Living Stones

May 7th, 2023 homily on 1 Peter 2:2-10 by Pastor Galen

An Underdog Story

If 1 Peter chapter 2 were ever made into a film I think it would be placed in the category of  “classic heart-warming and inspirational underdog dramas.” We’re all familiar with movies about underdog teams in sports, right? Classic films like Bad News Bears, Rudy, Field of Dreams, Mighty Ducks, and the list could go on and on. Stories about teams of misfits who would have been rejected by any other team. Athletes who had every strike against them, but somehow they band together and they put in tons of hard work, and they end up rallying to become the state champions or win some other prestigious title. And usually, it’s the least likely member of the team – the shortest kid, or the one girl on a team of boys, or the player with the least experience who makes the game-winning catch or shot and rallies the team to victory. 

Here in 1 Peter, the apostle Peter is writing to a group of misfits who have experienced rejection in many areas of their lives. They’re a hodgepodge group, made up of people from many different backgrounds and ages and stations in life. As followers of Christ, many of them were rejected by friends and family members and business associates, who probably thought they had lost their minds for converting to Christianity and refusing to participate in the cults of the Greco-Roman gods.

I think of my coworker Dr. Pat, who is a medical doctor who had not attended church for many years, but in her early 40s started attending church again, and even enrolled in a theological studies program in order to reconnect with her faith, and her coworkers at the time asked her if she had gotten a frontal lobotomy! (I guess that’s medical speak for “Are you crazy?”)

On the other hand, since the recipients of Peter’s letter were Gentiles (not ethnically Jewish, like Jesus’s original disciples), they had been told that they were not part of God’s “chosen people,” the Jews, and so according to the Jewish understanding of the law they were outsiders and foreigners. 

If the recipients of this letter had tried to visit the temple in Jerusalem, as Gentiles they would not have been allowed to go into the temple any further than the outer courts, which is where all the money-changing would have taken place, and where animals were sacrificed. They could have only stepped foot in the outer courts, where they would have been allowed to spend their money (at an exorbitant exchange rate) to buy sacrifices, but they would not have been allowed into the Court of the Women (reserved only for Jewish men and women), let alone into the area of the temple inside of that that was reserved only for Jewish men. They would have been 3 courts removed from the Court of the Priests, which is where the sacrifices took place. And they would never in their lives have been allowed to dream of entering the Holy of Holies where the presence of God was believed to dwell, since the only person who could ever enter that space was the High Priest, who had to be a Jewish male from a certain tribe, and even he could only go in once a year. 

(Imagine coming to church, and not even being allowed to set foot on the porch, let alone step inside! Imagine being met with a sign saying that, while you can’t come inside to pray and worship, you can feel free to leave your offering at the door!

And so the people that Peter is writing to have been rejected on both sides – by the religious community they grew up with, and they’ve been led to believe that they don’t fully belong in their new family of faith either. 

From Excluded to Included

And so Peter writes this letter in part to counter that narrative. And I love this, because we might expect Peter to say something like, “I think you all should be allowed, but I’m going to have to do a little more theological study and research on whether or not Gentiles should be allowed to worship God and be included in the household of faith.”

But Peter is not at all wishy-washy on this matter. He is adamant and certain that, as our brother Bill is fond of saying, “The Gospel says all, and all means all!”

And so Peter doesn’t just say that everyone should be allowed to enter the temple; rather, he says that as followers of Christ, we ARE the Tabernacle – the dwelling place of God! Or more precisely he says, “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). 

Do you see why I say this could be categorized as a classic underdog story? The team of rejects and misfits, formerly excluded and left out of the temple worship, who can’t even bring their own sacrifices and offerings into the temple but are forced to leave them outside the gate, are now being built into the temple, the very dwelling place of God! 

And the other term that Peter uses here, “royal priesthood,” was the same term used to describe what the nation of Israel was to aspire to be. In Exodus 19:5-6 God told the Israelites,  “If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” 

So God had called the Israelites to become this nation of Holy Priests, but of course, they consistently fell short of the call to obey. But here Peter is saying that in Christ, God is taking this hodgepodge group of misfits–followers of Christ from every nation and background and gender and identity, and is forming us into the dwelling place of God, to become a holy priesthood, that we may “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Spiritual Sacrifices

Now we should not think that by saying “spiritual sacrifices” Peter is talking about some sort of abstract mystical action that has no basis in reality. Rather, in the book of Hebrews we find the exhortation, “Through [Christ], then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:15-16). So the “spiritual sacrifices” Peter is talking about here are the praises of our lips — the songs we sing and the prayers we pray when we come together and worship — and spiritual sacrifices include our work of justice and our acts of service. In other words, as we say here in the United Methodist Church, our “prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.”

