It seems people are getting more and more divided and distrusting by the day. People get upset about all sorts of things. First, it was the masks. Now, it’s the vaccines. A while ago, it was Black Lives Matter. Now, it’s something called Critical Race Theory.
And as I’ve been staying away from Facebook and cable news, I’m sure I’m missing the latest outrage that folks are freaking out about. Justin Earley said it well when he talked about those sorts of media when he said. “We get mad, and they get rich.” And now churches are struggling with it.
Pastors say they get scared to talk about vaccines as if they are making some sort of controversial political statement. When did vaccines get so political? Heck, I’m a Rotarian, and we’ve been raising money for polio vaccines for decades. Nobody there ever saw a vaccine for polio as political. We just didn’t want get kids to get paralyzed for life.
Yet, I gotta admit, I can fall into the division and distrust myself. I may not distrust vaccines, but I can assume I know all about an issue and what’s right or wrong without really listening to people who may hold a different perspective. Or I find myself slapping a judgmental label on some public figure, putting them in some pigeon-hole that gives me permission to dismiss whatever they say even before I’ve heard it.
But the church if it lives out who God created it to be, has the power to stand against these sorts of divisions and judgments. The church has the power to model a different way: how to disagree with love; how to listen instead of lecture, how to be stay bound together even when in some ways you are still far apart. But how do these things happen? They happen when folks in the church remember who they are.
And when the church does remember, healing happens not only in the church but in the world. When the church lives out of who God created it to be, just that identity it changes things. It changes how you see yourself, how you see others, how you see everything. And it all begins by remembering one word, a word that Peter uses here, a word that isn’t even translated right in the words you’re about to hear. But when you hear that word, when you ponder what it truly means, well, it changes everything.
How does it change everything? Here, God points the way. Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.
1 Peter 2:9 - But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
In a world where people get divided, even hostile about so many things, how do folks find a way to live together instead of letting the divisions tear them apart? How do you find a way to do it with the folks with whom you disagree, folks you even believe are deeply wrong? How do you disagree in love? Here, God tells you where that all begins. It begins when you realize, that whether you like it or not, you are family.
But that’s where the messed-up word comes in, because the word that means family here, this version translates as something quite different. Now, it’s not a total disaster. You could make a case for the word they chose, but honestly, I don’t see it as a very good one. And I’ve got to admit that years ago, I probably wouldn’t have given this mistranslated word a second thought. But for a while now, a Latin and Greek scholar has been attending our worship, and well, her presence had led me to pay more attention.
So, when I read in verse 9 these words, “you are a chosen race,” I began to wonder. Greeks and Romans didn’t really have an idea of race as we think of it, certainly not a special word for it. So, I went back to look at the actual word in Greek, which is genos. Now you don’t even have to know Greek to guess what this word means, as we have so many words in English that comes from it, likes genes or generation or genealogy. It usually means just that, your kindred, your family.
So, why did the translators pick the word race? I’d like to think it was for good reasons. You see. At one time, not even all that long ago, a huge debate about human origins raged in science and philosophy, a debate that even used a version of this very word, genos. People in Europe and America debated over whether it was polygenesis or monogenesis.
These two words had huge implications. You see monogenesis folks, based on their reading of the Bible along with science, asserted that all human beings came from a common ancestor. They asserted. We may look different on the outside, but inside we are much more the same than different. But, polygenesis folks, based mainly in so-called science, said no way! No, the different races may look kind of the same, but they are radically different, even coming from different origins, thus polygenesis. Now, interestingly enough this controversy developed and grew in parallel with another practice of the day, the enslavement of millions of people, who had a darker skin pigment than Europeans.
You see. People had to find some way of justifying their awful treatment of these folks. So, if they could use science to prove they weren’t really people at all, well that provided a perfect out. Now don’t get me wrong, the monogenesis folks had their own hierarchies too. They saw some folks as definitely better than others depending on how they looked (the best people by the way were the ones that looked like them, go figure). But the polygenesis folks realized that if these folks they were treating so badly were truly people, well, that meant what people in Europe and America were doing in terms of slavery was horribly, horribly wrong.
So, I’d like to think that these translators who first translated this word as race in the early 20th century were trying to counter that narrative. And it made sense that when the translation was revised right after World War 2, those translators kept the word for similarly good reasons. After all, the Nazi idea of a master race had just resulted in the horrors of the holocaust, and so asserting that Christianity transcended these differences made sense.
But whatever the case, it’s still the wrong word. Peter wasn’t saying you are all one chosen race. Peter was saying that you are all one chosen family. And that’s important, because human beings are always trying to divide themselves over the most ridiculous things.
