May 18, 2014 – Fifth Sunday of Easter

1 Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be found to result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:10-21
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

1 Peter 2:1-10
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

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Easter 5 May 18, 2014 1 Peter (1:3-31) 2:1-10

Living stones, holy priesthood, spiritual household

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Jesus comes by the lakeshore and calls four fishermen to come and follow. Simon Peter is the very first one called, among these first-round-draft-choice followers.

Later, Simon will identify Jesus as the Christ, Son of the living God. Jesus nicknames him Peter in response. Petros in Greek, meaning, “Rock”or “Rocky.” Jesus puns: “on this rock I’ll build my church.” (The name sticks… of course.)

Today we’re listening to an older Rocky Peter, telling us not to read too much into his name. Telling us the church is built always only on Jesus Christ, the Living Stone, the cornerstone of faith.

Yet Peter also names all of us who believe in Jesus as living stones, plural. Chips off the block of the rock of Jesus, who, together with Jesus, are built to be the house of God. Peter is mixing metaphors, like a poet, like a painter, using words to color illustrations – telling us, on the one hand, we’re rocky rocks – also newborn infants in Christ, drinking the milk of the gospel from the breast of God. (No milk for infants in those days but old-fashioned breast milk.) Telling us we may be babes in Christ, but we’re also a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Mixing enough metaphors to mix us up thoroughly, if we’re not tracking the conversation carefully.

Peter’s rich mix of metaphors is partly to let us know – he’s teaching us about more than one thing at a time here.

First, he’s teaching us about the nature of salvation. Our salvation (described beginning in chapter one in our first reading) we’re told, is through Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. Our salvation is to be revealed in fullness only in what Peter calls ‘the last time.’ Yet even now, we’re receiving the end result of our faith, the salvation of our souls. (Even now we’re already in the last time.) Salvation is here and now, and also not yet, and also ongoing. In our last reading (chapter two), we hear the pure milk of the gospel is given ‘so that we may grow up in our salvation.’ We need to keep drinking our gospel milk and growing up in Christ… Growing up in our salvation.

Next, Peter’s also teaching us about the nature of the church. The church is the classroom in which we learn about Jesus, about salvation, about how we are to live as God’s people. The church is where God carries on the work that God has begun in Israel, God’s chosen people. The churches in Asia Minor Peter is writing to are made up mostly of former pagans, who presumably know little of the faith and bible of Israel. Yet Peter is teaching them Israel’s scriptures in detail. Reworking the stories and symbols of Israel to tell the new story of Jesus, fulfiller of Israel’s law and prophets. Teaching the continuity of the old and new testaments together…

There’s at least 60 quotes and references to the Hebrew bible (bible commentaries tell us) here in this letter. In just the ten short verses of our last reading, we hear quotes from different chapters of Isaiah, snippets of Psalms 34 and 118, a riff from the prophet Hosea (who, under orders from God, remember, marries a prostitute, and says these same words to her and to Israel – about how – ) even though we were once not God’s people – now in Christ, we have become God’s people. (Israel is told, remember, they are to be a nation of priests, way back in Exodus 19. This is an oldie re-mixed…) Now Peter’s turning all these milk and stone and priestly metaphors into New Testament sermon illustrations. Teaching us what it means to live as God’s people…in harmony with those who’ve come before us… and those who will come after us…

In the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican branches of the church, clergy are called priests. The Protestant movement rejected the concept of a professional class of priests. (Even though they didn’t reject professional clergy; go and figure.) Martin Luther and other Protestant reformers however never rejected the office of priesthood, in fact they strongly affirmed the priesthood of all believers. (Catholics and Anglicans also agree in principle on this – though they interpret the doctrine differently.) Priests are mentioned in the bible as early as the 14th chapter of Genesis, and sacrificial offerings as early as Genesis chapter 4… (and–)

The work of a priest is to intercede with God for people – and intercede with people for God. Offering sacrifices has always been a big part of the job description for priests. Priests of Israel and pagan priests alike offered animal sacrifices. In the Jerusalem temple animal sacrifices were offered daily.

The new testament letter to the Hebrews tells us Jesus himself has now become our High Priest – also our perfect sacrificial offering – replacing both animal sacrifice and the official duties of the former high priesthood.

