“Welcome to the living Stone, the source of life”, writes Peter, a disciple of Jesus, “Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God.”
I heard a few interesting words in Peter’s writings—present YOURSELVES to Christ, the LIVING STONE. And that’s where you and I are going to focus our energy this morning. First, we’re going to meditate on the invitation for us to present ourselves as building stones. Second, we’re going to meditate on Christ, the LIVING STONE.
I think the following story rings true in many households:
Dad to family seated around the dinner table: “I could use a few extra hands this weekend.”
Son: “What do you have in mind, Dad?”
Dad: “I’d like someone to sweep the sidewalks and driveway while I mow.”
Son: “Wow, Dad, that’s going to take a lot of time and I’m busy this weekend." Eying his little sister, the son continues, “I think Sophie should do it. She doesn’t have any plans.”
Have you ever nominated someone else to do the work that’s being requested, hoping to be overlooked for the assignment at hand? Has anyone ever nominated you, dodging the invitation to consider the work themselves? How do you feel when someone nominates you to do something you don’t want to do? How do you think the other person feels when you are nominating them to do something instead of volunteering yourself?
When it comes to discipleship, Peter is reminding his new congregation of believers that in a vibrant, or healthy faith family, everyone is the same and everyone shows up. Peter is used to the OLD way of being a faith family—with church leaders such as priests and scribes being seen as holy, and everyone else perhaps not so much. In our text Peter is moving his congregation beyond the OLD tradition. In Peter’s NEW church, Peter asserts that everyone has the light of Christ within them. Everyone possesses a portion of Christ’s spirit—it’s when we come together in community, in common unity that we begin to see the bigger picture of Christ with us.
As Jesus would say, “No hiding YOUR light under a bushel.”
YOU are important. In fact, towards the end our lesson today Peter will say, “YOU are holy priest.” What does Peter mean by that? Peter means all Christians are priests; every one of us. We are all mediators between God and others—we all COMMUNICATE God with us, and for us—we all represent Christ to each other. We also can all approach God with our joys and sorrows—and we all can carry the joys and sorrows of our neighbors with God.
Peter loves Christian community; vibrant, healthy community where everyone participates—where everyone takes seriously their God-given ability to communicate God’s love. No hiding behind someone else!
As the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), we should be encouraged by Peter’s words because the ministry of the laity (laity meaning “people” in Greek) has long been a part of our identity together as the people of God. Our Identity Statement says “We affirm the priesthood of all believers, rejoicing in the gifts of the Holy Spirit - which include the gift of leadership - that God has given for the common good.”
In the Christian Church, for example, you do not need a pastor to be present in order for worship, including for communion to happen. You do not need a pastor to be present for prayer to happen or for grace to be received. You can present your whole life to God as an individual and as a congregation.
Peter offers two warnings: The clergy are not to hoard to the ministry of the congregation! The congregation isn’t to hide behind the pastor!
How might this be exciting? How might this be difficult? The Good News is that in the New Testament we find no evidence of second-class Christians. We are equals; different, but equal. And yet, if you find the call to communicate God’s love to the world to be frightening or overwhelming—you might be tempted to hide behind the popular assertion, “Let the Minister do it. They are the professional. They are the ones getting paid.”
I’ve always invited the congregation to share in offering children’s sermons on Sundays. I’ve yet to do this at Central, but it’s coming! Over the years people have said to me, “But we like it better when you do it.” It’s as if I am somehow more qualified. All I’ve had is more experience. We all share the same Spirit at work in us—according to Peter, then, we are ALL qualified.
But since clergy often hear, “you’re paid”, a good question for us to ask is this: paid to do what? What most clergy understand is that congregations would like to have a person in their midst who can understand and communicate the Bible, who can understand and teach life in the Spirit, who can help shape a worship service, construct a wedding and a funeral and a baptism, and who can help persons in distress—to have time for people. These areas are commonly called preaching, teaching, administering the holy ordinances, and counseling. This is the teaching of the seminaries—for three years clergy are tutored in the areas of Biblical studies, Spiritual disciplines, worship and holy ordinances, and counseling in the areas of grief and marriage and other personal relationships.
And yet over the years, pastors have encountered numerous unspoken expectations—attract young people, respond to the visitors, lead the youth groups, administer the board—I read a search and call form from a congregation several years ago that included “join the Rotary club” and “serve as a volunteer chaplain at the local hospital.”
As our high school and college students prepare to enter the world this month with their degrees, so are the church’s new pastors. One new pastor lamented, “We’re being turned out to serve some pretty QUIET congregations.”
“Why do you think that is,” I asked her.
Another graduating pastor took the bait and answered, “So many people are hiding from God—they are looking to the pastor for EVERYTHING, as opposed to nurturing their own call to serve—showing enthusiasm for their growing faith, their growing prayer life, and their growing compassion for the poor. I want to pastor a congregation where people are hungry for growth—instead of shying away. Don’t they know how wonderful they are?”
I read somewhere that the ideal pastor “is 28 years old and has been preaching for 35 years. She has one brown eye and one blue. He parts his hair in the middle: blond and wavy on the left side, brown and straight on the right. She has a burning desire to be with teenagers and spends all her time with older folk. He makes sixteen calls a day upon church members and is always in the office to counsel or just to visit. She challenges and inspires but never disturbs the status quo. He condemns sin but never embarrasses anyone.”
One person cannot do everything in a faith community, can they? Not a healthy faith community any way. But many persons partnering together to give and receive the love of Christ can. And that’s exactly how Peter is instructing his new congregation. Show up, all of you. No nominating little sister Sophia to sweep the side walks and driveway, take responsibility for your prayer life and the well being of your own neighborhood. Share your faith with others, all of you. The pastor has a role to play—but he or she is a partner in ministry, not the whole ministry. Holiness happens when everyone shows up!
Second, Peter writes to his new church, “Welcome the living stone, the source of your life.” What Peter means by this is receive the living relationship Christ is offering you. Don’t settle for obeying religious tradition or laws. Sit directly in God’s presence. “Like newborn infants,” writes Peter, “long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation.”
In other words, when we allow God to have access to us, God will build us up—and the work of compassion will be gift and not burden—and we will do so many things for Christ that we never thought were possible.
How do we allow God to have access to us? We learn to be still so that God can have space to speak. We learn to stop so that God can “go”. In all honesty, simply fifteen minutes a day spent in centering prayer---quieting our inner chatter and sitting in silence—will go far to open our hearts and minds to their own deep places—to Christ who dwells in our soul.
As author C.S. Lewis confessed early in his conversion to Christianity, “religion ought to have been a matter of good men (and women) praying alone and meeting by twos and threes to talk of spiritual matters. God reveals God’s self to real people…united together in a body, loving one another, helping one another, showing God to one another…the one really adequate instrument for learning about God is the whole Christian community.”
Let us pray: Gracious God, Help us not to be afraid of you, and of your invitation to share your love with others. We long for the love of Christ to anchor our common life together—we long for you completeness. Amen.