In my experience, it seems that when life makes a big shift, I re-examine who I am and how I’m doing. Oh, not right away. Not right now in the moment of crisis when the world seems to have turned upside down. But after a bit, when a big change, whatever it was, settles in on my life. When life shifts – identity shifts. Who I am – who you are – can get lost in the change.
We are all sure in a life shift right now. The tasks and roles we usually play, shift like sand underneath our feet. In these times, things like, getting laid off or furloughed, the worry about getting sick, the stress of working in new ways, the craziness of juggling everyone being at home, the inability to visit in person the extended family members or friends whom we love— all these challenges, change how we see ourselves. Because our roles are shifting, whether we realize it or not, cause our identity to get lost or called into question.
That’s why I wanted us to spend a few moments on these few verses assigned from this week’s Daily Bible Lectionary from 1st Peter. These verses help me refocus – to remember an identity already given to me – and to you. By mercy, we are God’s own people. While we may be challenged when life struggles arise, there is only one identity that consistently is ours. The apostle Peter invites us to keep growing into that identity as God’s people.
Knowing one’s true identity is transformative. Melba Beals was a 17-year-old African American girl living in Little Rock, Arkansas when she and eight other students integrated Central High School in 1957. Segregationists challenged that integration every step of the way. The African American students, known as the Little Rock Nine, experienced tremendous adversity in their quest.
Melba Beals was motivated to continue the fight for integration by her wise grandmother who said, “We are…God’s ideas [and] you must strive to be the best of what God made you.” Grandma gave her granddaughter Melba the gift of identity. She affirmed that, as a young black woman, Melba was “God’s idea.” (Commentary on 1st Peter 2:1-10, workingpreacher.org, Jeannine K. Brown, Professor of New Testament, Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, MN, 2017)
We are all “God’s ideas” – what a beautiful truth!
Prone to Wander & Forget
Yet you and I find that this identity gets challenged over and over, at times more severely than others. We fall short. We consistently forget who we are and whose we are. In addition, we sin daily, behaving and thinking in ways opposite of what God has in mind for us. We wander away from the identity we are born to have in God.
Therefore, as the apostle Peter says, we are NO PEOPLE apart from God’s mercy. And that, friends, is the key to who we really are. We struggle to be “God’s idea”, therefore, God sent his Son Jesus, to pour out God’s mercy upon us. St Peter reminds us what Jesus Christ has accomplished for us. While God could give up on us for our inability to stay living as God would have us live each day, instead, God in Jesus extends us forgiveness and compassion, gifts that set us back into being God’s ideas each and every day! God’s mercy through Jesus Christ brings you and me out from the shadows, out of difficulty, out of selfishness, out of fear, out of addiction, out of the shifting sands of all the confused roles we fall into that would threaten to wipe out who we really are. God’s ongoing mercy in Jesus sets us back into the firm knowledge that we truly are as God’s own people.
Just as he wrote to the beleaguered early Christians of his own time who were facing great challenges, so St Peter writes to us, reminding us that we are deeply transformed thanks to Jesus. Listen again in vs. 10 to what God has done for us: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Christ has laid claim to our lives.
So then listen again as St Paul describes who we become because of this sacred identity. He writes in vs. 9, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people….” Goodness, what a list! What are we to do with that identity?
I’ll tell you one thing we DON’T do. We don’t Lord that identity over other people. We don’t shout out ‘praise the Lord, I’m so very special, I’m part of a chosen people so just look at me!’ NO!
Our True Identity
St Peter in vs. 9 tells us exactly what we are to do with our identity. We are God’s own, saved by mercy, St Peter says quote: “in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Redeemed in God’s mercy through Jesus, we are to tell others just how you and I have been rescued by God. We have received mercy. Out of this identity, we are to bear witness to it.
I don’t know how it is for you right now, but I’m clinging each day to the good news stories on the TV or internet. I’m craving stories of transformation. I love watching stories of people who have been brought out of difficulty – through the help of others – into new light and life. Aren’t those stories especially inspiring right now? Stories of people heading out of the hospital healed after being on a respirator from Covid-19. Stories of small groups in neighborhoods who gather at windows or along streets cheering hospital workers after a hard day. Stories of people here and there being brought out of some sort of hardship in this most difficult time – into a new place of relief and joy. To me, those are images of God bringing us out of hard places, into God’s marvelous light. They remind us of how beautiful our identity of being ‘God’s ideas’ can be, when we let ourselves serve one another in love and grace. That, my friends, is our identity, no matter what changes around us. Thanks be to God!