Sermon: "Chosen and Precious," May 14, 2017

May 14, 2017
The Fifth Sunday in Easter
1 Peter 2:2-10
Rev. Ryan Slifka

It's often been said that like often gathers with like. That we gravitate to people who are like us in some way. People with whom we have something in common. This is true about the community addressed by our reading this morning. Like gathers with like.

This morning we continue with Peter's first letter to the churches in Asia Minor (which is modern day Turkey). Last week we heard that something they have in common is suffering. A sense of struggle, persecution. Another, perhaps more important thing they have in common is the source of a lot of their struggles. Generally, this is a community of people rejected or pushed aside by the rest of society. Women. Poor people, slaves, migrants, outcasts. Criminals, prostitutes, sinners. They're nobodies. People that few people care about, hang out with, or hold with much regard. They find themselves on the fringes, looked down upon. The thing this community has in common is that they are people who have little or no sense of belonging. They are of low status--little money, few prospects for the future. And they see themselves as others do, they see themselves as unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Like gathers with like. And what they have in common is that a bunch of nobodies. Who don't seem to matter much at to anyone. At all.

Now, perhaps our own case isn't quite so extreme in terms of a sense of insignificance. But I'd wager most of us can identify with what Peter's talking about. At least in some way.

One of the most meaningful things I've heard from one of our friends who comes to our regular drop in is that "it's just so good to wake up in the morning and be around people who care." But as lovely as that is there's the flip side. So many of us don't wake up with the sense that anyone cares. For those of us who have struggled financially all our lives. Or are living out the results of childhood abuse or trauma. Mental illness, drug abuse, or even just plain old social awkwardness. Like Peter's community, which is made up of people who never felt like they belonged or mattered, some of us have never really experienced that sense of acceptance. Either belonging to community. Or that sense that we matter to other people.

Then there are those of us who have maybe never lived at the fringe, or felt excluded by society in general. Yet, we still wonder if our lives matter in the grand scheme of things (though this past week's provincial election proved that individual votes can make a difference!) Some of us don't have paying jobs, so we're made to feel like we aren't contributing anything meaningful. Some of us have jobs, but jobs that don't offer much by way of passion, or a sense of meaningful fulfillment. Or, our jobs have become everything to us, and when we lose them... we lose everything. Then there are those of us who are retired, who have grown old. We can't do the things we once did. So not only do we lose that sense of meaning, we can be made to feel useless. We can be made to feel like burdens on society and those around us. Some of us just live in fear of that happening to us.

Though not exactly, we here know what Peter's community feels like. To feel unimportant. Whether it's that we don't belong, or that we don't matter to others. Or to feel that our lives have little by way of purpose. That we are simply becoming smaller and smaller. In a world that just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

We know what it's like to feel like a nobody. In small ways or very significant ones. But if you remember from the last few weeks, our scripture passage is, in the end, a letter of encouragement to those who are struggling. These people have struggled by not having a sense of belonging, and with a sense that they’re of very little value to society or the world. And Peter encourages them by reminding them that they have discovered true belonging. That they are, in fact, infinitely important.

"Come to Christ," he says. "Come to him--he's a living stone. A stone that was rejected by mortals, yet chosen and precious in God's sight." Here Peter compares Jesus to a piece of construction material that was tossed to the reject pile—like a warped two-by-four. Like them, Jesus himself knew what it meant to be a nobody. Poor, homeless. Betrayed and abandoned by friends. He died a criminal's death between two other criminals.

And yet, Peter says, Jesus is chosen. Jesus is precious. Jesus was bargain bin material, never picked up, then tossed in the dumpster and unloaded at the landfill. But when that happened, God went scavenging at the landfill of human existence. God could see what others couldn't see. And God not only found a use for him, God placed him at the corner of the foundation for a whole new community—the church. And not only a whole new community. On this rejected stone, God is building God's own kingdom. The world the way that God wants it be. The beginning of a whole new world rests on Jesus. And it takes shape on and around him.

