Sermon: Living Stones
May 7th, 2017 Rev. Betsy Perkins
First Baptist Church, Delavan WI
Scripture passages: 1 Peter 2:4-10
I’d like you to take a moment to recall a time in your life when you were chosen for something. Perhaps you were chosen for a job, or chosen by another boy or girl to be their special friend or chosen to be a spouse, or your raffle ticket was chosen for an awesome prize. You were chosen. In the Phys Ed classes and after school games when I was a kid, often the teams would be created by having everyone stand in a big circle, 2 kids would be chosen as the team captains, then those 2 people would alternate choosing players for their teams. How many of you have been a part of that kind of choosing? Unfortunately, for some of us, those circles of choosing were experiences that felt more about being NOT chosen, rather than being chosen. I was not very athletic, at least not in team sports, so I was usually left standing in the circle till the very end. I wonder how many of you when I asked you to think about experiences of being chosen, found instead that your mind side-step to experiences when you were NOT chosen.
We are spending 6 weeks of Sundays studying Peter’s letter to the believers in churches in Asia Minor, and if you recall he began the letter addressing it to: God’s elect, strangers scattered in the world, who have been chosen. These are people who would have known rejection – Peter refers to them as strangers, also translated as exiles, or foreigners, or refugees. Then he quickly names them chosen.
Peter writes this letter to explain to them the impact that Jesus’ resurrection has for them. He reminds them of what EASTER means for who they are and what they should be doing. First, he says that because of the resurrection, they had been given new birth into a living hope – they have brand new life, bright with hope that cannot fade or spoil or die away, the hope of salvation. Therefore, Peter went on to say, therefore become who you are in that new life, by imitating God to be holy and to be loving, and draw from the living Word, from Jesus, to give you the strength to grow and mature in your faith. Living Hope, then Living Word, and now in our passage today, Peter writes about Living Stones.
Up till now, we could hear Peter addressing each of us individually. Each person listening to Peter’s letter is offered that gift of New Life and Living Hope. By putting your faith in Jesus Christ and in his resurrection from the dead, each of you have new life, I have new life. To become who we now are, each one of us needs to put our mind in gear and get cleaned up. You need to do that; I need to do that, too. Each one of us needs to be obedient to God’s command to love. And that whole loving thing leads us to recognize that we are not alone in this new life and in this living hope. No one can be a lone ranger in the Christian life, it is by definition, something we do together. No matter how much of a stranger or outsider or foreigner you may have felt at one time, you have now been chosen to be a part of something larger, to join a family with One God and Father.
In the 7 verses we are looking at this morning, 6 of them, nearly all, contain a quote or an allusion to texts from the Old Testament. Verse 6 is a quote from Isaiah 28:16. Verse 7 is a quote from Psalm 118:22 (we read it as part of our call to worship taken directly from that psalm). Verse 8 is a quote from Isaiah 8:14. Verse 9 alludes to parts of Deuteronomy, Exodus, and Isaiah. Finally, verse 10 is a quote from Hosea 2:23. By using all these verses from the Old Testament story of God’s chosen people, Peter is saying to these new believers – these Gentile believers who feel like outsiders and foreigners and refugees who are no longer a part of their old life and community, but still unsure if they are really welcome into their new life and community – Peter is saying that they are now a part of that family, that chosen people of God. Those roots are now their roots; that story is now their story. And that’s important, because Peter is now going to talk about who they are, together, in Christ, and what their mission is together.
Their corporate identity and mission are both are rooted in 2 promises God made that have to do with a Stone and a Son. The words ‘stone’ and ‘son’ are not that different in English. Take away 2 letters from ‘stone’ and you have ‘son’. The 2 words are similar in Hebrew as well – stone is eben, son is ben. For the Jewish people, the word ‘stone’ would have reminded them of God’s promise to be present in their midst in the Temple. During the history of Israel, God first promised King David that his son would build a Temple in Jerusalem where God would dwell among his people. That Temple was destroyed by the armies of Babylon, but God promised that it would be rebuilt when the Jews were allowed to return from exile. And it was. Jesus stood in that Temple shortly before his death, he looked around and said the crowd, “Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left upon another; every stone will be thrown down.” (Mt.24:2) About 40 years after Jesus’ death, just after Peter wrote this letter perhaps, the Temple in Jerusalem is destroyed again by Roman armies, just as Jesus said. We know that Jesus also said, “Destroy this temple, and I will rebuild it in 3 days.” (John 2:19) We know now that he was not talking about the Temple building, but about his own body, which would be destroyed in death on the cross but restored to life in a resurrection body after 3 days. So as Peter writes about living stones, the people would think about the stones of the Temple and hear the promise of the Temple to be rebuilt.
