Out of Darkness | 5th of Easter

1 Peter 2:2-10

 2 Instead, like a newborn baby, desire the pure milk of the word. Nourished by it, you will grow into salvation, 3 since you have tasted that the Lord is good.

4 Now 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. 5 You 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. 6 Thus 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. 7 So God honors you who believe. For those who refuse to believe, though, the stone the builders tossed aside has become the capstone. 8 This 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. 9 But 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. 10 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. (CEB)

Out of Darkness

It is entirely coincidental, yet somehow appropriate that we have a Scripture text mentioning newborn infants on Mother’s Day. The image that 1 Peter gives us about longing for pure, spiritual milk so we can grow into salvation is about as perfect as an image can get. Feeding an infant is an act of intimate nurturing. It’s almost miraculous. There’s some trial and error on both sides, but both mother and baby pretty much know what they need to do. Something in infants is hard-wired to know at some deep level that milk is what they need, and I can’t help but think the same thing is true of mothers. It’s at the level of instinct.

When our children were born, there was some learning on my side of things, too. You see, I took care of cleaning up the other end. Joy put milk in at the top, I took care of it when it came out the bottom. I can’t say I was hard-wired for it as a father, but I figured my wife had just given birth and wasn’t getting much sleep because of the feedings so, no matter how grossed-out I was, I put my big-boy pants on and changed diapers. Eventually, I just got used to getting poop on my hands. Doing the job certainly made me a better husband and father.

Peter tells us that Christians should be like newborn infants and long for the things that will help us to grow into salvation. We should want that spiritual goodness. Psalm 34:8 tells us to taste and see how Good the Lord is” (CEB). If we’ve tasted the goodness of the Lord, we’ll long for more. Hopefully not with an infant’s screaming and crying, but we’ll long for more of what will help us grow into mature Christian people nonetheless. Psalm 34 encourages people to honor God and worship as we ought. Worship is one of those necessities of Christian life. Milk provides an infant with basic needs. Milk is the raw material we all need to ingest at the beginning of life after birth. What feeds us, spiritually, after new birth in Christ Jesus?

In United Methodism, we look to the spiritual disciplines of our faith which we also call means of grace. The means of grace are the things, the ways, the means by which God gives us grace. They are the ways we connect with God and, when we do them corporately, with each other. Some of those include public worship, like what we’re doing now as a community of faith. We offer God our worship because we recognize that God is the source of life and our very being. Each breath is a gift, each molecule of oxygen is something God made to sustain our lives. That’s worthy of our worship.

We also pray in worship, with others, and as individuals. Prayer is more than bowing one’s head. Everything we do can be an act of prayer because God is in everything. Last week at Youth Group, we participated in different experiences of prayer. Everything we do can be prayerful. I told the youth that, even if you’re swinging a hoe to break up the dirt in your garden, God is in that. You’ll plant a seed, which will grow into a stalk, and you’ll harvest the fruit of it. God provides that growth and sustenance.

Studying the Bible is also a means of grace. Scripture study give us knowledge and understanding. The stories we read shape and reshape us. We learn how to pray, how to love, how to act toward others because, of how people worshipped and prayed in those stories. Ultimately, the narratives in the Bible tell us how God loves and acts toward us. Jesus Christ is our pattern.

Holy Communion is another means of grace: one which John Wesley called the Grand Channel.” If private prayer is a fire hose, Holy Communion is Niagara Falls. God feeds us with God’s own self: the body and blood of Jesus Christ which is really and truly present in the bread and juice.

You see, the basic needs of spiritual milk eventually give way to something else. We start eating regular foods, and we are formed into young women and men who eventually grow into adults. All of that formation during our early years becomes the foundation for who we become as adults. Peter uses the image of living stones. Jesus is a living stone that was rejected by people yet precious to God. Jesus Christ is, himself, the example of what we are called to become. Last week, the text from 1 Peter mentioned the hupogrammon, which is the perfect example of letters that we copy over and over until we can write our own letters perfectly. We are to be living stones like Jesus Christ who is the cornerstone God laid in Zion. All the other stones in a building are aligned to the cornerstone. It’s that alignment that helps make a foundation solid enough to hold the building up during pleasant and stormy weather alike.