I discovered that when I broke my hand. So many folks said to me. Thank goodness, it’s not your dominant hand. And when I corrected them and said it was my dominant hand, you could see their surprise. I now understand it a bit more, as I’ve learned 9 out of 10 folks are right-handed. I never realized how few we lefties are, though our numbers have doubled in the last fifty years. Why have lefties doubled? It’s because for a good bit of human history, lots of folks tried to kind-of eradicate us. If you were left-handed, your teachers tried to make you right-handed. Why? Well, lefties weren’t as good as righties. Heck, the word left even comes from an Anglo-Saxon word that literally means “weak.” The Latin word for left “senestra” is where we get sinister from. What do you call someone who is clumsy? You say. “They have two left feet.” And it doesn’t work if you say, “they have two right feet.” Heck, even as a leftie if I hear that, I don’t think it means clumsy. If anything, I think it means the opposite.
And for a long time, it was true. Lefties were not as good as righties. How could they be? Lefties had to use right-handed scissors, write at right-handed desks, suffer the prejudgments of a world of righties. As the African American pastor, Derwin Gray, put it, somewhat humorously if perceptively; for a long time lefties suffered from a world of right privilege.
And if it isn’t left-handedness that we divide ourselves over, it’s all sorts of other things. Heck, Christians do it all the time, including Presbyterians. There’s an old joke about the Scottish Presbyterian who got stranded alone for decades on a desert island. When a ship discovered him, he gave the crew a tour of the island. He showed them the store where he got his supplies, the post office where he got his mail, and the church where he worshipped each Sunday. Then, they noticed a dilapidated building back behind the church. They asked the man. “What’s that?” He said with an air of disgust, “Aye, that? That’s the church I used to go to.” Jesus made his very last prayer that we all be one, that we stay united, and we couldn’t even do that.
But even when we’re divided, we’re not. After all, that’s what Peter is telling us. You’re family. And even if you’re at odds with each other, family you remain. You don’t get away from family. It binds you, no matter how far apart you fall. And the more you see yourself as family, the more you know you are family, the more that binds you together even in the midst of the deepest differences.
I just got back from a family reunion, one we’ve been doing for over 50 years. And our family has some pretty big differences. One of our members, now tragically gone from a terrible disease, was a conspiracy theorist before conspiracy theories were cool. We all reminisced at Randy’s funeral about how he warned us about black helicopters and vapor trails in the sky. He and I used to have knock-down, drag out arguments about all that. But he also gave me wisdom that I carry to this day. He was a wonderful uncle to my son, a dear friend to me, a cherished, beloved member of our family. When he fell ill, it broke all our hearts. I loved that man. I grieve his loss to this day. He was family, and in spite of our disagreements, family we remained.
This year at the reunion, I sat by my 90 plus year old Aunt Irene at lunch one day. I asked her about her granddaughter, Ysabel. And she replied about how much she loved her, though she still used the name, Forest, the name that she had known Ysabel by since she was born. You see, a few years before, Forest had transitioned to Ysabel. But it was clear, that no matter her name or her new gender, Irene loved her grandchild just as much as before as Ysabel loved her. And as her cousins, the rest of us did as well. After all, Ysabel is family, and nothing can change that.
But family is more than that even. After all, at that reunion, I hung out with folks who have hurt me, who at times I felt had excluded and shunned me. But family they remain. So I had found ways to make peace with my hurt, to appreciate their perspective, their pain, maybe even the ways I had unfairly judged them. That’s what family is too, folks who we have hurt and who have hurt us, and yet we still find a way through.
And God is telling us here, that’s who you are. You’re family. You’re family not by your choice but by God’s choice. You and I are God’s own people, who called us out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. And no matter what may divide us, family is what we remain, not just here in these walls, but throughout our nation and world.
Pretty much everyone knows her, those who hate her and those who love her, as AOC. And whatever you think of the congresswoman from Queens, she is family. Her favorite Jesus story is when Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. Go figure. And in quite another direction, the three million who watch him each night on Fox News, know him simply as Tucker. But this devoted member of Christ Church in Georgetown, well, he’s family too.
And if you struggle with seeing either of these folks as family, then remember what Peter also says you are. You are priests. And what do priests do? They intercede for others before God. So, if someone offends you or just irritates you either here or out there, pray for them, especially if they are part of this complicated family called the church. And as you do, see what God will do, not so much in them but in you. For we are all family, even when we disagree, even when we hurt, even sin against each other.And as you wrestle with that reality or maybe celebrate it, don’t ever forget what it cost. For in Jesus, God was cast out so that you might be brought in. He was shown no mercy so that you might receive mercy without end. And even as we rejected and killed him, Jesus prayed for us. After all, Jesus knew, even if we didn’t, that we were family. And nothing, no mistake, no evil, not even death can ever overcome that love. So, remember, who you are, whose you are. You are family. And this is not your doing. It is the beautiful, wondrous gift of God.