"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (1 Peter 2:9-10, NIV)
Filled with imagery spanning the breadth of Scripture, Peter describes the depth of the vocation that has been given to us, the people of God.
We are chosen. Not to the exclusion of the world, but for the sake of the world.
We are a royal priesthood. Not by the ancestry of our parents, but by the new birth into the Kingdom of God.
We are a holy nation. Not one rooted in time or place or culture, but made up of "every nation, tribe, and tongue" (Revelation 7:9) where in Christ there is no longer "Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female". (Galatians 3:28)
We are God's special possession. Not as those who are more important than others, but as those who are learning and inviting the whole world to see themselves as God sees them: precious children of God.
We exist "that [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light." Not to be successful, or happy, or to fulfill the American dream but to declare: "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples made by human hands." (Acts 17:24) And that this God who is the giver of all life has begun, in keeping with his promises throughout history, to redeem the good world that he has made in the work of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We declare that at one time we were captive to the darkness unable to "see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Corinthians 4:4) We declare that we are an Exodus people, learning what it means to become what God has already called us to be, his people.
But we often fail to remember Peter's final words: "Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." We are too often tempted to come to this table as if we have arrived. As if we already are everything that God has called us to be. That at this table there are no struggles, no doubts, no fears, no secrets, no darkness within our hearts that wars with the work of God in our lives. We come, smile, greet one another, and receive the body and blood of our Lord.
But be mindful of the word with which Peter ends this identifying text. The climax, the final element that marks us out as the people of God, for the sake of the world is not perfection, holiness, humility, righteousness, power, success, faith, hope, or love. It is mercy.
It is mercy for the hurting and the broken,
it is mercy for the hopeless and the tired,
it is mercy for those who are afraid to be who they are among others who too are afraid to admit who they are,
it is mercy for those who sometimes doubt if God is really at work in the world because he feels so distant,
it is mercy for those who know the good they ought to do and don't,
it is mercy for those who are learning to be, albeit sometimes reluctantly, what it means to be priests who mediate God to a broken world,
it is mercy for you for whatever you need.
And it is here, at the Table where the Lord promises to meet us, that we may come and find this mercy. Where we may find the strength and the courage and the power to embrace the call of the One who has redeemed us from the darkness in order that we may invite the whole world into the redeeming work of God.
May you come to the Table of the Lord this morning and find in the eyes and hands and words of your brothers and sisters, and in the body and blood of our Lord, the mercy and grace and strength and courage and peace and love to be who you already are: the people of God.
"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV)