1 Peter 1:17–23 CEB
Since you call upon a Father who judges all people according to their actions without favoritism, you should conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your dwelling in a strange land. Live in this way, knowing that you were not liberated by perishable things like silver or gold from the empty lifestyle you inherited from your ancestors. Instead, you were liberated by the precious blood of Christ, like that of a flawless, spotless lamb. Christ was chosen before the creation of the world, but was only revealed at the end of time. This was done for you, who through Christ are faithful to the God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory. So now, your faith and hope should rest in God.
As you set yourselves apart by your obedience to the truth so that you might have genuine affection for your fellow believers, love each other deeply and earnestly. Do this because you have been given new birth—not from the type of seed that decays but from seed that doesn’t. This seed is God’s life-giving and enduring word.
Today, I would like to start by telling you a children’s story, from one of my daughter’s favorite books: Corduroy by Don Freeman. I am sure some of you have read this book, first published in 1968, to your own children or grandchildren. Perhaps some of you read it yourselves as a child. The story centers on a small teddy bear in green corduroy overalls. He lives in a department store, and we are told “[day] after day he waited with all the other animals and dolls for somebody to take him home.” That particular day a little girl stops by, named Lisa, who would like this bear for her very own. Her mother tells her “‘Not today, dear’” as Corduroy doesn’t look new anymore, after all, “‘He’s lost the button to one of his shoulder straps.’” After they leave, that very night, Corduroy decides to leave his shelf and go in search of his missing button in the department store where he lives, that way, maybe Lisa or someone else would then finally take him home.
Our little bear wanders around in search of his missing button, searching for that thing that will surely make him desirable. He tries to take a button sewn onto the top of a mattress to replace his missing one, but before he can, the night watchman catches up to him because he has been making a lot of ruckus for such a small stuffed animal! Corduroy is returned to his shelf, still incomplete, still missing a piece.
The next day arrives with a surprise, Lisa has returned! She has dipped into her piggy bank and has enough to buy him and take him home. She takes him from the store to her room where there is “a little bed just the right size for him.” This is his new home with the little girl who loves him, just for who he is. She proves it when she sits him down to sew a new button onto his green overalls and tells him, “‘I like you the way you are,’ [Lisa] said, ‘but you’ll be more comfortable with your shoulder strap fastened.’” Corduroy has finally found a home, found someone who loves him, and found someone to love in return.
I tell you this story for two reasons. First, I find myself reading many children’s books to my daughter, so the only thing that is surprising here is that it has taken so long for one to pop up in a sermon of mine. Second, I could not help but think of this story after reading our scripture from 1 Peter for today. Peter tells us we have been “liberated,” not by “perishable things like silver or gold” but by “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a flawless, spotless lamb.” Psalm 116, the lectionary psalm for today, reminds us that God has “loosed [our] bonds.” Now, what connection do these scriptures have to a children’s story? Peter and the psalmist tell us that we have been set free but from what? 1 Peter tells us that we have been freed “from the empty lifestyle you inherited from your ancestors.” You have been freed from who you were, where you’ve been, and what you’ve done as well as what has been done to you.
Maybe it will make sense if I tell another story. There was once a young man, then a boy, growing up in a suburb of Columbus. He was a bit awkward in social situations. He had a head that was just a bit larger than normal, and he tended to be on the heavier side. These things alone made him stick out among his peers, and it is never good to have something that causes you to stick out. It’s like a rough scab on smooth skin, others cannot seem to help but pick at it. What is worse, it turns out this young boy was sensitive, more emotive than the others. Well, this was just fuel for the fire. It is enjoyable enough calling him egg-head and fatty, but then to see his face collapse and the tears start, oh what fun that is! All of this caused the young man to think he was not enough, neither lovable nor worthwhile.
This kind of thing takes a toll on any person, more so on a child. As he grew, as the taunts continued and transformed into the quiet exclusion of his teenage years, he lost sight of how precious he was. Like Corduroy with that missing button, he kept looking for that missing piece that would make him enough, that would make someone, anyone, look at him and say that he was worthwhile. That is until he had an encounter with God at a summer camp in Wesley Woods. It was there and then that he knew that God loved him, wanted him, and claimed this boy as God’s own. Now, I am not sharing my story this morning because I want you to feel bad for me or to make you make me feel better. I know I am lovable. I know that I am worth more than all the silver and gold of this old world because my God has declared it to be so. As Peter says, “So now, your faith and hope should rest in God,” and so mine does and so will it always. I am free and am being freed! I still have scars and hurts, but God will not let those hold me back or tie me down.
Corduroy and I will always remember who we were before, and we remember that we won’t be that way again thanks to another. For the bear, it was the kind little girl, Lisa, and for me, it was our gracious and loving Jesus. I am sure you all have stories too. They might look like mine, or they might look different. You might have been the victim and you might have been the perpetrator, and in truth, most of us have been a bit of both. Thankfully, our actions and who we were are not the ultimate authors of our stories. That is what the scripture reminds us of this morning, “[this] was done for you,” not by you. God has done it through Christ’s sacrifice so that we might experience “God’s purification and [...] inward transformation of the heart and mind.” We need to remember where we’ve been, so we remember with humility who has changed us and at what cost.
Like I have done today, as Corduroy does at the end of his story, we need to praise God for what the divine has done for us. I have been saved from the lies that others told me. I have been saved from the belief that I was not enough because I did not look or act as others did. I live my life in praise for who God is for me, and that is something that none of us should ever keep quiet about. As I have said before in a previous sermon, so I’ll say again, sin wants you alone, it wants you by yourself and to itself. Praising God is the opposite. I should be shouting in every aspect and relationship of my life that I am loved and enough. What should you shout? What has been freed in you? Have you been freed from anger? Have you been freed from the words of others? Have you been freed from shame, from pride, from greed, from gambling or drugs? That is your source of praise, and it is a lifelong endeavor to orient your everything now toward God through praise!
Finally, we must love in return. That’s the thing after all. We’ve not only been freed from something but we’ve also been freed into something else, something new and wonderful. Peter says it best when he declares “As you set yourselves apart by your obedience to the truth so that you might have genuine affection for your fellow believers, love each other deeply and earnestly.” That truth is Christ has freed us and transformed us. Why? It is simple, so we can be “empowered to emulate Jesus’ own obedience and treat one another with love.” We have been made into a new creation, unshackled from the old life to now be tied together in love. Now, I can do more than simply know I am loved and worthwhile, I can do the same for others. I can work to end all things that make someone feel less than the child of God that they are. They have been bought and paid for just like me, just like you. Our hope is alive today! God is transforming us through love! God invites us to do the same, to love and through that love transform! Amen!
 Don Freeman, Corduroy (New York: Viking Press, 1968), 5.
 Ibid., 7.
 Ibid., 30.
 Ibid., 31.
 Abson Predestin Joseph, “1 Peter,” in Wesley One Volume Commentary, eds. Kenneth J. Collins and Robert W. Wall (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2020), 875-881.
Pastor Paul Grossman