What Am I?

living stoneTo read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.

Sermon based on 1 Peter 2:2-10

One of the games our family likes to play when traveling is “I Spy…” One of us says aloud, “I spy with my eye something that is…” The other two are left to guess what something might be. David III is the best of our bunch when playing this game. I think children like to play guessing games. It has been said that children especially like those games where they might pretend to be something or someone that others have to guess. Adults do that sometimes too of pretending to be something that they are not. For Peter, too many people were pretending to live authentic Christian lives. Today’s passage from 1st Peter uses a succession of images that help tell us what we are as followers of Christ, hence the title of this morning’s sermon, “What Am I?” Our scripture passage suggests a couple of images for us to consider.

First, we are hungry babies. Newborn babes that desire the pure milk of the word to be exact! Life begins with birth and Peter reminds us of the reality of new birth when we choose to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Following any birth of a living creature there must be a time for nurture. Just as a baby requires milk in order to be nourished and to grow, we need something similar in our spiritual lives. Spiritually we must be nourished through God’s word and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In striving to be like a newborn in our faith journey, we are invited to take some specific steps when thinking about this image. We are encouraged to lay aside all evil. We see that a catalog is presented to us: malice that describes wickedness, guile that represents deceit, and hypocrisy that depicts a false presentation of ourselves. Envy is also mentioned and this describes jealousy ill will, evil speaking, including defamation of character and slander. To truly be forgiven to experience full repentance we must resist those things that draw us away from God. To help us in our journey we are to desire the pure milk of the word. The pure milk of God’s word is something we should all be craving in our lives. In other words, we must turn to God.

As Peter continues to speak about spiritual growth he also makes reference to tasting. Before one can crave or desire spiritual growth they must first recognize that the Lord is gracious. I read recently of a missionary who spent most of their time in ministry in cultures where Christianity was the minority faith represented. During several decades of missionary service they discovered an effective approach to those who opposed Christianity. This missionary would encourage them to at least “taste” the Word of God and what they had shared about Jesus Christ. This approach was logical. Before rejecting Christianity people were encouraged to explore the teachings of Jesus as shared in Scripture. The result of this approach proved to be an effective form of outreach. For some of those who would learn about God through reading Scripture they discovered this was a God they wanted to follow.

Following this description of newborn infants, Peter shared that we are to become like building stones with which God can build us into a spiritual house, even though we run the risk of rejection. Peter as he would often do in his writings used an image that people would find familiar. The image of a living stone was one used by the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah spoke of a stone that was rejected as being useless but became the cornerstone. We can easily see how people were able to associate this analogy with Jesus. Jesus was condemned and was crucified. But like a stone that was considered useless, Jesus became the cornerstone. What exactly is a cornerstone? The dictionary defines a cornerstone as the following, a stone which lies at the corner of two walls and serves to unite them, specifically a stone built into a corner of the foundation on an important edifice as the actual or nominal starting point in the building. Through that definition we see that a cornerstone helps to build walls together and gives them strength and substance.

Likewise the church itself is composed of individuals who are living stones. It is Jesus who brings our lives and church together. He brings us together not as an unchanging monument but as a vital structure. God has called us to a life of building and not destruction. Stone is a symbol of something that endures. This description provides us the following:

  • Christ is the foundation stone of our faith.
  • Christ is the cornerstone of the church.
  • Christ is the stumbling stone for those who do not have faith but precious to those who have faith.

It’s interesting to note that the great artist Michelangelo would venture into the quarries of Florence, Italy looking for just the right piece of marble for his works of art. A particular sculpture would often call for a particular piece of rock. One day a friend accompanied Michelangelo to the quarry and observed him examining a particular block of stone. His friend asked what he was doing to which Michelangelo replied, “I am seeking to release the angel within the stone.” For Michelangelo that stone was truly alive. Likewise God wants us to be alive in relationship to our faith and service in His Kingdom. Jesus invites us to become living stones so that God might use us to build the church.

In building the church we also learn that we are a chosen people. Peter used these following images to identify people and their identity in Christ. Here now these words from 1 Peter:

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

 Perhaps no society in history has motivated people to be more concerned about “self-image” than the United States of America. We have been led to believe that if our self-image is adequate that the remaining areas of our lives will demonstrate success. Books, magazines, and advertisements focus on the subject of self-image. Our Scripture passage also speaks about the challenges of self-image. Although Peter does not label this specifically as self-image he teaches us that the solution to enjoying a successful self-image is living a life that is authentic. Many years ago a minister was working with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. They had an opportunity to sit in on a meeting that was discussing the image of Graham and his ministry. Some discussion centered upon ways to make Graham more popular among the changing culture of the day. It appeared as though the meeting was going to end with no real decisions. It was this point during this meeting the following was shared, “Our need is not to create any kind of image for this ministry. It is our task to simply and honestly communicate the image God has created for Billy Graham and his ministry!” In essence this is what Peter is communicating about self-image. We cannot create a self-image that does not communicate authentically what we really are and how we really live. We must communicate a real person and actual lifestyle.

Peter reveals characteristics of a Christian’s life that should be lived out authentically.

  • We are a chosen people. Within God’s Kingdom there is a mystery regarding whether we have chosen the Lord or the Lord has chosen us. Within Scripture we realize that both are true. We through faith in Christ are God’s chosen people.

 

  • We are a royal priesthood. We in the Church are called to be priests. Not in the sense of the ordained clergy. A priest is one who mediates the love of God to another person doing so with no thought of personal gain. We can do this in many ways according to the gifts God has given us.

 

  • We are citizens of a holy nation. Peter in his writings reminds us that we are citizens of a holy nation. To belong to Christ is to belong to God’s Kingdom. It does not matter that we are American, European, African or an immigrant because if we belong to Christ and claim we are Christians, we are part of a holy nation that is eternal. Remember these words from Ephesians that say:

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the  saints and members of the household of God.  (Ephesians 2:19)

  • We are His special people. Peter reminds us that we are now people of God. Peter basically tells us that we were once people who lived lives without the benefit of God’ mercy. But in Christ we are now the people of God who receive grace.

We are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and God’s own special people. These descriptions should enhance and improve the self-image of all God’s people. Our key to a good self-image is found in what we are in Jesus Christ. “What Am I?” The answer is complicated because life itself is complicated. Our passage this morning helps us gain a little perspective.

What Am I? For starters we can answer, “We are individuals who are called to a higher and deeper purpose through our faith in Jesus Christ.”

The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.

May 14, 2017