April 28, 2002 - FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
1 Peter 2:2-10
1 Peter 2:2-10
Title: “Christians let Christ’s Spirit living in them sanctify the world, indeed redeem the world, by their own self-sacrifice.”
Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,
3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4 As you come to him, the living Stone-rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-
5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
6 For in Scripture it says:
"See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame."
7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
"The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,"
"A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall."
They stumble because they disobey the message-which is also what they were destined for.
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
To describe the Church the author uses the image of a building, not just any building but the Old Testament building, the Temple. Paul uses the human body and John uses the vine and its branches to describe the church. Of course, 1Pt’s image is not fundamentally alive, so he will stress living stones to get over that drawback. He wants to stress not the building as such, but what goes on in the building, namely, priest-led sacrifice to God. Thus, he will speak of Christians constituting the new priesthood as well as the new Temple of God, seeing Christ as the cornerstone, rejected by some, accepted by others, as the central figure in this imaginative metaphorical application. His purpose is to show that the New Testament and the New Testament Church, though based on the Old Testament and Temple-Priesthood, is far superior to it, the same point the Epistle to the Hebrews was written to make.
v. 4 Come to him: The OT uses this verb to indicate “drawing near” to God to listen to him and/or to enter his (Temple) presence to offer sacrifice. It is used frequently in the Epistle to the Hebrews to indicate “drawing near” to God in worship. It was used particularly of priests who had exclusive privilege of “drawing near” to God in worship, a privilege now shared by all Christians.
A living stone: Christ is called a “living stone,” a religious metaphor (“stones” and “living” do not exist together in the real world). In the Synoptics Christ refers to himself as the stone rejected (Mk12: 10; Mt21: 42; Lk20: 17) become the cornerstone, quoting from Ps 118, quoted here in v. 7. Christians come to Christ who brings them to God. Access to God is not direct, but through Christ.
Rejected by human beings but chosen and precious: Acts makes this point over and again in its sermons, its kerygma. How differently human beings (first Jews, then Gentiles who rejected the message) responded to and treated Christ from the way God considered him and treated him!
v. 5 like living stones: Christ and Christians are described as living stones in contrast to the dead stones that make up the old Temple, showing the superiority of the New Testament. Of course, Christ as living is life-giving; Christians are life-sharing or transmitters of a Christ-life they have themselves received, not conceived.
Let yourselves be built: The verb here could be either in the imperative mood or in the indicative. The indicative is better, given the context. The sense is: “As you keep on coming to Christ (“Come to him” in v. 4 is really a participle in the Greek) (in worship, prayer, praise), you are continually being built up into a spiritual temple.” It’s a growing, progressively increasing and completing action, something hard to express when the fundamental image is a building. (Remember the old joke: Why do they call it a building when it is built?)
Into a spiritual house: “Spiritual” does not mean “immaterial” or “religious,” but “of the Holy Spirit,” of his character or nature. “House” can also mean “household,” more a living community. Here, though the primary reference is to a stone building, the metaphor naturally drifts over to the household meaning. The “house” is less a rigid structure of architectural design than an amoebic, flexible, moving, adaptable structure. The Church is a spiritual house built by God and its members are the “stones” of the building, with Christ as the central and crucial stone.
To be a holy priesthood: The metaphor shifts from the makeup of the Temple to what goes on within it. The word for “priesthood” (Greek hierateuma) comes from Ex 19:6 and originally applied to the whole of Israel. ( New Testament “priesthood” in the sense of ordained clergy comes from the Greek word for “elder” [Greek presbyter] and has nothing to do with the word used here.) A priesthood of all Israel is mentioned in only one other Old Testament verse (Is61: 1) but re-appears in the inter-testamental period where we find it in a number of texts and commentaries on Ex19:6. (Ex19:6 is directly applied to Christians in Rev1:6; 5:10; 20:6.) The stress here is on what priests do (offer sacrifice) rather than their status, what they are. Christians are like Old Testament priests in that they have access to God, now through Christ, the one and only true priest of the New Testament. Christians are a “body” (to use the Pauline image) of priests; each is a priest but never a priest in and by himself or herself. It is only as a member of the corporate priesthood that a Christian exercises his or her priesthood within the corporate existence of the Church. The conception here is not individualistic, to say the least.
To offer spiritual sacrifices: Again, this does not mean “immaterial” sacrifices, but those of the Holy Spirit’s character. Everything the Christian does can be seen as a “spiritual sacrifice” in so far as it is done in accord with God’s will (Rom12: 1).
