. Don’t let the bastards define you and, whatever you do, don’t mirror them; don’t become malicious yourself.

You have been fed toxic waste, but instead, ‘like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk which will help you grow into maturity and wholeness in God.’ Drink deep, suck hard, generate more milk from the infinitely giving breast. And as you grow stronger, seek good bread, living water, new wine, and the life which flows from Christ. Find the stories of love, hope and healing; eat with others; follow the trail of breadcrumbs which leads from the table to a wide and spacious place.

Peter writes, ‘though rejected by mortals, come to him, a living stone, chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones allow yourselves to be built into a sanctuary vibrant with life.’ In other words, join with others, because you cannot go it alone. Find a place of belonging, and allow God to form you into a vibrant spiritual home.

Then you will become a holy priesthood, offering your Christ-shaped lives up to God. This priesthood is not the way of domination and death. It’s not the way of white supremacy and Christian nationalism. It’s not the way of an aggressive heteronormativity or hatred; it’s not the way of rigid religious boundaries. Instead, it’s the Way grounded in Jesus, the Way which heaps blessings on the poor, the humble, the merciful, the peacemaker, and the persecuted, and which repays evil and abuse with a blessing. It’s the Way which shatters every human boundary and showers religious outsiders with grace. It’s the Way which, to those often used by the religiously powerful as punching bags, offers dignity, belonging and healing.

As people united by this Way, allow ‘the stone the builders rejected,’ that is, Christ, to shape your common life. Let your gatherings be characterized by mercy, by gentleness, by hospitality, by love, and by a priority for the most vulnerable. Your words, attitudes and actions will reveal your true foundation: let it be Christ. For when Christ is your shared foundation, you indeed become ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.’

And all these titles sound mighty fine, but by now you might have guessed that they don’t confer any power, privilege or entitlement. Instead, they are built on the one who emptied himself of power and gave his life away, and they have a purpose. And you might have also guessed by now that this purpose is not to persecute trans folk, justify colonization or enforce a violent patriarchal Christian state. Instead, it’s to build solidarity with other rejected, hurting people that they may know hope and healing.

As Peter writes elsewhere in his letter, we must ‘turn away from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it, for God’s eyes are on the just, and his ears are open to their prayer, but his face is against those who do evil.’ (3:11-12). Through word and deed, then, we actively ‘proclaim the mighty acts of the one who called [us] out of darkness into his marvellous light, the one who called [us] from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.’

And God chooses the rejected and despised and marginalized to do this work for a reason: because if you know what it is to be rejected, you understand the importance of belonging and of offering acceptance to others. Because if you once did not receive kindness, you know better than anyone the healing power of a merciful gesture, a loving community, a gentle word.

Beloved, once you were not a people: but now you have been gathered in. Once you were rejected, but here you are accepted. Once you had not known mercy, but now you know it is showered on you in abundance, and has been all along. Taste and see that God is good: and let us share this goodness with many, many others, that the world might be healed and made whole. Amen. Ω

Reflect: How do you share the goodness of God with others?

A reflection by Alison Sampson on 1 Peter 2:1-10 given to Sanctuary on 14 May 2023 © Sanctuary 2023 (Year A Pascha 5, one week out). Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash. Sanctuary is based on Peek Whurrong country; full acknowledgement here. I pay my respects to elders past and present. The peace of the land be with us all.


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