The second promise, was the promise of God’s Son. In 2 Samuel, God speaks through the prophet Nathan to tell King David that his son would build the Temple, the house for God, and he then says, “I will be his father, and he will be my son.” So as Peter writes about the Living Stone, the people also hear the promise that God would send his Son. The Son who is the Living Stone. The one rejected by those who thought they were the chosen people of God. This Stone, this Son, precious to God the Father and chosen by God himself to be the cornerstone, the capstone of God’s plan to rebuild the Temple.
I realize there is a difference between a cornerstone and a capstone. A cornerstone is the stone which is placed in the foundation of a building, in one corner, to set the line/angle for the whole structure. The walls follow the guide of that cornerstone, and when it is true and every other brick or stone is laid in line with the cornerstone, the whole building rises in alignment. A capstone is the stone at the top of an archway, or at the peak of a building, which needs to be a perfectly shaped and perfectly placed to hold the weight of the entire structure. When the capstone is true, the whole building stands.
Peter begins this passage saying, “Welcome to the Living Stone,” or “Come to the Living Stone.” Living stone sounds like a contradiction – we don’t usually think of stones as living, not in the way that plants or animals or humans are living. Stones are just an object, they’re dead. Jesus, too, had been dead, killed and put into a tomb, but he was resurrected to new life; a Living Stone. When we put our faith in him, we too received that new life and we too are living stones, like Jesus, once dead in our sins and now alive in Christ. We are chosen to be living stones that align ourselves with the Living Stone, who imitate Christ.
We present ourselves, together, as building stones for the sanctuary, the spiritual house, God is constructing. God is keeping the promise of rebuilding the Temple, only it is no longer a physical building in a single place. Jesus became the new Temple to hold God’s presence in the world, and with his death and resurrection, we became Jesus’ body in the world. We (together, not alone) are now the spiritual building, the spiritual house that contains God’s presence. That is Good News! Unless of course you like the lone ranger gig, and don’t want to have to be fit together with others who also trust in God, but may think differently, dress differently, look differently, speak differently. In that case, Peter points to scriptures that suggest you may trip over this Stone. But for those of you who choose to trust, no matter what your experiences have been with rejection or exclusion, you are now claimed, chosen and fit together with others. “Chosen to be part of God’s sanctuary vibrant with life,” as Eugene Peterson puts it.
Which leads us to the second promise, the one about God’s Son. God had chosen the people of Israel out of all the people in the world. God made a covenant, an agreement with them. In Exodus 19:6, God says that they “will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Unfortunately, they just couldn’t do the job. They failed time and again. So God promised to send his Son, who would finally be able to truly fulfill that role of priest. In the letter to the Hebrews, ch.4, we read we now have a Great High Priest, who is Jesus, God’s Son, who is able to understand us in in every way. Now in Peter’s letter, we discover that our role, as stones built together to contain God’s presence, is also to fulfill the role of sons (or sons and daughters) as priests in the sanctuary. He writes, “Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God.”
Peter is not just talking to the Pastor of the church. He didn’t write, “present yourselves as building stones for the sanctuary in which you’ll hire a holy priest.” He is talking to everyone, each one of us will serve as holy priests. This is where we Baptists get the idea of the priesthood of all believers.
So what is the role of the priest? The best description I found is that the priest’s role is to be a bridge between God and people. One of the ways priests do that is to pray to God on behalf of the people. As priests we stand between God and someone in need and link them together like a bridge through prayer. We do that together when we pray for needs in our worship services or when we gather at Bible study. We can do that individually, which is the reason we include prayer needs in our church news – so you can take it home and serve as a priest every day interceding for one another. The wider world too needs us to intercede on its behalf, to be the bridge connecting its need to the One who can provide for every need.
Another way in which we serve as a bridge between people and God is to link those who don’t know God, don’t know how to find God, with a path to be reunited with God. At the end of our passage today, Peter writes, “You are the ones chosen by God, Chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you – from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.” We speak on behalf of God, telling others the Good News of Jesus Christ.
And lastly, priests in Old Testament times offered sacrifices for people’s forgiveness. Jesus has now served as the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin, but there is still a roll for us as priests. Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive others.” And in one appearance to his disciples after Easter, Jesus said to them, “If you forgive anyone’s sins they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (Jn.20:23) We serve as a bridge between God and one another, by extending forgiveness, by extending mercy, by extending love.
We are sons; we are stones. And there is no better way to follow the guide of Jesus, our Cornerstone, and to lean on Him, our Capstone, than to come together to His table and celebrate communion. Christ’s sacrifice, his body and blood, serve as the mortar which joins us together with God and with one another. You have been chosen!
Let us sing together as we prepare our hearts to gather at the Lord’s table: Closing song: Lord, Prepare Me to be a Sanctuary… pure and holy, tried and true; with thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for You.