Yet Peter also tells us – we are now all of us appointed priests for Jesus, along with Jesus – serving Christ by offering up spiritual sacrifices. And I’ve puzzled, much of the week, trying to understand what this means. We’re clearly not called to offer sacrificial animals. Nor is our calling to formally serve communion… (and– )

Probably the best answer I’ve come up with… has come as I’ve watched you serving Jesus in the world…observing daily routines made holy in the offering of our lives to God in prayer and loving service… Our daily lives now become our spiritual sacrifice…Our liturgies of prayerful service, lived out in parents feeding and clothing infants, changing diapers, sending children to school…Lived out in daily liturgies of work and prayer… serving meals, doing laundry, hammering nails, hanging sheet-rock… Teachers teaching, nurses nursing, barbers cutting hair, exercise groups exercising, volunteers volunteering – all of us, together, feeding the world, body and soul, with the pure milk of the gospel of Jesus Christ… who feeds us all with the milk of his life laid down for us and taken up for us again… all the way to life eternal…

A concept simple enough children that can understand… Complex enough that adults can puzzle over it for thousands of years without fully understanding…

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Some bible scholars think probably someone else must have written this letter using Peter’s name. Mostly because they think Peter’s just too ordinary a guy to write a letter this deep. Peter and his fishing partner John are described in Acts (ch 4) as ordinary uneducated men. Some have a hard time believing ordinary old Peter the fisherman could write like this.

Other scholars however, point out that ordinary people are quite capable of becoming extraordinary.

It was everyday people, after all, who left whatever they were doing and went to listen to Jesus teaching for days at a stretch. In the Methodist revivals of the 1700s it was farmers, weavers, coal miners, housewives who gathered in the fields early in the mornings to listen to the Wesley brothers and Whitefield preaching for hours. Millions of ordinary people all around the world today still commit countless hours to bible study and listening to the word and serving God… Ordinary people still change the world by faith, every day. Ordinary people still become extraordinary… by persistence in faith….every day…

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In the gospels, remember, Peter is famous for impetuous claims (like): I’ll follow you anywhere, Lord, even to the death… Peter notoriously then, later that same night, denying three times he even knows Jesus. But Peter is also the disciple willing to try almost anything – even walking on water. Peter sinks like a stone when his faith wavers. But Peter also gets back up again… and continues walking in faith.

After Jesus ascends to heaven, Peter’s the one who rallies disciples in an upper room. Peter preaches powerfully on Pentecost morning and thousands come to Jesus. Peter, led by the Holy Spirit, preaches, teaches, heals the sick and lame, even raises the dead in the book of Acts.

Now Peter’s older, wiser, more experienced. He’s made time to go deeper in bible study, made time to improve communications skills.

Persistence in faith is the essence of spiritual sacrifice that is fully acceptable to God. Faith is not much like football – one big game a week. Faith is much more like baseball. We do this every day, starting with showing up for batting and fielding practice, long before game time. And as we mature in faith we learn…again and again…

Faith and salvation are never to be frozen in time and place. Faith and salvation are living realities we are called to always continue growing in.

And like our bulletin cover art this morning, the church is an intricate, vast mosaic, made up of many, many pieces of living stone – broken, cut, pieced together, in many and diverse shapes, sizes, colors. Gifted with all of the spiritual gifts we need to be who God calls us to be.

Like Rocky Peter, the church is still very human. So Peter still gives us earthy metaphors here, like milk and stone, even as we’re talking about our heavenly callings. We, the church are still living with the same problem behaviors and challenges our ancestors faced. That’s why Peter keeps contrasting our former ways with the way of Jesus.

We need frequent reminders of who we are and who we’re called to be. We need reminding – we are a royal and holy priesthood. We are The Jesus Nation.

We, the church, are called to be filled with the pure love of God… by the pure grace of God….

Called to be Christ’s church, Christ’s dwelling place….

living stones, formed together, in the image of Christ –

Growing together, always, in Jesus –

Telling the world together, by word and deed, of the Rock of our salvation – who calls us out from all darkness into his wonderful light –

Calls us, who were once not a people

Now to be his own people…forever…

Living stones… a holy priesthood… the house of God for all the people of God…

Thanks be to God.   Amen.

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