Like Peter's people, Jesus knew rejection. Lowly, hated and despised by the world, a worthless nobody from nowhere. And yet, Peter says, to God this worthless nobody is not only infinitely precious. This no-name loser is chosen. This reject-pile stone is the first piece God is using to heal the world. To reconcile it. To make it new. And so, because God used a reject like Jesus, God can use them, too. To those who, like Jesus, find themselves as lonely rejects, and to those who've never felt like their lives matter. He's the cornerstone on which to build a good life. "Let yourselves," says Peter, "let yourselves by built in to a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable God through Jesus Christ."

With God they are no longer nobodies, Peter says. "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people." They are living stones that God is using to build a spiritual house--the church. And they're all priests. Priests are people who are conduits for the divine in the world. It's in their very lives that God is being made present, and God's kingdom is being experienced. Their lives, no matter how broken they are, no matter how insignificant they seem. Their lives are precious. Their lives have meaning and fulfilment. Not based on what other people think. But because of who they are. They are previous. They are chosen by God-in-Christ. To build God's new world together.

Peter says that Jesus is the proof that God uses rejects, uses nobodies just like them to accomplish great things. In Jesus they have discovered their life's calling, one. Their lives, no matter how broken, no matter how weak, no matter how flawed. Because they are living stones placed on the firm foundation of Christ the chief cornerstone. And for the same reason, we belong, we matter too. No matter who we are. This is why we bandy about the phrase "you belong here." Because this is what being church is all about. If God can use a crucified nobody from nowhere to change the world, God can use a gang of nobodies like us, too. We belong. We matter. No matter who we are, we are living stones. Our lives are the raw materials that God can use to build a dwelling place on earth. And it starts here in this local community of faith.

That's what we're all about. That's what St. George’s United Church is all about. This is why we have been gathered together by the Holy Spirit. Discovering together that we are chosen, we're infinitely precious. And that we have a tremendous purpose. Some of us have never really belonged before. And now have come to know what it means to be loved without precondition. Some of us are beloved elders whose bodies can’t keep up in ways we’re used to. But we’ve found meaning in opening our minds and hearts in welcome, sacrificing some of our comforts to make space for others to discover the love of Christ we’ve come to know. Others have wondered if there’s more to life, whether we’re born for more. And we’ve found a path, and relationships that have brought us face to the good, the beautiful, and the true. We’ve discovered that we’ a calling in life. Some of us have. Each of us has a calling given by God. To be living stones.

So… If you've never felt worthy, you've never been accepted for who you are, regardless of the reason. come to him, a living stone. As followers of Jesus Christ, we believe that before we could ever know God, before we could ever choose God, before we could ever love God, God has loved us unconditionally since the beginning of time. Come and find the same arms that spread out wide. Arms stretched out on the cross to embrace the world reaching out for you in love through this community of faith. Christ's body on earth. If you’ve never felt welcome, today you're in the right place!

If you've never felt like your life has never had much purpose, that what you’re up to hasn’t mattered much at all. Come to him, a living stone. Because we believe that God can use anybody. Any time, any place. God can use your life as an instrument of love. To build up a beloved community that brings healing grace to a world in need. If you need a rhyme or reason to be, today you’re in the right place!

Today you’re in the right place because together… together we belong! Together we matter! We're God's own people! And we have a purpose in life that's greater than any other purpose you could have ever thought possible! To experience the joy, the deep love, and everlasting love of our Creator! To love each other, to love friends, neighbors, strangers and enemies as Christ loves you! To be loved, and to love in ways you never thought possible! And so by the power of the Spirit that you may proclaim with the fullness of your living the mighty acts of the One who called you out of darkness and into this marvelous light! You belong! You matter! Because God has chosen what is lowly in this world... in order to bring in a whole new one.

Brothers and sisters. Like gathers with like. We gather today in this commonality, in spite of all of our differences. That no matter who we are. No matter who you are. No matter how much you've been excluded, or looked down on. No matter how little you think you matter, or how little you think of ourselves. No matter how deeply you long for purpose in your life. You belong! You matter! You are chosen, you are precious because you are so in God’s sight! And you're just the kind of person God uses to do good. And you’re among just the right people for it to happen. Because in Christ God has chosen what is lowly in this world... in order to bring in a whole new one. And that’s good news. The best kind.

AMEN.