Sunday, January 29, 2012

Living Stones (1 Peter 2.4-5)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
January 29, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Variations of 'Foundation'" (Joseph Martin)
Song of Praise: "O For a Thousand Tongues" (Charles Wesley, David Crowder)
Song of Community: "This is Your House" (Dawson/Austell)
Song of Prasie: "Come, People of the Risen King" (Getty/Townend)

The Word in Music (Choir): "Built on a Rock" (Jay Althouse)
Offering of Music: Jazz Piano Improvisation (Rick Bean)
Song of Sending: "Grace Alone" (Brown, Nelson)
Postlude: "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" (Paul Manz)

Living Stones
Text: 1 Peter 2:4-5

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today we are going to talk about “Christian identity” – not a secret identity… if that’s where your mind went, you’ve been watching too many spy shows on TV. No, we’re going to talk about your Christian identity – who you are if you are a follower of Jesus.

We continue in a study of 1 Peter 2, and today is our first week of several to talk about our identity. Before we got to this, we looked in this passage at who Jesus is. Peter uses well-developed building imagery to help us understand, and this is what we’ve talked about in the past few weeks. Like an architect or master-builder, God has a design or plan which He has been building throughout history. We read from Ephesians that God’s Word, spoken through Apostles and prophets, was the foundation of this plan, indicating what was to come. Last week Greg talked some more about the importance of God’s Word in the growth and development of Jesus’ followers.

And we read about who Jesus is. He is the cornerstone – the precious cornerstone – upon which God has and is building a house. We talked about how those who believe understand the precious value of Jesus as the cornerstone, but those who do not believe find him instead to be a stone to stumble over and a “rock” that is offensive.

And having studied who Jesus is and what God has designed for humanity related to him, the text turns to who we are and what God has planned for us. Now, back to we who watch too much TV… if you are expecting an identity like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, or even something more Bible-sounding, like “Victorious Warrior,” you may be disappointed.

You are LIVING STONES!

Pretty snazzy, huh? Well, don’t dismiss that out of hand. It’s more exciting than it sounds. Remember that we are in the midst of rock and building imagery… Jesus is also a stone, and there’s much this name and this imagery can teach us about who we are in Christ and how we are to live our life.

So here’s the flow of thought, to help you follow along in 1 Peter 2. God has given us the Word in order that we might grow in respect to salvation, that is, come to know and trust Him for salvation. That’s verse 2. And in God’s mercy or kindness (verse 3), we come to Him through the one who is the living stone. Peter quickly identifies that Jesus was both rejected by men and chosen and precious to God (verse 4), then continues to describe our identity as we come to God through Jesus.

The main idea of our text today: “Coming to Him… you also as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house. Before we get to what it means that we are being “built up as a spiritual house,” let’s look at what it means to be “living stones” like Jesus. 

A Living Stone, Choice and Precious (v. 4b)

By describing Jesus as the original “living stone,” as both rejected by men and precious to God, Peter gives us some indication of what to expect in our own lives.

Peter talks about coming the Lord “as to a living stone” – that is, through Jesus. Peter will describe the two ways Jesus will be viewed in more depth in verses 6-8 (which looked at earlier this month), but here he gives a thumbnail sketch so we’ll know what we are getting into. Jesus is both precious cornerstone and rock of offense. So when Peter writes “you also, as living stones,” this means that we will share in Jesus’ identity.

First the good news part: look at the middle of verse 4. A living stone is choice and precious in the sight of God. The scriptures are full of images and language about how God loves you, chooses you, adopts you, claims you, forgives you, and pours grace on you IN CHRIST. Two weeks ago we read from Isaiah about how God was placing the precious, chosen cornerstone, measured in justice and level with righteousness. If you trust and follow Jesus Christ, then your identity is IN Christ and WITH Christ, and your identity is his identity. Just as Jesus is a living stone, choice and precious in the sight of God, so you who trust in Jesus are choice and precious in the sight of God.

What great news! What great news, particularly if you struggle with discouragement and doubt, wondering if you matter or have a place or a purpose. God’s declaration to you is that in Jesus, you have this identity and purpose: you are precious and you are part of what God is building in the world. And when God sees you, you look like Jesus to Him, a choice and precious living stone. 

A Living Stone, Rejected (v. 4a)

Now here’s the hard part. 1 Peter 2:4 also describes Jesus as “a living stone which has been rejected by men….” Two weeks ago we talked about Jesus as a “stumbling block” and a “rock of offense.” Though Jesus is the cornerstone of all God is doing in the world, for those who do not believe, he is offensive. He trips people up. And what this verse is saying is that when you identify with Jesus Christ – when you trust and follow him – you will experience some of that rejection. You may trip people up and even cause offense, not because you are annoying or irritating – please try not to be! – but because the Gospel itself is offensive.

I hope you’ve heard more than a few times that we should be winsome and grace-filled as we speak and live out the truth. I don’t back away from that one bit. What this passage reminds us of is that Jesus himself – and the message of God’s salvation in Christ – is offensive to some. And yet that is the one thing we must not hide or downplay. We dare not withhold the hope of salvation for fear of rejection, for we’d be withholding God’s love from those who most need to hear it.

