1 Peter 2:4-10
Our text this morning
is continuing in the first letter of Peter, in chapter 2, verses 4
through 10 (we began a study of Peter
last Sunday, and will
continue it for a couple more Sundays, so I invite you to be reading 1
Peter through the week):
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For it stands in scripture:
‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’
7To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner’,
‘A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.’
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
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.
10Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
There is a scene from
the Disney version of “Alice in Wonderland”, a movie our children used
to watch more than a few years ago, in which Alice is confronted by that
caterpillar sitting on a mushroom smoking some kind of water pipe--a
rather suggestive image that I am not all to sure is appropriate for
young children--she says to the caterpillar, “Who are you?” To which the
caterpillar responds, “The question is, who are YOU?”
It is an important question for us to consider, “Who - are - you?” No
matter who you are, from the top executive to the janitor who cleans the
floor, knowing who you are is important in order to live with a sense of
integrity and purpose.
of the first century as well as evidence within the New Testament
suggest that the first Christians were people largely displaced and
dispossessed, and not just religiously. Socially, economically,
politically, the outcasts of society, the lepers, the tax collectors,
the slaves, the peasants, were the people who responded first and
foremost to that message of God’s love.
As I suggested last
Sunday, 1 Peter is a letter written with such a group in mind, filled
with references to exiles, aliens and slaves, who knew what it meant to
say, once you were not a people, once you had not received mercy. The
text expresses the reality of peoples lives, who were no people, who
were nobody. Just as Jesus was rejected, so too were they.
The question of
identity thus is not an academic one, an intellectual pursuit, rather it
is critical to our self understanding and especially to that identity of
the early church. Peter asserts that in Christ God has created a new
identity for this people, a new place for a people who had none. Don’t
let anyone tell you that you are a nobody, because God has made you a
somebody. Don’t let anyone point to someone else and call them a nobody
because they are different, because of the way they dress, because of
their funny accent or different skin color, they are somebody in God’s
Peter offers that
message of hope to these people. The portrait of this rather raggedy
band that Peter paints is not the heart warming portrait of gentle tones
and mild pastels, a soft light of an Olan Mills church directory. Rather
it is bold, it’s big, its a stunning picture of bright, royal colors
that present such grandeur that it takes our breath away like a Van
Gogh’s Starry Night or a Rembrandt’s Madonna. YOU are a chosen people, a
holy nation, a royal priesthood, God’s own people. You see, how
incredible this is? How grandiose? How this plain, ordinary group of
folk, largely powerless in the eyes of the world, can be elevated to
such a level?
Why is that? How is
it possible? Is it because of their enormous sacrifices to build great
edifices in which to worship? Is it because of their personal
achievements overcoming all the odds? Is it because of their high moral
character and the great deeds they do for others? No, says Peter. Rather
it is solely because of that stone that holds everything else together,
the keystone, the cap to that arch that keeps the whole thing standing,
the foundation of faith, the cornerstone on which our faith was built,
the stone that was rejected, just as these people felt rejected. The
stone that God had made as the most important piece of the whole
structure. In other words, it is not anything that the people do, it is
not anything that we do, it is what God has done that makes us this
We think of stones as
being rather cold, inanimate objects impersonal. But Peter calls this
stone a living stone. it is rather an odd image. It makes us stop and
think, what is this?
Peter pulls out every
scriptural reference he can find to explain what this living stone is
about. The notion of a stone rejected by the builders which becomes the
cornerstone or in some translations the keystone at the top of an arch,
is taken from Psalm 118 and Isaiah 28. The stone that causes people to
stumble is taken from Isaiah 8. The idea of a holy nation and a royal
priesthood comes from Exodus. And the final quote, “Once you were not a
people, but now you are God’s people...” is taken directly from Hosea.
Christ is this living stone. The image ultimately is about that power of
God that gives life to inanimate objects, that brings life out of death.
Peter builds on this image, suggesting that those who follow Jesus are
also living stones.
