SCRIPTURE – 1 Peter 2:1-10 – Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built[a]into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture:
“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him[b] will not be put to shame.”
7 To 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,[c] in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous 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.
Living Like Rock Stars
1 Peter 2:1-10
May 14, 2017
Let me tell you about the last time I preached on this passage. It was July 19, 2009, and I was standing in this very spot preaching my audition sermon to the congregation at Crestwood Christian Church. The following Sunday, the church would decide – based on this one sermon – whether or not they wanted to call me as their next senior pastor. No pressure! True story: while I waited in the hotel lobby to be picked up that morning, a button fell off my dress shirt. I knew I shouldn’t have had that second bagel! The hotel clerk got a needle and thread and talked me through sewing the button back on like she was talking me through landing a 747 jetliner with a blown engine. Thankfully, the button stayed on.
In that July 2009 sermon, I talked about my very first visit to Crestwood earlier that year, when Wayne Shaver, the search chair, sneaked me into the church so I could check it out. We had to crawl through a couple air ducts and hide behind a plant or two, but we made it.
The first thing I did was stand in the pulpit. It was the Sunday after Easter, which may explain why when I got to the pulpit, I found…rabbit droppings. Wayne explained to me those weren’t real; they were actually the choir’s droppings – wait, there’s got to be a better way to say that. Wayne explained to me those were fake rabbit droppings left by the choir for the minister. I had two thoughts simultaneously: (1) What kind of people does this church let into their choir? and (2) this is my kind of church! Apparently, I didn’t screw up too badly, because here I am. Incidentally, that sermon was called, “Who Are You?”
Have we answered that question yet? I’m still asking that about the choir, but it’s more like, “Who ARE you?” We’ve certainly gotten to know each other better over this past seven-plus years, but I don’t think that we can fully say we know each other. That’s because we are constantly changing, learning, growing, so that there’s not a static answer to that question. Each time we are together, we are getting a better sense of who we are, as individuals and as a community of faith, be we are also constantly in the process of becoming.
The audience to whom Peter was writing was undergoing the same kind of transformation and were struggling with the question, “Who are we?” The readers would have been made up of new believers, both Jews and Gentiles, who had given their life to following Jesus, who they believed was the Messiah sent from God. During this period in history – probably around the 60s or 70s – Christ followers would have been in the extreme minority, and would have been facing intense pressure to give up their belief in Jesus and return to their native religions. So, Peter writes this letter to encourage them to stay strong in the face of persecution, because through their suffering they are participating in the suffering Jesus went through for their sakes. In other words, this letter is Peter’s “Hang in there!” to his readers.
One of the ways he does this is by reminding them of who they are. They are no longer Jews or Gentiles. They are not just a collection of individuals. They are not religious fanatics. Through their faith in Jesus, they have become something more than they’ve ever been, and it’s that knowledge that should strengthen them in the face of the challenges they are enduring. Peter says, “Who are you? You are Christians.”
Peter chooses an interesting metaphor to make his point: “As you come to him, the living Stone, you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.” Comparing believers to stones would have been familiar to Peter. When Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was, Peter answered, “You are the Christ,” and Jesus responded, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” So, Peter, the original rock star, was now tell his congregation that they were also rock stars, something they shouldn’t take for granite. Get it?
Living stones. Quite an oxymoron, isn’t it? Like “heated igloo” or “safe bungee jump” or “funny preacher.” We shouldn’t be surprised Peter uses such a self-contradicting term, because the Bible is overflowing with them. After all, faith itself is an oxymoron, because the author of Hebrews says faith is believing in things you can’t see. Crucified savior. The least shall be greatest, the last shall be first. Living stones. In this topsy-turvy world of faith, we are walking, talking oxymorons, living stones built together into this spiritual house.
“Built together,” Peter says. That goes against the individuality our culture encourages us to pursue. So, the tension between who we’re told to be by the world and who Peter says we are creates another oxymoron for us that I talked about last week: an individual Christian. Peter would say there’s no such thing. Last week, Jesus reminded us that sheep belong in a flock. Today, Peter implies that you can’t do much with just one stone. Actually, you can do some destructive things with it. Break out a window. Dent a car. Put a lump on the head of a pun-loving minister. But if you take a group of individual stones and put them together, you can do something constructive, like build a bridge or a house or a church. We are called to be living stones, submitting our lives to God so that God can use us to build something greater than we could have ever imagined – a spiritual house, a bridge from “on earth” to “as it is in Heaven.” Each one of us has our place in that building process, and it is so much a part of our DNA that it should be ingrained in every aspect of our lives, including the way we talk about ourselves and answer the question, “Who are you?” How does this fact that we are living stones impact how we define ourselves?
When I served in Chicago, one of the first things I had to do was teach my church how people in God’s country talk. First, I had to teach them how to say “Louisville.” Then I had to teach them that, where I was from, there’s no such thing as a singular second-person pronoun. We don’t say “you.” We say “y’all.” Now, this is not just about dialect or colloquialism; this is highly theological. In this way of thinking, there’s no such thing as an individual. Even one person is “y’all.” Everyone is an individual in the midst of a community, one important part of the collective spiritual house God is creating with us and through us.
So based on Peter’s definition, maybe instead of asking each other, “Who are you?” I should ask a different question: “Who is God building y’all to be?” How closely are we coming to resembling a spiritual house, a holy place where individual stones can find their place in God’s kingdom? Do people see in us the handiwork of the Great Architect? Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines.” Are we planting vines to cover up the work of God in our lives, or are we living our lives in such a way that the Great Architect is visible for all to see?
God’s work should be visible in us, because, as Peter reminds us, we are more than a random grouping of people who happened to end up at Crestwood on a Sunday morning. Remember, his original readers would have been struggling with their new-found Christian identity, and would have been hearing from other people that they were wrong, they were misled, they were stupid for believing in Jesus. Peter counters be reminding them – and us – that they are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Really? Does he know who he’s talking about? I could see saying that about some of the giants of faith…but me? Us? A royal priesthood? A holy nation?
Such lofty words should make us think twice. Do we act in such a way to deserve such titles? Do we treat others as if we have been chosen by God? Do we make decisions that project our holiness? As living stones, are we building something or are we just lying around, waiting to be put to use? Remember, you are a rock star. You are a living stone. You are the church. The church is y’all. Where you go, the church goes. If you think and act one way on Sunday, and then go into a different mode on Monday, you’re planting thick, choking vines that are covering up God’s love in you.
That love is not earned or deserved, but it is given to us nonetheless. You are who you are because of what God has done for you. For once we were a not a people. Once we had not received mercy. Once we were in the darkness. And then God did something else with a stone – he rolled it away from a tomb, and out walked our hope, our light, our new life. We have been given this amazing, undeserved gift in Jesus Christ. That gift is for you. That gift is for me. It’s not our gift to hoard; it’s our gift to share.
This is not the church. This is a building made of lifeless bricks and mortar. People are not going to come to this church because of the beautiful grounds or the amazing architecture or the spacious Mission Center. They are going to come here because they’ve been watching you and they see something there, something they want to know more about. They’ve seen what is being built here, and they want to contribute their stone to this spiritual house. They want to be a part of something bigger than they are, they want to make a difference. And your call as the church is to make room for them, to find a place for their stone in this house, to help them connect to God and to each other.
Who are you? I know who you are. You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. You are the church. Never ever underestimate how God is working through you where you each and every day. You are living stones, built together into a spiritual house. You are the church. Not just right now, not just today. At work, at home, in the community, every day, you are chosen by God. You are part of the royal priesthood. You are holy. You are rock stars! You are the church.