Acceptable to God through Jesus Christ: While Christians have access to God like the priests of the Old Testament, it is not really direct access. All sacrifices must be offered and go through Jesus and his sacrificial attitude in order to be acceptable to God. Jesus purifies them before presenting them to God.
vv. 6-10: The author now supports his points made in vv. 4-5 with several Old Testament quotes. Christian faith is both continuous with the Old Testament and discontinuous with it. Just as the risen Lord’s body was both continuous with his earthly body, it was also different from it after the resurrection, so too is Christian faith in relation to the Old Testament. So, the old is seen in a new and better light. It is not that the old is wrong, just seen better. The truth was always there, just not well seen. The quotations in vv. 6 (=Is28:16), 7(=Ps118:22), and 8 (=Is8:14f) were used regularly in the early Church and interpreted as referring to Christ.
v. 6 a cornerstone, chosen and precious: “Cornerstone” may refer either to the great stone at the corner of a building or to the capstone that locks the other stones together.
Zion: This is a synonym for Jerusalem, sometimes as a political entity, but here as the city of God. God promises he will reject the religious and political leaders in Jerusalem and establish a “sure foundation,” a cornerstone that he will evaluate and choose. This leader will not be elected or pre-approved by the people or its leaders, but by him.
v. 7 the builders rejected…become the cornerstone: To those with faith, the cornerstone, Christ, is “precious,” seen and valued as God sees him; to those without faith, it is perceived as valueless, a stone to stumble on, an obstacle, and is to be rejected. The “builders” are the Jewish leaders and there is a pun, a play on words here in Hebrew between “builders” and the Hebrew word for “sons.” Now, the writer means “builders” to refer more broadly to all who reject Christ.
v. 8 they stumble by disobeying the word, as is their destiny: If they, i.e. the “builders,” rejected Christ, Christians should not be surprised or dismayed that they reject those who are of Christ as well. It is a natural outcome or “destiny.” Thus, some are “destined” to reject him. The Passion Narratives make a similar point about Judas. Even though God planned the crucifixion long before, humans are still responsible for their evil actions, actions which brought it about. Thus, Judas was still responsible for his actions. No human can get in between those two truths- divine foreknowledge and human responsibility. It is just the way it is. Yet, when speaking of “predestination,” the New Testament only concentrates on those who are saved, it never indicates who is not. Hostility toward believers should not unduly concern them. God is ultimately in charge. “Stumble” here has the broader meaning of “take offense” or “miss the mark” or “reject.” “Disobey” here means “rebel against” not merely an infraction here or there, but living a life of disobedience in open rebellion against God.
v. 9 a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people set apart, a people of his own: What was said of the Israelites, originally “no people,” but now the people of God, is now said of Christians. “Royal priesthood” reads in Hebrew “a kingdom of priests” meaning “a groups of priests,” a collectivity. All four expressions mean the same thing and point to Israel’s special status now passed on the Christians.
In Matthew 16: 18 Jesus refers to Peter as “rock,” and says, “…upon this rock I will build my church.” Here, in this epistle attributed to Peter, Peter refers to all Christians as “living stones.” Without taking away from the unique position of Peter and his successors, in the church, Peter recognizes that all Christians have a share in the “building,” of the church, more correctly, in “building up,” the church. In 1Cor3: 16 Paul says, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” In 1Cor6: 19 Paul again says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” And in 2Cor6: 16 he says, “For we are the temple of the living God.” Paul means this both individually and collectively. So does Peter.
When outsiders think about the church they think of actual buildings, stone or brick monuments. We Christians can fall prey to that kind of thinking also and consider the church to be a huge organization, whose presence is seen throughout the world by looking at its buildings. Neither Peter nor Paul nor John thought that way about the church. Indeed, in their day, there were no physical buildings yet. The church is comprised of and composed of people. Paul compared the church to the parts and members of a human body. John compared the church to branches on a vine and Peter compared the church to stones of a building, only as living stones. Both Peter and Paul, in using their respective metaphors, were thinking in terms of sanctity and sanctification. That would remind them of their Jewish heritage, for it was the function, the main function, of the Jewish priesthood to ensure sanctity, holiness was God’s primary characteristic, and to restore lost sanctity through the process, largely sacrificial, of sanctification. The Jewish priests were to transform what was profane, i.e. outside the realm of God’s holiness, e.g. animals, grain, oil, wine, into something holy, i.e. acceptable to God, by performing prescribed rituals. Of course, the idea was that the elements of the sacrifice represented the person offering it through the agency of the priest. Thus, the person was “made holy,” made acceptable to God thereby.
