Written by Pastor Ed.
I Peter 2: 1-10
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, before he became a prominent political figure in the US, was the leader of an organization/church on the south-side of Chicago called Operation PUSH. He was working among the poor, black population in Chicago and particularly among the young people who were experiencing high rates of crime, unemployment, and a lot of discrimination. A group of us white, university students attended services there one Sunday morning. Jesse had a keen awareness of the kind of life most of his parishioners were living, and the low esteem many of them felt. One of the rituals of each service, and other rallies, was a call and response chant that went like this:
I Am (I Am)
Now, you can’t do call and response in a letter, but in many ways the writer of I Peter was working on the same principle as Jesse. Peter was writing to a scattered group of Christians, exiles and strangers in their own land. They were undoubtedly feeling persecuted and alone. Today we would probably say they were experiencing low self-esteem, and with some good reason. They were living in a hostile environment, not quite sure what all this new faith meant for them.
And so much of the purpose of the letter was to encourage them in their new faith, and today’s passage is a clear message: “You are somebody!” These 10 verses are packed with images and allusions from the Old Testament to give these scattered Christians encouragement and hope, not just as individuals, but even more importantly as a community of faith.
He begins this section by encouraging these new “babes in Christ” to long for “pure, spiritual milk” that will nurture them and so they may grow in their faith, if indeed, he adds, “you have tasted that the Lord is good;” a clear allusion to Psalm 34: 8, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.” If what you have already experienced is good, then seek more of it, just as you would some food you have tried for the first time and found to be delicious.
The next image has to do with stones, in particular living stones! Now this is an interesting image, because as we all know, stones are not living. They do not breathe or think; we see them as inanimate objects. And yet first Christ is called a living stone, and then Christians are called to be “living stones.” Again there are quotations from the Old Testament to back up these images.
“See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious,” is a somewhat indirect quotation of Isaiah 28:16, “See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: ‘One who trusts will not panic.’” Note that in both of these first quotations there is a note of assurance; “happy are those who take refuge in him” and “One who trusts will not panic.”
Again a quote, this time from Psalm 118: 22, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” followed by a quote, although not a Biblical one, “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall,”
Jesus as the foundation of our faith is a recurrent theme throughout the New Testament. We can recall I Cor. 3:11 which served as Menno Simons motto, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which has been laid, namely, Jesus Christ.” Peter not only calls to mind Jesus as the foundation, but reminds his readers that this Jesus was also rejected, and yet he has become the chief cornerstone. A cornerstone, in laying rock, is the most important stone. That one on which the whole rest of the wall counts on for stability. A wobbly cornerstone puts the whole wall in jeopardy. But Jesus is sure, certain, and a stable cornerstone upon which to build.
And we then, are also to be living stones, building up the kingdom. It’s an interesting image, particularly if you’ve ever tried building a stone wall. It helps to have stones of many different sizes and shapes, unless you want a boring wall where everything is cut and square.
And then Peter begins his chant, “You are! Somebody!”
You are! A chosen Race! A Royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people!
And then a final reference to Hosea. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (Hosea 2:23) If you think some children’s names today are a bit strange, just think what Hosea’s children had to go through life with. In this instance Peter is referring to Hosea’s child, “Lo-ammi”, “not my people.” But the promise to Hosea and the people who were in exile is that “Lo-Ammi” or “not-my-people” would become simply “Ammi” – “my people.”
To be called a royal priesthood is to be put into the line of Moses and Aaron, priests of the most high God. To be a part of the chosen race is to follow in the lineage of Abraham who was called to be the father of a chosen people. The holy nation was what God called the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai when God formed a people by giving them the Torah to mold them into a nation.
And now, Peter says, you also are part of that great heritage. Even though you may feel like you are scattered and alone. Even though you find yourselves in a hostile environment, with ridicule all around you; know that you are somebody. All of the great titles that were used for God’s people in the past are now yours, for you have been called out of darkness into the light, another image used throughout scripture.
God is often referred to as the source of light and appears to God’s people as light, whether in the burning bush of Moses, the pillar of fire that led the children of Israel in the desert, or the brilliance of the one seated on the throne in Isaiah’s or Ezekiel’s vision. Jesus also uses the image of light to refer to the disciples and to call people to walk in the light.
If these scattered Christian felt isolated and down, this section of Peter’s letter was certainly aimed at lifting them up. To be a part of such a history and people should make one hold your head up a little higher.
And we too are part of that people. We too are part of a history and movement that goes far beyond what we often think about. Those titles can apply to us, just as they did to those Christians in the 1st century. And it’s good for us to hear these words once in awhile as well and to remember that we are part of a global people, God’s own people, who are called to build up the kingdom.
Just as Abraham was called to be a light to the nations, so Christians from the 1st century until now are called to proclaim God’s good deeds so that others might join this kingdom movement. We are all adopted in to this holy nation, and the call is for others to join. The mission is ours to carry on. The building is not finished just because we are now a part of it. There are more stones to be added before the structure is complete, which will be in God’s own time.
Until then, we live our lives as called people, special to God, living in such a way that people will see the difference the light has made in our lives, and when they ask, being ready to tell of what God has done for us.