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May 14, 2017

Today we turn back to the short letter of 1 Peter. The first part of this letter has been a call to Holy Living… the verse just before we begin our reading today urges its hearers to rid themselves of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy and slander. But our reading today makes clear that Holy Living isn’t just for the building up of the self… for we are called to be a people of God. Listen for the Word of God as it speaks to you.

READ 1 Peter 2:2-10

Today is Mother’s Day. And I’m not good at doing special Mother’s Day sermons. So in case you’re wondering if this is going to be one of those special Mother’s Day sermons… it is not.

What grabs my attention with this passage from 1 Peter is this idea of how… “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people…” Once we were a bunch of individuals but now God has made us into a people… we are something more together than what we were previously apart. It’s an idea that grabs me because, to a degree, I think Christianity gone in the opposite direction. Faith today has become overly individualistic and I think we’ve lost that sense of greater community and heritage.

For example… we are Presbyterian… this is not some generic Christian church… we have a history, and we have a theology, and we have a certain way of being and doing church that is the foundation of this fellowship. But what happens when I don’t know our history… when I am ignorant or apathetic to our traditions or how we came to believe what we believe as Presbyterians. The less I know… the more we become that generic Christian church that is a mish mash of different individual beliefs and understandings. We are simply individuals gathered together in a Presbyterian shaped building… but individuals first and foremost. For many of us even that name Presbyterian has little meaning. It’s the church I attend now, but there is no real sense of identity attached to it because my faith is the unique mixture of experiences and learning that I received from a myriad of sources. Change the name. Drop the name. What does it really matter to me the individual? I am not changed. Why would I need to be?

Aren’t I and my relationship with God the most important part of my faith? That’s what all those generic Christian questions seem to be saying. Have you… singular pronoun… been saved? Are you… singular pronoun… going to heaven when you die? Are you… singular pronoun… right with the Lord? Do we carry with us too much of the idea that the purpose of the church community… whatever name may be attached… the purpose of the church is to provide for and serve the needs of the individual?

I stand up here in this pulpit and through this camera I look at you… plural pronoun… and wonder if there is a you… plural pronoun… or are you… plural pronoun… just a bunch of singular pronouns having a shared experience. This way of worshipping works well for the individual you watching whenever you want and perhaps only the parts you want. You don’t have to take in the whole… make space for other individuals with their different ways of doing… with their different needs or points of views. Not if you don’t want to. It’s your choice… whatever that may be. You… singular pronoun… are here to be fed… or to encounter God’s word… or whatever individual reason that brings you… singular pronoun… here today… but what if there was an element of you the individual being here today because you the individual are part of a people… a chosen race… a royal priesthood… God’s own people. What if you singular are a part of the richness… with all your individual experiences and understandings… part of the richness of all the people who surround you like a great cloud of witnesses. What if all that individual you-ness increases our depth and our strength through our diversity. We are many. God is one. Through God we are made one even in all our diversity… we are shaped and molded and fitted together for something greater than the self alone!

So much of the New Testament… so much of our theological make-up… is geared towards the creation of the community… and not so much the individual alone. I mean… I really like this phrase from our reading, “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…” Maybe even a spiritual house following a Presbyterian blueprint.

Here’s what we know… one stone does not make a house. Right? Imagine if you were to take a single brick to an empty lot… place it on the ground and declare your house to be built. You move in and start living there. People would think you were crazy, but isn’t that what we’re doing when our faith… our individual faith expressions… our individual faith experiences… are our primary focus and way of being. We are standing next to our one brick… or our one stone spiritual house. Maybe with our spouse we get to add another stone. Maybe. I know better than to assume that the you plural of marriage is also the you plural of faith.

Ok… so there is at least one more stone in our individual spiritual house that we would build. Jesus is the cornerstone. And if we did have at least two stones, we could actually make a corner. Two stones together. It’s me and you, Jesus, all the way! Truthfully though, the great thing about grace… the great thing about grace is our stone no matter its shape and size… our stone will always connect to the cornerstone. That’s the cornerstone’s doing not ours.

We pamper and love our singular stone but often don’t concern ourselves about the mortar that will stick my stone to another. We hate the thought that I might have to chisel away or to shape my stone in a way that it will be better suited to the building of a larger wall… the larger wall connecting to another wall in a way that is part of a larger stucture… perhaps even done decently and in order.

Saints, it’s all about community. This letter is addressed to the exiles of the Dispersion. You don’t need to understand the complete historical context to know that this letter is going to be about keeping those exiles connected to one another. It’s almost like a church that can’t gather in person, but is sheltering at home. As individuals, it is easy to lose connection not just with your brothers and sisters in Christ… but to lose connection with all those who came before… and with all those who will follow after as you connect and pass on the faith you have received. To suddenly switch my metaphors with you… as an individual link in a larger chain… once your link has been broken… no matter the reason… whether you grew disillusioned and did not reach out to others in your time of need… whether you fell into a consumerist attitude about your faith and stopped buying the product… whether you never deepened your faith and your commitment to God and God’s people just finally shallowed out… whether you didn’t listen to God’s word and let malice and guile, insincerity, envy and slander grow in you… whatever the reason… all that led to you comes to an end. All the struggles of your faith ancestors. All the kindness done for others in the name of Christ. All the achievements in the greater good imagined and realized through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Growing into salvation is not an easy thing… it’s not as easy as we often make it out to be. It becomes that much harder when we try to do it alone. You… plural pronoun … you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you… singular and plural pronoun… out of darkness into his marvelous light. An individual may proclaim… an individual must proclaim… but an individual… especially when compared to a community… an individual can have a limited effect.

Even though he didn’t write this particular letter… I can’t help but think about Paul and his work building communities of faith. Paul’s theology developed and grew from what he faced as he told a growing diverse group of people about the mighty acts of God… as he witnessed and overcame those who would rather keep us separate than to connect their stones with those other stones they would reject. Paul’s faith and understanding of Christ grew as he told all people of faith that they together were one of those mighty acts of God… that the grace found in Christ Jesus had the power to overcome all that would separate them as individuals. He encouraged them to grow in their Christian character… not to earn God’s love or show their moral superiority… but in order to find the peace needed to grow together as God’s chosen people… in order to create the mortar that would hold them together and keep them connected to Christ as their cornerstone. As congregations grow together as God’s chosen people… as that spiritual house really begins to take shape and show strength… that’s when the light can no longer be contained within and must go out into the world… that’s when God’s mighty acts of redemption overcomes the sin that surrounds us and resurrection begins to flow out of the church into the world.

Saints, it’s all about community… even now… especially now… knowing that God has brought you together for a purpose… that that purpose has been at work for a long time… different streams coming together so you… plural pronoun… could be the church you… plural pronoun… need to be at this time and in this place to proclaim and to be a mighty act of God… both singular and plural. Amen.

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