Last week we were looking at the question of how do we each as individuals put into practice the teachings of Jesus. Today we’re changing gears only slightly. We’re going to come at the same question from a different angle. How do we, the church, collectively live out our faith in Jesus. How does this thing we call the church imitate Christ. How do we, working together embody the gospel story of Jesus’ arrival to fulfill the promise of God, his revelation of the Kingdom, his obedient life, his atoning death and his victorious resurrection? How do we together live out and extend the work and mission and story of what God is accomplishing in Christ.
So we’re going to turn to 1 Peter 2. We could talk about this small passage for a long time. I’ll try not to talk about for a long time today. No promises. But this is a beautifully crafted passage which pulls together several Old Testament themes/allusions and demonstrates how Jesus fulfills them and how we now reflect those promises. And as it turns out it does so by way of three points. Preachers love passages that do that- or passages we can impose three points on.
But this passage directs at three important points about the Church: what we are, who we are, and why we are.
1. What We Are: Living Stones
Peter tells us we are stones which are brought together to make up a Temple. Interestingly, Peter (whose name in Greek is Petros, which means stone) uses a different Greek word, lithos, which refers to stone which has been cut to be used for building. Each of us is cut to fit into into the whole of the Church. We each have a place we’ve been carved to fit into. Each of us, as individuals are being formed into a perfect fit for a place in God’s family- the Church. You each fit somewhere, and without you, the structural integrity of the church is lessened. A building can survive if you pull out one brick, but it certainly isn’t as strong. It’s beautiful and humbling to think that God has prepared each person with gifts and personalities to fit specifically somewhere to strengthen the whole. We are better together.
The Church when everyone comes together forms a Temple. We talked about this a few weeks back at the Church picnic, so just to refresh; remember Paul says “Y’all are the Temple” (1 Cor. 3:16 & Eph. 2:22). Us together becomes a place where God’s presence rests; where people encounter God. When people encounter the Church gathered, they are in the presence of God. The Church is the conduit of the presence of Christ and the Kingdom of God in this world. We are the extension of Jesus’ ministry- an extension of Jesus’ story of redemption and the in-breaking of God’s victorious Kingdom. That which began in Christ now continues through us.
That’s a huge responsibility, but a wonderful honour at the same time.
But also note that Jesus is the cornerstone. We fellow his lead. The cornerstone sets the tone and the direction for the building. We follow his example and his direction. Jesus is the archetype (or perhaps prototype?) for our lives. We fall into place based on him. Where we land as stones depends on the cornerstone, and must be in relation to that cornerstone. We, the Church, are defined by him. We imitate his story. We look at Jesus and model that individually, but communally as well. We are a community which is the extension of what Jesus began- the breaking in of the Kingdom of God into our world and the redemption of creation through Jesus Christ. We are living stones in the Temple of God. The place where Christ and the earth meet.
So who are we as a result of that?
2. Who We are:
Peter gives four important markers of our identity in verse 9:
a. Chosen People
Peter, we have to understand is drawing all four of these markers from the Old Testament (Isa. 42-49 and Ex. 19 mainly). To understand what these mean, we do have to peak back into Israel’s story, which Jesus is the fulfillment of, to find the connections which help us out. The Church in many New Testament passages is depicted using the language of the Old Testament references to Israel.
In Isaiah 42-49 we see Israel referred to as God’s chosen people several times. From all the nations and peoples of the world, God focused his intentions for all people into this one group of people. He began his work of making his presence known to people who had rejected him through Abram. He chose Abram, and said I will do this great thing through him and make his descendants numerous and fruitful and they will be a light to the other people. God says, I chose this people to do what I will do.
But before we get an inflated ego about being God’s chosen people- a new Israel- we need to make note of something very, very important. We are not chosen based on God’s opinion that we are more worthy or better than anyone else. We are not chosen as a reward for our inherent goodness. Right in Isaiah’s comments on Israel’s status as God’s chosen people, we read “But now listen, Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen” (44:1). They were chosen to serve. We also aren’t chosen to boss everyone around and tell people what they should and shouldn’t do, and wag our fingers and roll our eyes at people. We are chosen to bring God’s grace and love. We extend Jesus’ open hand, not his wagging finger or fist of wrath. We are chosen to demonstrate that servant attitude that Jesus did. We are chosen to be his instruments, not critics of society on God’s behalf. We are chosen to bring to the world the proclamation of Jesus and the forgiveness and grace which we have received which is available to those who would receive and respond.
b. Royal Priesthood
In Exodus 19 immediately before God offers the Ten Commandments and the law and the covenantal relationship from Sinai he describes some of the implications. God tells Moses to speak these words: “then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites” (Ex. 19:5-6). Israel was to be a kingdom of priests. Within Israel, one tribe, the Levites, were to serve as priests to the other tribes. In the same way, Israel was to be a priestly people to the other people of the world. We now reflect that calling- to be priests among other people.