And Peter says, not only can we now offer our sacrifices directly to God, but he goes on to say, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 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” (1 Peter 2:9-10). 

Isn’t that amazing? We’ve gone from being rejects, ostracized, outcasts, and excluded from the temple, to now being formed into the temple, the very dwelling place of God! And rather than being outcasts, excluded from entering the inner courts of the temple, we are a kingdom of priests, offering the sacrifices of our praise and acts of service, through Jesus Christ. No longer do we need another human to be our intermediary, because Jesus himself is both our High Priest, and the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 

Jesus: The Cornerstone

Peter, quoting Psalm 118:22, says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Jesus is the “secret weapon,” the ultimate misfit who was rejected at every turn, yet he is the one who makes all of this possible through his atoning sacrifice on the cross. 

In speaking of Jesus as the stone the builders rejected, we have here an image of stone masons preparing to build a temple, and they come across a stone that just doesn’t fit like the rest, so they toss it aside, thinking that it will never be useful to them. But then when they’re getting ready to build the foundation for the building they realize they need a stone of just that exact size and shape to lay as the cornerstone for the building, to make sure that all the other walls are lined up correctly. 

And this is indeed who Jesus is to us–the cornerstone, the one we should build and orient our lives and our families and our church and community around. Jesus is the core, the essence of our faith, and everything we do revolves around him or flows out of what Jesus has done for us. It’s because of Jesus that we have been welcomed into the household of faith, and it’s because of Jesus that we work to ensure that all are welcomed and fully included in the life and ministry of the church. 

Being Built

In closing, I’d like to leave us with what I hope are a few practical tips and suggestions for how we live and work together as a community that is being “built into a spiritual house” of God. Because you see, even though Jesus died on the cross and rose again, and in so doing defeated sin and death and hell and the grave, the story is far from over. We are still very much a work in progress. If this were a classic underdog sports film, we haven’t even made it to the state championships yet. We know that because of Christ we will be victorious and that someday Jesus will return to make everything right. But as of right now, the story is far from over, we have not yet arrived, and all is not the way it should be. 

And so we are still at that point in the story where we need to band together and put in the hard work, and practice and train and ask God for the strength to endure. And we will experience failures and setbacks along the way, and that can be discouraging. And so what can we learn from those classic underdog films, and how can 1 Peter 2 reframe our thinking as we strive to work together as a community?

#1 is to picture ourselves as a team. When we come together as the church, none of us should be spectators. Remember that Sunday morning worship is just one small aspect of what it means to be the church. Sunday morning is in many ways a pep rally, where we come together to encourage one another. But the real ministry is what happens throughout the week, when we love and serve our neighbors, and families and coworkers, as we work to bring about justice and order and in the world, as we offer to God the sacrifices of our very lives.

#2 is that each and every one of us is valuable. Just like every stone of this building is important (indeed we would experience a very cold draft in the winter if even one of the stones of this building were missing!), in the same way, we all play a vital and important role in the life of this congregation. So never feel that your gifts are not valuable enough, or that your prayers or participation don’t matter, because they do! So, let someone know if you won’t be here on a Sunday morning, or if you’re not feeling well, or if you’re going to be traveling so that we can pray for you, and catch you up on what you missed!

#3 We need to constantly be looking for practical ways to encourage one another and make sure everyone is included and knows they would be welcome here. Maybe you’re good at writing notes, or sending encouraging emails and text messages. Maybe you’re good at hospitality, or welcoming. Maybe you have a natural gift for seeing when others might be left out, or marginalized or excluded. If so, speak up! Speak up on behalf of those who might be marginalized or excluded, or in other ways work to make sure that they have a voice and are included. 

#4 Most importantly, remember that Jesus is our cornerstone. Our lives, and our ministries, and the work we do should flow out of our relationship with him. Rather than seeking to model ourselves after other people, or comparing ourselves to those around us, we need to constantly be looking to Jesus. He is the standard by which we seek to live our lives, he is the reason we are here. We must never lose sight of Christ and his mission. 

May we know that even now, Jesus is right here with us. May we experience him rallying us on to victory, and may we pray and work for the Kingdom, knowing that in the end, through Christ we will win. 


Published by Galen Zook

I am an artist, preacher, minister, and aspiring theologian

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