Paul and Peter translated this Old Testament theology into New Testament terms. In the new covenant there is only one priest, one “sanctifier,” Jesus Christ, and, or, his Spirit. Once we accept him on his terms, we become his “body parts,” his “branches,” we might say today his “branch offices” or agents, his “living stones.” Thus, the Lord continues to exercise his sanctifying priesthood through each and every Christian. While this pertains preeminently to people, it also includes all of God’s old creation. The new creation or new covenant renews or sanctifies the profane, the old creation tainted by human sin, and brings it back, even one atom at a time, into the realm of God. Paul would say, “For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God (Rom8: 19).” That means that because Christ lives in the bodies of his followers, everything his followers touch is touched by him and thereby made holy, every person touched, physically or emotionally “touched” is touched by him and made holy. We become the means by which Christ continues to exercise his sanctifying power over all creation and redeem even non-human creation, bring creation back into harmony with the will and presence of God.
When we are conscious of the presence of Christ or his Spirit, the two terms refer to the same reality, within our bodies and minds, we treat everything with the reverence and respect it deserves. That reverence and respect, for people, places and things, cannot but be seen by others though the “glory” goes to God [Matthew 5: 16]) and become part and parcel of the good example Christians give in order to attract others into the light who is Christ. Thus, for the Christian, the liturgy never ends. It merely changes venue. Christians in the world participate in the priestly behavior of Christ, treating all things with the reverence and respect due anything made by God, their Father. All day long, every day, without vestments, rubrics or rituals, Christians let Christ’s Spirit living in them sanctify the world, indeed redeem the world, by their own self-sacrifice. However conceived, whether as living stones or body parts or branches, Christians, individually and collectively, are living temple-churches, foci of God’s presence in the world, from which exudes the saving power of God.
There is really only one priest in the new covenant, Jesus Christ.
All Christians share in his priesthood and have a role to play in sanctifying the world.
What non-believers might see as profane, common or ordinary, believers see as God sees, as, potentially, holy, special and unique.
Because without faith we cannot see correctly, we tend to dismiss the truly valuable because it may not be seen as immediately useful.
Priestly Behavior: Seen from the vantage point of Scripture, all Christians are “priests,” provided we realize that such a role is but a share in the one priesthood of Christ. That means that both men and women are “priests” in the new covenant. While there are some, limited now to men, but not all men, who have a special function in the church and are “ordained” to that order, all have a priestly function. The fulfillment of God’s promises is found in sanctity, not in ordination. Thus, the church has always recognized the saintly stature and status of both women and men, beginning with Mary, Elizabeth, Anna, Mary Magdalene, etc. The really important element is behavior, not vesture or gender. No matter what we are doing-working, cleaning, cooking, washing, ironing, fixing, mowing, teaching, writing, reading, preaching, driving, bathing, accounting, constructing, doctoring, nursing, policing, manufacturing- no matter what it might be, it is contributing in some way, large or small, obvious or not, to the ultimate state of things, to the ultimate goal of why God became human to redeem us and all of his creation. Sin has profaned and tainted everything with its ugliness. Christ came to fix that, to restore all things in himself and he has given us a share in that work. Thus, everything we do in his name, in awareness of his will and presence, is “priestly behavior.” Our Baptism and Confirmation “orders” us, “ordains” us to do that. All are ordained to do God’s will. One way of expressing our purpose here on earth, now that we are in Christ, is that we are here to make the world “holy” or, at least, holier than we found it, to show by the way we treat God’s creation and the people, the plants, the animals in it, as well as the environment surrounding them, with the reverence and respect God has for them and has had before sin attempted to steal them from him. Thus, the issues of the environment, natural and human, are matters for our priestly concern and effort.
Sacred and Profane: As the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins put it: “There is a deep-down freshness within things.” In other words, sin cannot really destroy the holiness, the presence of God, within every element of the universe. Sin is strong, but not that strong. The redemption Christ bought and brought was to release the presence of God that is trapped by sin, not to reproduce a presence that was destroyed by it. That is an on-going process, not yet complete. That’s why he uses us to help complete it. Thus, as Teilhard de Chardin put it: “For those with the eyes of faith, nothing is profane; everything is sacred.” The world can easily see where church walls separate the sacred from the profane, but not Christians. We are living stones, moving, fluid, flowing. We can be everywhere, not just confined behind the walls of what the world would consider sacred. Thus, there is no sharp line between sacred and profane, only a permeable membrane, one we pierce each time we bring the love of Christ to bear on even a small matter or smallest particle of matter.
Priestly Sacrifice: Once we have freely accepted God on his terms, i.e. through Christ, we need to stay that way. Just because we have chosen on which side we will fight the cosmic battle, does not mean the battle is completely over. Just because we know, it has been predestined, who will win, does not mean there still isn’t fighting to be done. But, we have been taught to fight by using God’s methods, peaceful ones. Only God would think of fighting war with peace, hatred with love, jealousy with generosity, etc. Only God would tell us to wage sacrifice rather than war, to give up our self-interests. In this text God tells us of the high dignity he has called us to- royalty, sanctity, a special standing in the vast universe. Then he says that we are to behave in a way fitting of our high calling. Amen.