Recall too that Peter means what, rock. The rock on which the church is
founded, is the confession of Peter, “You are the Christ, the Messiah,
the Son of the living God.” We also are those rocks, living stones, the
house of faith.
Three strike me about
this image of house of living stones. First, Peter does not refer to
hous-es, to chosen nation-s, to royal priesthood-s, to race-s. Rather it
is singular: house, nation, priesthood, race, people. The disunity of
the body of Christ today is a travesty that serves no one save those
that would destroy the church. Just as we pledge allegiance to one
nation under God, we as Christian people are one people under God,
united in Christ.
Every ten years we
have an opportunity to participate in a census, mandated by Congress
since 1790. Every time you are asked to check off a little box to
indicate your race or ethnic origin. Every time it seems like the list
of options keeps getting longer: Caucasian, African-American,
Asian-American, Native American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, etc. Every
time I fill one of those out, I wonder, why don’t they have a box that
says, “same as last year”. All the data our government is constantly
collecting about us to make sure none of us are terrorists and you are
telling me they don’t know the color of my skin? Are they just checking
to see if any of us have changed?
Of course at the end
of that long list is the final catch-all category: “other.” Who wants to
be “other”? If you’ve watched the suspense drama “Lost”, you know it’s
not good to be one of “the others.” But what if, all the 2 billion
Christians of the world, whenever we are asked that question, checked
that box, “other”, and wrote in “Christian”? Isn’t that the message?
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, all are
one in Christ Jesus.” When will be identified primarily not by our color
of skin, not by what divides us but by what unites us. “Whether red,
yellow, black or white, all are precious in God’s sight, Jesus loves the
little children of the world,” isn’t that what it’s about? Not just one
nation, but one people under God.
A second thing that
strikes me about this house of living stones is the furnishing. Did you
note the furnishings? There are no chairs of malice in the house of
living stones. No tables of guile, no cupboards of insincerity, no beds
of envy, no TVs of obscenity--now that's redundant. Show me a house
without any of these things and I will show a house of living stones, a
house of God. So with what shall this house be furnished? Rugs of
responsibility, appliances of accountability and portraits of faith.
Responsibility, because without each one of us, the living stones, the
house is incomplete, each person has a place in it, each is given a
because we are accountable to each other. That’s why I have a problem
with those who say, ‘Well, I do my own thing, you know, faith is a
personal thing, I worship in my own way, it’s between me and God.” The
Christian community is just that, it is a community. You cannot be a
between Christians and non-Christians is not that some see Jesus and
some do not, rather it is what we see in Jesus. Some see just an odd
shaped piece that does not fit in their world. A stumbling block. And
others see the keystone, the cornerstone, the foundation of our faith.
The third thing that
strikes me about this house of living stones is its location. Did you
note its location in the text? This is not a retreat house up in the
mountains or on the beach, a place where we go to get away from it all.
Rather it is located on that prime real estate downtown, the corner of
Main and Broadway, the most visible place where you best can proclaim
the mighty act of the One who called you out of darkness and into the
marvelous light of God.
And if we are to be
such a house of living stones, a light to the world in the heart of
Eugene, then we must be in the world but not of it. We must be living
stones not inanimate objects. We must truly be different, shining with
the presence of the Divine, living with the confidence that we are
wholly God’s, and with this confidence, we must as Captain James T.
Kirk, my favorite theologian, says, “Go boldly” into the universe to
proclaim the mighty acts of God.
In this house of God
we feast at the table of the Lord, we find comfort and rest, we receive
encouragement and love. It is therefore tempting to do as Psalm 23
proclaims, to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The heck with the
world out there, it’s safe and warm in here. Of course that is not the
intent of Psalm 23 nor would that fit very well with the Great
Commission to go and make disciples of all nations.
