Monday, 16 October 2023 I am still a Christian…despite being ‘other’
1 Peter 2: 9-17 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 marvellous light.
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.
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honourably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honourable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.
For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honour everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honour the emperor.
Reflection There must be times when all of us fail to fit into world around us, when we do not feel part of the ‘holy race’. My first experience of feeling “other” was when my family moved from Yorkshire to Lancashire when I was just three. Apparently on my first evening in the new house I wailed “I want to go home”. When I was told “this is home” the wails became uncontrollable sobs. Then, just another three years later, we moved again – to South Wales. I felt very much like an alien; the only other English child in my junior school was my brother.
It’s hard to know you sound different, are ignorant of local geography, are singled out.
This was just the beginning of failing to fit in – a girl who likes science; a Christian in a largely secular world, a woman who married another woman.
Sometimes the Church has been a home and a haven when I have felt ‘other’. My local church in Wales made me so welcome that now I have moved back to Wales as an adult I feel I have come home. Sometimes, however, people in the Church have found it hard to come to terms with my differences, or the differences of other people I know, and we have felt like outsiders.
I am still a Christian because at their best the people who follow Jesus Christ know that even with our differences we are all ‘God’s own people’.
The first letter of “Peter” was written to a scattered community of resident aliens facing discrimination, or possibly even state persecution. The writer reminds us of our identity in Christ, and of our duty to live in ways which honour God. In our treatment of the other – even the other who might seek to persecute us – we have a chance to show the truth of the Gospel : ‘Honour everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God’.
The final phrase is a real challenge ‘Honour the emperor’. Even those very people who would exclude us and deny us are to be honoured, if we believe that we are all God’s children.
Prayer God of all, to those who need a safe haven, you offer the arms of love to those who hate or misunderstand others, you offer the challenge of love to all, if we lash out or we cut others off, you offer forgiveness. So fill your Church with grace that we may welcome the other, love and honour all your children and live up to our calling as God’s own people. In the holy name of Jesus Amen.
The Rev’d Ruth Whitehead: Minister of the Landsker Pastorate in Pembrokeshire.