Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
May 10, 2020
[COVID-19 Pandemic, Week 9]
1 Peter 2: 1-10 (CEB)
Therefore, get rid of all ill will and all deceit, pretense, envy, and slander. 2Instead, like a newborn baby, desire the pure milk of the word. Nourished by it, you will grow into salvation, 3since you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4Now you are coming to him as to a living stone. Even though this stone was rejected by humans, from God’s perspective it is chosen, valuable. 5You yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple. You are being made into a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6Thus it is written in scripture, Look! I am laying a cornerstone in Zion, chosen, valuable. The person who believes in him will never be shamed. 7So God honors you who believe. For those who refuse to believe, though, the stone the builders tossed aside has become the capstone. 8This is a stone that makes people stumble and a rock that makes them fall. Because they refuse to believe in the word, they stumble. Indeed, this is the end to which they were appointed. 9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. 10Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
One of the things about this situation in which we currently find ourselves, this global pandemic, is that it is very easy to slip into despair. Or if it’s not despair, maybe it’s anger, or fear, or cynicism. I found myself this week experiencing feelings I haven’t ever really experienced before. I sat down at my desk one day and felt uncharacteristically nervous and anxious. Usually when I feel this way, I can pinpoint it to something specific that is happening, but I wasn’t really able to do that until I had an opportunity to talk through it with Ken and little later. And what I think is that this general ambiguity, this pervasive underlying uncertainty was really starting to wear on me. Then on top of that, the night before I had not slept well because there were bad storms in the area, and I felt like I couldn’t allow myself to go to sleep because I didn’t want to miss any warning that might necessitate getting the family to a safe place in the house. I have found since the tornado almost a month ago that I am far more nervous about storms than I ever have been in my life. Tired and frayed, it took me some time to acknowledge the tense and difficult reality in which we are all living right now. In the midst of such a reality, we have a choice to make. We can give in to the challenges and the difficulties and drown in negativity, or we can cling to something greater and press on with hope.
We are now in the season of Easter. These Sundays move us from the celebration of Christ’s resurrection to the day of Pentecost, which we celebrate as the birthday of the church. In the very earliest days of Christianity, this was a time of great uncertainty, as Jesus’ followers sought to discern a way forward without the physical presence of their leader. That’s why, as we move through this season of Easter and this time of uncertainty in our world, I want to look back and draw from the experiences of the early Christians, to learn from them how to persevere in the face of uncertainty and how to be disciples and make disciples.
So this morning, we come to Peter’s first letter. Though this letter bears the name of the Apostle Peter, it is generally believed to have been written somewhere around 50 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, so it is more likely someone wrote these words using Peter’s name. In any case, this was still a time of uncertainty and upheaval for Christians. Maybe 5-10 years before this letter was written, the second Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. The early Christians were expecting Christ’s imminent return, and that hadn’t happened yet. Jews and Christians alike were still oppressed under Roman rule, and with the destruction of the Temple, they were surely facing growing uncertainty and doubt. Into this reality, Peter brings a word of hope. Drawing from ancient Hebrew scriptures that would have been comforting and familiar to the people. And Peter reminds the people of where they have been. But he also compels them to look forward, to what they might yet become, if they cam simply focus on and follow the way of Christ.
After urging the people to put aside negative things, Peter calls upon his readers to crave the pure milk of the word, which leads to salvation. This call to drink in God’s word is foundational to Peter’s vision of a new reality. And Peter uses another metaphor to cast this vision, drawing from the familiar words of Psalm 118, “the stone the builders tossed aside has become the capstone.” “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” As Christians, we understand this as a vision of Christ’s work in the world; rejected by the worldly establishment, Christ became the cornerstone for God’s kingdom. Peter makes this connection to the past for two reasons. First, such connections become the launchpad for all that comes next. But in this is also a word of hope for his readers; a clear message that suffering does not mean that God has abandoned us or is absent from us. I think that’s so critically important for us to remember right now. As we ride this wave of uncertainty, fear, turmoil, maybe even chaos, we can’t forget that we are not alone. Though we are struggling and suffering, God is with us, and working in our lives, even now. Claiming that truth, more than anything else, can keep us from sinking into the despair and negativity that Peter cautions against.
But, there’s more – new life is something to be fully lived, you see. Even though Christ was rejected by the world, he became the cornerstone for a new build. Christ is the pivotal piece upon which God’s very kingdom is established on earth, as it is in heaven. Resurrection is all about a repurposed life, and reconstruction. And now, Peter is calling God’s people to be living stones; the building blocks to a new reality. Peter lifts from the scriptures of the past to point God’s people to the future God has always envisioned – a future not based around a static building on a plot of land in the Middle East, but a future that makes Christ’s presence real for people all over the world. Without a Temple, God’s people are to become a Temple of Living Stones. Rather than expanding a building, Peter urges those early Christians to build Christ’s presence in the world.
You know, I got to thinking this week, what better time is there to do that than now? In this time, when we can’t come into our churches, we have actually been handed the perfect opportunity to be Christ’s hands and feet where we are; to be Christ’s presence everywhere. I was talking to a colleague in ministry this week. And he was saying how thankful he is for this opportunity, not for the coronavirus, certainly, but for the opportunity that has been handed to us to do ministry in new ways. He said, “The church really has left the building!” And he was celebrating that. Peter’s readers will envision the rubble of God’s Temple as they read his letter, but Peter says, don’t worry about that, go into the world and build a new thing. And a new thing is precisely what the world needs, especially when times are tough – like they were when Peter wrote his first letter, and like they are now in the midst of the coronavirus.
At the end of the day, God’s people live in the real world. And the real world is in peril – maybe more now than it has been at any other time in our lives. Or maybe this is one time of peril among many – I know so many of you have lived through more than your fair share of challenges and difficulties. We can get caught up in all of that, and stuck there, and buried under the rubble. In our despair, and doubt, and cynicism, we can become a stumbling block for others. Or we can recognize God’s presence with us in Christ, God’s new purpose for us in resurrection, and the opportunities we have to rebuild and live into a new reality.
We are here because of God’s goodness. We are here because of new life in Christ. We are here because in resurrection there is new life and new purpose. It was true for Christ, and because it was true for Christ, it is also true for us. As Christians who have experienced new life in Christ, we are to proclaim something of what we know about God to the world around us. At a time when the doors of the churches are closed, we are to be the church, Christ’s presence, in every corner of the world. That’s what church is, right? Christ with the people.
So we have to “speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called [us] out of darkness into his amazing light.” These are my most favorite words from this passage. Just reading them brings comfort and peace to me, in these words I find hope. And I know, that even in dark times like these, God is still calling us out of darkness, even now, especially now. God is still shining in the world, the light of Christ’s presence is still a source of hope and new life for all people. Peter’s challenge is clear – as those living as citizens of God’s kingdom, be living stones, who share the glory of Christ’s presence with everyone.
And we do this so that all may know this truth:
Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Thanks be to God.