There’s something important to note here. We don’t build ourselves into a spiritual house. Rather, we allow ourselves to be built into a spiritual house with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone of our foundation. Jesus is the one who keeps us straight, so to speak, as we seek to be aligned with him. This isn’t about us, alone, as individuals, but about us together as a community of faith. A house isn’t built from one stone. We’re all in this together. We allow God to piece us together, to lay each living stone in its place. But this building process is never complete. There are always more stones to set in place. There are always more people for us to welcome into our kingdom community.

And, there are always ways we can be hewn and shaped to more perfectly match the cornerstone of Christ. We’re called to invite others in, to welcome everyone, even to seek people out to invite in. That’s what it means, in part, to be a holy priesthood. As God’s people living in the world, we proclaim the good news. The world around us is a mess. Some people hurt others as if they don’t matter. People who have been hurt, who feel isolated and alone, are all around us. If we have tasted the goodness of the Lord in this community, why would we not want to invite others to be a part of it, too? Why would we not want to tell others what God has done for us?

Those who believe will never be put to shame, even if those who reject God look down on us. God has given us a cornerstone that is chosen and precious. The stone the builders tossed aside has become the capstone” (1 Pet. 2:7 CEB). We have been made, and are being built, into “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9 CEB). In Greek, the words for chosen race can also mean chosen family. That’s what we are: a bunch of people chosen by God to be family to God and to each other, but we’re a family that is always wanting to grow and expand beyond ourselves, to knock down the fences that might keep others out and open our arms wide in welcome to those who aren’t part of us yet.

We’re a priesthood in that our purpose is to carry the good news to the world in which we live. We’re a holy nation in that we’re a reflection of Israel, which God called to be God’s own people. We are these things for a purpose, and that is so we may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called [us] out of darkness into his amazing light” (1 Pet. 2:9 CEB). We are God’s people so that we may speak of and proclaim God’s salvation to a world languishing in darkness.

Now, that doesn’t mean we have to stand on a corner somewhere and scream at people. Evangelism has a communal aspect to it. We build relationships and offer invitations to come be a part of our faith community. Honestly, that should be your pitch to others. When you invite people to church you can say, we’ve got this amazing pastor, intelligent, handsome, rather strapping beneath the dress he wears. You can say that, but then the pressure is all on me and if I preach a bad sermon, they’ll walk away thinking they’ve been duped.

Rather, our selling point should be all of us. Our community. I’ve seen how we welcome those who come in. I’ve seen how we take care of those who get sick or have a family member die. We celebrate joys and mourn sorrows together. That’s what community is. That’s what we practice together. When you invite someone to church, tell them you’ve found a community of people who genuinely love and care for each other, who show concern for our local communities and for the whole world. Just make sure you’re a part of backing that claim up.

If you think about it, God’s work among us is pretty amazing. We’re people from different places in life, different backgrounds, different passions, different political ideas, different values, different economics, different educations, you name it. Verse 10 refers to the prophet Hosea’s children, a daughter named Lo-ruhamah, and a son named Lo-ammi. These are the names God told Hosea to give them. They mean No Compassion/Mercy and No People. Yet, God promised Hosea that there would come a day when these children would receive new names. God would have compassion on Hosea’s daughter, No Compassion, and she would be renamed Ruhamah: Compassion. Hosea’s son, No People, would be renamed Ammi: My people.

There was a time when we were not a people and we didn’t deserve God’s compassion. But, God has brought us together – all of us – and made us into a people, a family, a clan, who not only rely upon God’s mercy and compassion, but exhibit it every day to each other and to those we meet outside these walls. In a way, we are living out the promise God made to Hosea about his children. Once, we were not a people, but now we are God’s people. Once we had not received compassion, but now we have received compassion. God is the one who brought us together. We are church. Look around yourself, and say hi to your family. Why wouldn’t we invite others to be a part of us?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

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One thought on “Out of Darkness | 5th of Easter

  1. Family…community…God’s people…compassion. Strong message, like the Cornerstone of our faith. “There’s something important to note here.” Passing the Peace at First UMC on Sunday morning is so much of what you refer to in your message. It is a caring act, a welcoming gesture, a ‘hands on’ of love to those in our church family who have gathered to worship together and to greet those who have been absent from our community. Passing the Peace is a hug to those who are hurting, a gesture that says, ” I care.” Passing the Peace is a way of saying I’m glad you are a part of our family….and a way to add new stones to our foundation. It can come at the beginning of a service to say ‘welcome’ or it can come at the end of the service to say “go in love, go with God…be safe until we see you again.”
    Shalom.

    Like

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