1 Peter 1:22- 2:10 By obedience to the truth you have purified yourselves for a genuine love of your sisters and brothers. Therefore love one another constantly, from the heart. Your rebirth has not come from a perishable seed but from an imperishable one- the living and enduring word of God. For, as Isaiah says, "All people are grass, and the glory of all mortals is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower wilts, but the word of our God endures forever." Now this "word" is the Good News which was proclaimed to you. Therefore, never be spiteful, deceitful, hypocritical, envious or critical of each other. Like newborn babbies, be hungry for nothing but milk- that pure milk of the word that will make you grow into salvation, now that you have "tasted that our God is good." Come to Christ, a living stone- rejected by mortals but approved nonetheless, chosen and precious in God’s eyes. And you are living stones as well, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to become a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For scripture has it: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; those who put their faith in it will not be shaken.” The stone is precious for you who have faith. But for those without faith, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, at the same time, “An obstacle and a stumbling block. Those who stumble and fall are the disbelievers in God's world; it is their destiny to do so. You, however, are a "chosen people, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart" to sing the praises of the One who called you our of darkness into the wonderful, divine light. Once you were "not a people, " but now you are the people of God; once there was "no mercy for you,: but now you have found mercy.
This is one of those texts that lends itself to a very straightforward sermon. It's all right there in black and white- love one another- the grass withers and the flower fades, life is short- the only thing that is lasting is the Word of God- Therefore, never be spiteful, deceitful, hypocritical, envious or critical of each other.
Indeed it is not an easy mandate- this 'loving one another' stuff. It's so much easier to be spiteful, deceitful, hypocritical, envious and critical of each other... It's normal! I don't like something you did, so I feel justified in lodging a complaint- or talking about you behind your back- or criticizing things you do- or acting out in other passive aggressive ways. Suck it up, this is America. I can do what I want. And when I get sick of it, or sick of you, I can move on- to the next job, or the next relationship, or the next church... where things are different, right?
There's a great story about a town-wide church revival that happened a few years back. All four church pastors were sure this was the best way to bring in new members. At the next clergy meeting following the event, the pastors reported. The Presbyterian pastor was thrilled- I got 5 new members from the revival! The Lutheran chimed in- I also got 5! The Baptist minister shouted- same here! I also got 5 new members! All eyes turned to the Methodist pastor who had remained quiet- well? they said? how did your church do? "Great," said the Methodist Pastor- we got rid of 15 troublemakers!"
And this doesn't just apply to churches. We get tired of our jobs, bored sometimes, or perhaps we feel we are being slighted, overworked, overlooked- and that new job looks fantastic- the same thing won't happen there, we tell ourselves. Until 3 months in we find we are just as unhappy, and find ourselves complaining around the water cooler, criticizing management, planning our next passive/aggressive move.
Or what about relationships? We feel unloved, or taken for granted, or disappointed in the direction the relationship is going, so we find another one... there's always another one... a little thinner, a little younger... and we make the break and follow our hearts to new love... until that person falls asleep on us one time too often, or chews too loudly, or doesn't pay us enough attention. *And don't we deserve to be the object of someone's affection and devotion?*
And while sometimes it really is time to leave a church, or a job, or a relationship, disclaimer: God does want the best for us- no abuse, violence, or emotionally unsafe situation- if you are in one of those situations and need help breaking free please come and see me) in truth, more often than not, the problem lies with us.
Step 5 of the 12 Steps of Recovery is "We admitted to God and to others the exact nature of our wrongs." This is tough- especially when we can't see ourselves as the problem. It's easier to see the exact nature of everyone else's wrongs! Just ask the person next to you what my wrongs are, they'll be happy to tell you! Ahhh, what's a sinner to do?
So let's go back to the text for direction- for surely there must be a way to combat being spiteful, deceitful, hypocritical, envious or critical of each other.
Peter entreats us to be hungry for nothing but pure spiritual milk- we are to feast and fill ourselves with God's truths, because we, as the church are not like everyone else. We are called out, ecclesia- the Greek word for church, means, set apart. We are called to be different, to not work the way others do who do not know God and God's love.
Peter writes that we are to be living stones- to allow ourselves to be fit together into a spiritual house. What is a living stone? Let's take it apart- Stones, though they can be used for throwing and killing, in this sense are used to build. Building stones are rough around the edges (well, at least we're ahead of the game there), because being porous, which means having minute spaces or holes through which liquid or air may pass, is the only way for the mortar to keep the stones together. Very smooth stones that are have no penetrable surface, that are closed or sealed off, don't hold together well. What a great metaphor! When we keep our minds and hearts open, the Spirit of Christ can permeate and bind us... when we close ourselves off, we find ourselves isolated and alone.
It's what happens with addictions, for sure. We close ourselves off from others, isolate ourselves, cater to ourselves, indulge ourselves until we can not hold on to anyone or anything. The same is true in relationships and jobs and churches. The minute we feel ourselves closing off to others, or ideas, or change, whatever we are a part of starts to fall apart. It's why so many of us change jobs so often. It's why so many of us have trouble staying in relationships... we say we want the other person to be everything they can be, but we don't want to put our own desires anywhere but out front. It's why so many of our churches are dying. When people begin to seal their edges around themselves, or with a small group, when the Spirit tries to bind the stones together, it has nothing to grab on to.
The next part of this being a living stone- porous, connected- is the living part... you know there is a differnce between being alive, having a pulse, and living. Living according to Peter means to have the ability to bring life- to share the good news that God loves, to practice and exemplify what we know to be true about God.
That means, we may need to go against out natures- we need to actively resist the inclination to be spiteful, deceitful, hypocritical, envious or critical of each other, and instead be forgiving, transparent, authentic, kind, and complimentary of each other. Let that sink in for a moment. (Repeat) And no kidding that's a tall order! How do we bring life instead of criticism to our partners, or coworkers, or leaders? How do we resist getting caught up in gossip, or back biting, or giving our opinion?
By remembering who we are. By filling ourselves with the milk of God's truth about who we are- a "chosen people, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart" (and what are we set apart to do? not to stay smooth and closed but we are set apart ) to sing the praises of the One who called us out of darkness into the wonderful, divine light.
To sing the praises of God! That is our call. To sing and speak and live out all that God has done for us through Christ. How much different would we be if we were to sing the praises of God in our thoughts, and our words to others? How different would our relationships be, or our jobs be, or our church be? How different would the world look if we sang the praises of God in our actions, in our giving, in our resistance to oppression and hunger and poverty and violence?
But we've never done it like that before... that may be true... WE may have never done that before. In the words of Peter- Once you were "not a people, " but now you are the people of God; once there was "no mercy for you,: but now you have found mercy.
Now, we are a people of God. A people! God isn't asking us to do this by ourselves, but together. God is not asking just one of us to sing, but all of us to sing. And if we don't know how to sing we teach each other to sing, until each of us can sing our own part with confidence and in harmony; singing praises to God with others in this spiritual house of life affirming, porous, forgiving transparent authentic kind and complimentary living stones...