4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
7 So the honour is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”
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, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. 10 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. (1 Peter 2:1-10 ESV)
Peter didn’t have telephone or the internet – no smart phones or ZOOM – there wasn’t even the Royal Mail. But he did have parchment and ink. He did have a voice and a message. Whether he wrote it or he dictated it, he had a message to share in a tough time for the followers of Jesus. We know the Christians were turning the world upside down by their message of Jesus crucified and risen saying he was both Messiah and God – Christ and Lord – words that Jewish ears would hear as blasphemous (Jesus is not God!) and words that Gentile ears would hear as traitorous (Jesus is not the Emperor!). We know from the Acts of the Apostles about all sorts of responses to these and other messages and Luke makes it clear that basically from the start the Christian message was opposed, the messengers would get into trouble, these messengers even had the idea of rejoicing because they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41)! But then persecutions increased – Stephen, a deacon was killed (Acts 7), the flock was scattered (Acts 8), James one of the 12 is killed, Peter is imprisoned but escapes when the angel leads him out (Acts 12). The former life is not as it was – they were in new times and places – a dispersion, the diaspora, scattered. And 1 Peter is a letter Peter is writing to the scattered ones in modern day Turkey.
Scholarship over the last few years is looking at the letter carriers or emissaries in the ancient world. They ensured the safe delivery of the letter. They were available, if necessary, to clarify the contents of the letter because they were with the author and, in some cases, they were the ones who brought letters back from the recipients to the author. I mention this for two reasons. 1. Because the technology of the day is often hidden or not referenced or acknowledged because everyone knows how their world works. We say this service is ‘online’ and we know what it means and we are using what we have in the world because it gets the Word of God to us. 2. Because the Word of God is powerful. People can read the account of Jesus in the Bible and come to faith but it has always been the case that the words are usually spoken mouth to ear, speaker to hearer and in that encounter, the words can go both ways. The oral – the speaking – Word is absolutely critical in Christianity.
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
But if any of you did not know Jesus and I said that Jesus is raised from the dead, we all can imagine the response being an assortment of ‘What?’ – ‘You’re kidding!’ – ‘Hmm … really? Tell me more!’ And the conversation happens. This is the argument Paul uses when countering the enthusiasm of speaking in tongues – the ‘in’ language – showing you’re part of the clique – and today we don’t really know what that early experience was about except that when it first happened at Pentecost the speakers’ unknown languages were known to other hearers and they asked questions and communication began. More about that in 3 weeks.
People come to Church for the conversation with God through liturgy, readings and sermon and that is special. The Holy Spirit brings Jesus to us and gives us comfort and challenges, we repent and rejoice, we grow and we give. Communication happens. And yet what is also part of the coming together is people talking with other people. How are you? How’s your week? How’s your kid? How’s your faith? That’s the buzz we have connecting before our service now – and the chat we have – communication happens – before we all log off – the screen goes dark and we’re still at home.
And yet what Peter wrote to those diaspora Christians are words for us in our diaspora. Back in the first century the atmosphere was hostile but that was a combination of politics and oppression. Today the atmosphere is suspect – not our homes – and that is because of an airborne virus. But what can happen to us is similar – destructive behaviours towards those close to us and against those we see as either threatening us or not playing by the rules. It is easy to become malicious and deceitful and saying one thing but doing another, envious and slanderous. We can be ‘out of sorts’ in niggly ways or in big ways – and it affects us and our behaviour. And Peter calls those persecuted to remember who they are – people in Christ – bonded in Christ – and whether the language of newborn babies and milk gives us baptismal allusions, back then it might have had more of an allusion to growing up in a house where you learnt how to live maybe a trade or a profession – carpenter teaching his son, silversmith his son, mothers their daughter for their role in society – and what is needed here is clear instruction, good teaching that is true – not contaminated, unadulterated – and constant. And this is the Word of God – oral – this new and exciting message of Jesus which gave them a set of glasses to go back over the Old Testament and marvel excitedly ‘There’s Jesus!’ – ‘Look, how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s words!’ – ‘Wow, King David also meant Jesus in this psalm!’ – and which was now starting to be written because the people were too far away for Peter to shout!
These scattered Christians were the living stones of the temple – because the one in Jerusalem was superfluous and later would be destroyed. These scattered Christians were holy – touched by God in Baptism, touched by God through his Word, touched by God in Holy Communion – ‘saints’ is the religious term which doesn’t mean ‘good’ people but ‘God’s’ people who stand between God and the world – and can bring the world to God in pray and can bring God to the world in words and deeds. This is true no matter the time on the sundial, the click of the atomic clock, or our GPS. The world is in darkness without Jesus but we are in the light because we know Jesus and that doesn’t mean storm clouds don’t gather over us or we by-pass death’s dark valleys but that in even such darkness we have light – hope – meaning – perseverance – patience – and dare I say it, I don’t want to be prescriptive – even joy – because the light of Jesus gives us our identity, our meaning and purpose, and Jesus’ love, grace and presence. Communication happens.
Remember one of my mantras about Christian living – ‘relationships govern behaviour’. That means we have to work out who we are – and then who we are in relation to those around us. I can relate to every woman I meet but I am the husband of one wife on this planet, brother to one sister, father to three daughters, father-in-law to one daughter-in-law and so on. Knowing who I am and the relationship I am in
– where God has placed me – governs how I am to behave and what I actually do depends on the circumstance of the moment.
Peter was reminding those scattered of something similar but he was adding the circumstance of the moment and that was hardship, scattering, persecution, hostility and the image he uses is the stone. Christians can be living stones. Jesus is the cornerstone. But the truth is that people want to build their own temples and be their own gods and stones are handy implements to fight with. Peter reminds his readers – but maybe telling us more – this is more unusual for us – that the world is not our friend – and hostility to Jesus is forever present though today it is so serious that it has often morphed into apathy and indifference.
Jesus is hard to deal with for many. Hard to swallow. And where it is the Church that has been at fault in our presenting of Jesus then we need to repent and be clear about Law and Gospel – the diagnosis and the medicine – because the goal back then and for us today – is to communicate – so that everyone will know the mercy of God. Everyone will be the people of God following Jesus – knowing who they are – a child of God loved by God, a follower of Jesus listening to Jesus, and then living unique lives – there’s only one of us – in the relationships God has placed us in.
The pandemic will end. We will return to our churches. Online things may never go away. But today we are still – and always – God’s own people, special to him, never in the dark, and never alone.
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
Communication has happened!
- 1 Peter 2:1 - 10