Summary: We are called by God to be in community with each other. We are each a spiritual stone used by God to build the church. There’s no such thing as an individual Christian.
Imagine a world where coming to church meant risking your life, a world where professing belief in Christ was the same as signing your own death sentence. Although that might be hard for us to comprehend, it is that world that our scripture invites us into this morning. 1 Peter was a letter written to a group of Christians who were facing serious and life-threatening persecution. The letter’s writer was an expert in such matters. Peter was one of Jesus’s most trusted disciples, and watched helplessly as his master was tortured and killed. It was too much for Peter to bear, and he ultimately denied knowing Jesus to save his own skin. But after the resurrection, Peter went from cowering disciple to towering apostle, and became one of the leaders in the fledgling Christian movement.
One of Peter’s tasks was to keep in contact with believers in Christ who were spread throughout the world. The letter of 1 Peter is one example of that. Peter encouraged them to keep the faith, even while they were being targeted by the Romans. You see, after the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, emperor Nero, who was rumored to be fiddling during the blaze, was looking for a scapegoat, to take the heat off of him. And he found his perfect prey in the Christians. He blamed them for all the empire’s troubles, including the fire, and started a merciless campaign of persecution that would devastate the movement. In fact, both Paul and Peter would be killed during this time. But before his death, Peter wrote to as many people as he could, reminding them that the are God’s children and should suffer their persecution knowing that they belong to a power far greater than Nero’s. One of the ways Peter does this in our passage today is through the metaphor of spiritual milk.
Anyone with children can relate to Peter’s words. Leigh and I certainly can as we work on teaching Sydney the language of faith. She’s learning pretty well. She can recite her way through the Lord’s prayer, and knows “Jesus Loves Me.” I remember when she first tried to sing, “Amazing Grace,” she would sing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a scratch like me…” We say a blessing before every dinner, and pray each night before going to bed. She wasn’t born a spiritual giant or theological genius, although I know with her pedigree she’ll become one. She’s still an infant in faith, learning the vocabulary and craving that spiritual milk. And with persistence on our part and curiosity on her part, through God’s grace her faith will continue to grow.
That’s how it is with all of us. We’re all at different places in our faith. I didn’t start attending church regularly until college. Even as a young adult I was a spiritual infant. Some of us are taking in a healthy diet of spiritual disciplines: prayer, meditation, scripture reading. Others of us are still infants, only able to digest the spiritual milk of God’s word we hear on Sunday. That’s wonderful; we all have to start someplace. And as we continue to nurse on God’s word, and learn the vocabulary of faith, we will grow. We know the language….Our father, who art in heaven…praise God, from whom all blessings flow…this is my body, broken for you…as we hear and say those words, we’ll continue to grow in our faith, maturing from infants into spiritual adults.
But we can’t grow if we don’t eat. We can’t expect to grow in faith if we don’t take in the nutrients. Some of us are on hunger strikes and don’t even know it! Regular Sunday worship, Bible studies, reading scripture, daily prayer…these are all ways God gives us the nourishment we need to grow in faith. We can’t grow if we don’t eat.
So Peter encourages readers to crave God’s word in order to grow into spiritual maturity. And then Peter, who knows a little bit about spiritual geology, switches his metaphors from milk to rocks.
Did any of you or your children have Pet Rocks growing up? C’mon, be honest, we’re all family here, you can admit to it. I was a little young for the Pet Rock craze, but I remember hearing about it with a lot of fascination and curiosity. A pet…rock. That whole concept seems a little…out there. Just the name is absurd, about as absurd as a…living stone. But while I’ve yet to discover the theology behind a pet rock, I think I have an understanding of a living stone. The term is an inherent oxymoron, which is two contradicting words together in a phrase, such as safe bungee jump or heated igloo or short sermon. A living stone. But that’s Jesus for you. Leave it to him to take such a contradiction and give it life. Peter tells us that Christ is the true living stone, and by following him, we are also living stones.