What does a priest do? A priest is “a person who serves God and has the right of access to him.” (I. Howard Marshall, 1 Peter IVPNTC, 75). So we, as priests to all people serve God by bringing together the lost and the Saviour. We become ambassadors says Paul (2 Cor. 5:20). We are Christ’s Priests. We take the gospel- the announcement of Jesus Christ and the presence of Christ into the world to bring the Kingdom of light into the midst of darkness. We are the continuation of Christ’s work of revealing the redeeming work of the Kingdom of God in our world. We have the right of access to God, and serve him by bringing that presence into the world.
c. Holy People
God told his people Israel that they were to be a Holy people (e.g. Lev. 19:2). So what does holy mean? We often think of it as uncontaminated by sin or morally upright. But “Holy” really does just mean set aside; especially in the Old Testament context. The same word used of God (Holy or in Hebrew qodesh) is used of some things we might consider very unholy. Ritual prostitutes in pagan temples were referred to using this same word just in the feminine form (qedesh). Holy means set aside for a specific purpose- or different. God is holy because he is different from everything else in existence. We are holy people, because we are set aside to be inherently different than everyone around us. People should look at us and say, hey, that person is different. For some of us, that probably happens regularly… I know I’ve been called different a few times… but that’s a whole other story.
But holy doesn’t refer to cleanness, but to a different, “set apartness.” Sometimes being holy means getting dirty. I remember hearing a story from a leader of a Christian inner-city mission organization telling a story of a time in Philadelphia when the organization was helping an inner city neighbourhood where the sewers had backed up. They rented pumps and went house to house to help get the nasty water out. While this guy was pumping out one basement, there was a knock on the door, and two men in suits with bibles were there. The Watchtower folks were coming calling while the people of this neighbourhood were busy trying to get sewage out of their basements. So this guys tells them if they want to share God’s love with these folks, come help pump out the basements. The JWs left. All the staff and volunteers needed a round of powerful antibiotics after the work was done, but it became clear that they had extended love and true concern for these people in their reality. They decided the best way to show God’s love was to “get a rash for Jesus”. Getting knee-deep into sewage seems like an “unholy” thing, but it is so radically different and radically like Jesus that it is a holy thing. Jesus did what was in most minds “unholy”- sharing a presence and compassion and kindness and meals with prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, adulterers, etc. That is holy, because it was set apart as his mission from the Father. We are holy because have been transformed, and are being transformed to be conformed to the image of the Son, and to continue his work and his story, which is actually holy.
d. Special possession
We are a special possession, we are objects of God’s special care and consideration. He cares for us, and takes responsibility for us. We are cherished and treasured (Ex. 19:5), not because we are so great and deserve his recognition more than the morally failing folk out there who just aren’t good people like us. We are cherished because we, as unworthy as we are, were bought with a high price. The price of our redemption was the highest price paid for anything ever. You are treasured because you belong to him. You have inherent value because God has invested in you. We have inherent value because God has invested in us.
3. Why We Are:
We are these 4 things “SO THAT we might declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light” (emphasis mine). We are his so we can speak of him to others.
Peter then continues, “Live such good lives…” Declare the praises, and live good lives. In other words, we are to share words about Jesus, while we demonstrate the transformation which is taking place in us because of Jesus. Word and deeds. What we cal “integral mission”- God’s love described in words and demonstrated in action.
Peter then says once we were not a people, now we are his people. We exist to be a people. To be a people who declare his praises and show his greatness to the world. Threefold. Speak of him, show his goodness, be his (being his people is possibly the hardest of the three).
We are his people. Once we were without mercy, now we have been shown mercy. Peter is of course drawing from Hosea in this, whose life became a parable for Israel. Hosea was told to marry a “woman of ill-repute”, Gomer. Gomer had three children, two of whom are presumed to be not Hosea’s. Hosea names these two children Lo-Ammi and Lo-Ruhammi- “not my people” and “one who has not received compassion”. Then Hosea is told to redeem Gomer, pay off her lovers, and bring Gomer, Lo-Ammi and Lo-Ruhammi into his home and love them. Hosea proclaims to Israel that the adulteress Israel will be redeemed by her loving husband, God, and the illegitimate children will be renamed. Lo-Ammi will be Ammi, and Lo-Ruhammi will be Ruhammi. We are Ammis and Ruhammis. We were not his people, but now we are. We had not received compassion, but now we have. Now, we are to shout that from the rooftops. Tell the world of the compassion of God. Live out the compassion we were given in Jesus Christ. Be compassion in a hurting world. Show people what it looks like to be loved and treasured and shown mercy.
And when they see that life, they will see Jesus. We, the church, live Jesus in front of people, and tell people about Jesus, and if they see it- if they just catch a glimpse of a life transformed and lived for Jesus, Peter tells us they glorify God. Let your light shine said Jesus. Don’t hide it under a bowl, but put it on a lampstand. Be a city on a hill which can’t be hidden. If you do that, they will glorify God. They will thank God for you, for us. They will see the power of Christ to save and transform. They will crave Jesus. They will want more of what we have.
But if we hold this wonderful gift to ourselves, we deny everyone the opportunity to know God. Why would we hide from view the wonderful gift we have been given? Grace and mercy are beautiful and glorious, and need to be shown in this world. People in darkness don’t need to hear “wow it’s dark here”. They need a light. Now, as much as ever, our world needs light. We have been called out of darkness into the light, and now we are the light of the world. Paul told the Ephesians “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Eph. 5:8). Jesus said you are the light of the world; let your light shine. And yes, in that case, just like in 1 Cor. 3 and Eph. 2, this should be read as “Y’all are the light of the world.” Y’all take up the role that Jesus performed. Y’all live out the Jesus story together.