Our preacher on
Friday at the regional assembly, Gay Reese, told us in the afternoon
workshop that when they asked pastors in their research project on
growing churches what the hardest thing was for them to do, the number
one hardest thing they heard from almost all of these pastors was to
keep their focus on the outside of the church. There are so many needs
inside the church, people who need attention, committees that need
attention, people in committees who need attention, it is hard, they
said, to remember that our primary calling is outside, not inside the
Then she told us a
story about the power of prayer to break down those walls that keep us
isolated from the rest of the world:
There was a church,
an older church -- a church of old people -- and she emphasized
that many times. OLD people. Not like any of us
These are really old people. And they felt they needed
youth -- some young people. From their perspective, anyone that
wasn't living on social security
J. And so they prayed.
A group of 8 elderly women got together for prayer every week, and they
would pray for young people. And they would pray every day at
home, they would pray at the church. They would pray for other
things, but mostly they would pray youth and new life in the church.
After a year of
prayer, they checked back with the pastor and asked how it was going.
He said "Well, it's going OK". "Any new youth?" "No, no new
So they kept praying.
On the 13th month, the pastor, an Episcopalian (and like most
Episcopalian's, he wore a collar, easy to spot), was sitting in a
Starbucks when a young person off the street, long baggy pants,
dreadlocks, tattoos, metal hanging from his belt, metal hanging from his
hip picket, metal hanging from his ears, metal hanging from his nose,
metal hanging from his lip, this unsightly youth that probably wouldn't
feel comfortable in most of our churches, came up to him and said:
"Do you have to have
a body for a funeral?"
The pastor said
"What?". Not exactly the conversation starter that you're used to.
"Do you have to have
a body for a funeral?"
The pastor, God bless
him, said: "Why don't you sit down and talk to me about what's
going on". The kid sat down and told a story of a friend who died
on the street. Might have been suicide, maybe an accidental drug
overdose, who knows. But he and a dozen or so friends never had an
opportunity to grieve. The family came in claimed the body,
whisked him away for a service somewhere else. They wanted to have
a service for their friend, and didn't know how to do it.
So the pastor said:
"Why don't you come to my office and we'll talk more about it.
Tell your friends that we'll hold a service on Friday afternoon".
So he called up
Gertrude on that prayer committee, and says: "Guess what, we've
got some youth coming J.
About a dozen of them are coming for this memorial service. Can
you prepare some food?" They're used to doing that, they know how
to do that.
Well, when they were
praying, they kept having this image of home. They didn't know
why. They looked at this church, this old Episcopal stone church,
inanimate, cold, stone church. They thought 'we need to do
something to make it look like home'. So they brought in doilies,
and bowls of M&M's. You know, to make it like Grandma's house.
Making kids feel comfortable. They made home-made soup, and filled
up the church with the aroma. Get ready for these dozen kids.
50 more came.
The call went out that they needed more food. They noticed the
kids had holes in their shoes, and holes in their jackets. They
opened up the cupboards and brought out clothes. The kids stayed
for 4 hours.
Gay told us that if
you go to any Starbucks, coffee shops, or stores in that community,
you'll see a poster of Gertrude bending over a big pot of soup.
And the poster says "Come to Grandma's House".
Now two or three
times every week, the youth come to that church, off the streets.
A place where they're warm, safe, and fed.
“Come to Grandma’s
House.” What a wonderful image of the church, Grandma’s house, a
place where you are accepted, loved, treasured and treated to bowls of
goodies and plates of soul-nourishing food. What I love about that story
is not only what it says about the power of prayer and of accepting
those youth without judging them, but also that the congregation, a
church of old people, did not try to be something they were not, but
instead found their calling in claiming their identity for who they
were, grandmas and grandpas called by God to be a house of living
stones, a spiritual house where the presence of God was alive and
The author of 1 Peter
seems to think that if the people of God have a strong grounding in
their identity and unity in Christ, it doesn’t matter where they come
from or what language they speak, it doesn’t matter how they dress or
how they look, it doesn’t matter if they are slaves, exiles or
foreigners, it doesn’t matter how old or how young they are, they can be
someone special, they can do something spectacular.
Who are you?
You are a chosen
race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.
Proclaim the mighty
acts of the One who has called you out of darkness into God’s marvelous