We all like to consider ourselves special. We like to have someone to remember our birthdays, to celebrate and enjoy our achievements big and small, someone with whom we can smile, share secret glances. It’s great to be recognised. It’s surprising when you are far from home and unexpectedly meet colleagues, friends, or family. Airports are such places, as are the Pitt St Mall in Sydney or the Bourke St Mall in Melbourne. It’s a buzz. That sense of acknowledgment is powerful – even if the names escape you. As a child and adolescent, I remember the painful walks with my father down the main street. Dad knew everyone and everyone seemed to know him. While it speaks of belonging and connectedness, as a kid, the walks were interminable and frustrating.
A text from Exodus 19:6 echoes through the second testament scriptures: You will be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. These are the words revealed to Moses on Mt Sinai, words directed at the Hebrews soon after their escape from Egypt. What follows is the establishment of a holy covenant between the LORD and his people – expressed as the Decalogue (Ten Commandments). In this covenant the LORD freely chooses the Hebrews as his own – and for their part the Hebrews accept the LORD as their God. Thus they become a kingdom of priests to serve him, a holy nation set apart from all other nations. You and I are well aware that the Jews, the descendants of this same Hebrew people, are proudly aware of this extraordinary relationship begun in the depths of time and lived out still in villages and cities throughout the globe.
The writer of 1 Peter, however, is, in a quite different context when he alludes to Exodus 19:6. He is perhaps in Babylon and writing to gentile Christians through the diaspora (Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia). For the writer (of 1 Peter) it is those who belong to Christ, who accept ‘the stone rejected by the builders’ who are now chosen, made holy and set apart. These early Christians are, of course, the church, the assemblies, the communities of the faithful. And we who are members of this community by virtue of our faith and practice are invited into a relationship with this one LORD, in a covenant first established at Sinai and then renewed in the blood of the cross.
The church has more than its share of critics, yet it is its identity, our identity as believers, that makes us special. It is through fidelity to the covenant that we live out our holiness which sets us apart as God’s chosen people, that we can be seen to be and acknowledged as a royal priesthood.
Mr Peter Douglas
Director of Faith and Mission