So, it’s an interesting balance, right? Jesus is offensive enough without us adding non-saving offense to it with our attitude or behavior. So, we must endeavor to be like Him, which is why this verse follows after what Greg preached on last week. The preceding verse (v. 2) tells us that it is God’s Word that helps us “grow in respect to salvation” – in other words, to be LIKE Jesus, the cornerstone, in our speech and action and witness. As a Christian, expect rejection; but make sure it is for the right reason. 

A Spiritual House (v. 5a)

Finally, we get to what God is doing with these living stones. He is building us up into a “spiritual house,” which we know from previous weeks has Jesus as the cornerstone, God’s Word as the foundation, and God’s wisdom and purpose as the design.

There is actually much that can be said about this “spiritual house.” For this week I am going to simply focus on the composition of it – you and I as living stones built on Christ. Next week we’ll look more at the purpose of the spiritual house as we consider a second identity of “royal priesthood” found at the end of verse 5.

But let’s talk about the composition of this spiritual house. I want to try to illustrate what a spiritual house made of living stones looks like. If you haven’t connected the dots yet, what Peter is describing here is the Church. Remember the conversation between Jesus and Peter in the Gospels? Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; and Jesus says, “On this rock I will build my Church.” This is the same Peter, who is now a teaching Apostle, writing about God building His church on the cornerstone – the rock – of that same Jesus Christ, God’s own Son.

All this is to bring up the question, “What is the Church?” And Peter’s imagery and illustration here is very helpful to understand what the Church is.

You’ve heard me say this before – I hope! – that the church is not the building; it is the people, it is you. Another way of saying this is that the Church is not constructed of dead bricks, but of living stones – people, patterned after Jesus Christ and brought together after God’s own design. The Church is not a dead or static structure, but a living, breathing one, made up of men, women, and children who trust and follow Jesus Christ.

Let me try to illustrate this with a different image to help show some of the implications for this truth.

Look at this [I hold up choir anthem music]. Isn’t it beautiful? Wait, you probably need to look more closely. Look at this part right here [walk out in congregation and point to chorus in the sheet music]. Do you hear how great this part is?

This is the anthem – beautiful music. Look at the title in the bulletin; it’s right here on the page. This is it!

Oh, you see, right? The music isn’t the notes on the page; it’s when it is turned into something alive – sound in the air that connects with your ears and your mind and your emotion.

Well, I know the choir has gone back to their seats, but let me ask for everyone who knows this song – this music… would you stand up where you are. Will you sing just the chorus part so everybody can hear it again? [choir members sing from congregation]

Now that’s music. Very nice; thank you!

Do you see my point? The music is not the notes on the page; it’s the people singing the song. In the same way, the Church is not the building on the corner; it’s the people speaking the faith and living the faith. You don’t DO church; you ARE the Church.

Let me press this illustration just a bit further, though. I was talking with Heather yesterday and she expressed some anxiousness over doing what I just asked the choir to do. And I understand completely! I’m sure all the choir members felt that to some degree or another. They are used to singing all together up in the choir loft. But that’s just it, don’t you see? Even if we can get it into our head that the church isn’t the building or the programs or the preacher, but it’s US; we still gravitate towards being the Church inside the building. It’s much more comfortable to have our prayer groups, Bible studies, and fellowship gatherings safely within the walls. But the spiritual house that God is building is not static and planted on a corner; it’s ALIVE and on the move just as God is on the move in the world. It stretches into your neighborhood, your school, your workplace, your social circles, your relatives, and beyond. That is the Church built on Christ!

And I understand the challenge, the discomfort, the unfamiliarity of that. That’s one reason we have been doing what we do on Wednesday nights. What we do on Wednesday nights is much like what I just asked the choir to do. It’s outside the choir loft, but still within sight and sound of each other. Likewise, when a group meets at Caribou or Starbuck’s or Barnes and Noble for prayer or music or conversation, we are BEING the church out in the world, but with the encouragement and security of some friends around. There might be some strangers around, but there are also some familiar faces. And I can testify to the power of that endeavor. Even the low-key content of those gatherings has reaped significant rewards in terms of living out our faith because we are outside of our choir loft, our sanctuary, where others can hear the Gospel song we are singing. (In the case of the bluegrass, we actually ARE singing!)

But even Wednesday nights are kind of a “practice ground” to help folks get more comfortable singing, speaking, living the faith outside. Once you’ve learned how easy it is to talk about faith at the corner coffee shop with two friends and a room of strangers, I’m hopeful that it becomes a little easier to speak or live faith at Harris Teeter or the Y on your own. Back to the choir; every so often, when they are really working on something, we’ll hear Heather practicing or just singing parts of the songs at home. And every so often, what she is singing will become familiar enough that the kids or I will find ourselves humming or singing along. What if we could do that in the public sphere with the Good News of Jesus Christ? What if we could become enough of a living stone that wherever we go we are in some way drawing people toward Jesus Christ? That’s the kind of spiritual house that God has in mind for you and me. That’s what God is building! Amen.



1 comment:

Viola Larson said...

Thanks Robert, this was very helpful on a day we moved from one church to another. I did have a laugh however. The first thing I thought of with "Christian Identity" was some neo-Nazi groups I wrote about in the 90s called- "Christian Identity."