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April 24, 2005
1 Peter 2:4-10
4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and
5 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.
6 For it stands in scripture: "See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."
7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,"
8 and "A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
9 But 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.
10 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.
Last Monday, April 18, over a thousand reporters and journalists showed up to cover one of the largest single-day sporting events in the world—not the Super Bowl, not the Indianapolis 500, but the Boston Marathon. When the starting gun went off on Monday morning, 20,000 runners traveled from rural Hopkinton to the city of Boston, which is some 26.2 miles, and they were cheered by over 500,000 spectators along the way. An Ethiopian, Hailu Negussie, won the marathon, beating out the Kenyans for the first time in several years. But every single runner, from the fastest to the slowest, received a tremendous boost from cheering fans along the way.
They benefited from The Bislett Effect. The Bislett Effect is a phenomenon that has implications for us all, whether we are practicing our running or practicing our religion. The name comes from Bislett Stadium in Oslo, Norway, a place where 62 track-and-field records have been set over the years. Think about that. In most stadiums if they have one track and field record, they post a big banner. If they have half a dozen records, people talk about that like it was a big deal. A whopping 62 records have been set in Bislett Stadium in Oslo. No other track can boast of such a record for record-breaking achievements.
Naturally, people interested in track and field events have taken notice of this. The question arises: Why do athletes perform so well in this particular stadium?
According to an article in the magazine Runner’s World (“Oslo’s magic track,” November 2003), the British runner Sebastian Coe set several records at Bislett. Another fine British miler, Steve Cram, who shattered Coe’s record for the mile, said, “If you can’t run well at Bislett, you can’t run well any bloody where.”
But what is the secret of Bislett? It’s the crowd. It’s the fans. The track is narrow, with only six lanes, and the grandstand is so steep that the fans are practically on top of you. “The sound of 21,000 screaming maniacs rakes your reflexes,” writes Kenny Moore, “forcing you to keep your rhythm, the crowd’s rhythm, for one more stretch, one more turn. The frenzied fans keep you going.” The lesson is: People run faster in front of great crowds, because they are running for others.
That’s why 62 records have been broken at Bislett. We run faster in front of great crowds because we are inspired by community — we run not only for ourselves but for the team, the family, the congregation, the tribe, the party, the nation. “Our deepest nature,” concludes Moore, “is that we are at our most majestic when we do for others.” And we can do more when we do for others. That is the Bislett Effect.
The apostle’s Peter and Paul knew all about The Bislett Effect. Paul was fond of using athletic metaphors to make a spiritual point. In I Peter chapter 2, Peter uses instead a construction metaphor. Addressing Christians who were scattered across five provinces in Asia Minor, 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).
Peter is making a point similar to the Bislett effect. Christianity is not made up of a group of lone individuals each going their own way. Christianity is not about just my relationship to Jesus Christ. Rather, Jesus connects us all into one fellowship.
The Apostle Peter knows that inspiration comes from the crowd. He does not call it the Bislett Effect. He prefers instead the Living Stone Syndrome.
One day the world will reach its final goal and be consummated in Christ. The new Jerusalem will come down from on high and a new heaven and a new earth will be created. But that day is not yet and not now.
Now the people of God live in this imperfect world. We live by faith in Jesus and we gather in his name. We call our gatherings churches and the sum total of such gatherings is the church.
As Americans, we take for granted that everybody can go to church. Not so. We should treasure the privilege we have to come into God’s house and share God’s word. The sick, the imprisoned, cannot come. Christians in some nations cannot assemble together for fear of persecution. They are part of the great invisible fellowship of Christians, but sadly they are not part of a visible fellowship.
And they are missing something important. The visible fellowship, the physical coming together of Christians, is a source of happiness and power for believers. In II Timothy, the apostle Paul is in prison, and he remembers the tears Timothy shed at their last parting and he writes, “I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy” (1:4). In 1 Thess. 3:10, Paul says to that congregation, “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face.” In the second letter of John, John says, “Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”
In this world, we have a body of flesh and blood, and we need people of flesh and blood. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together [HarperSanFrancisco, 1954] says, “The believer therefore lauds the creator, the redeemer, God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for the bodily presence of a brother. The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian in exile sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God. Visitor and visited in loneliness recognize in each other the Christ who is present in the body; they receive and meet each other as one meets the Lord, in reverence, humility, and joy.” (20).
Thus we see ourselves not as lone wolf Christians, but as a wolf pack. We see ourselves as a community that empowers and enables each other thereby allowing us to set all sorts of records. That is, enabling us to do much more than we had ever dreamed possible.
This is not to say, however, that the church is merely a gathering of frenzied fans. The church goes beyond the Bislett Effect to what I previously called the Living Stone Syndrome. As living stones, we are cemented to the cornerstone that is “chosen and precious,” according to Peter (2:6). The apostle Paul uses a different metaphor to make the same point. Peter says Jesus Christ is our cornerstone. Paul speaks of the “prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Our faith is the mortar that connects us to Jesus, and our belief in him is what keeps us anchored, strong, and secure. Without a good cornerstone in Jesus Christ, we cannot remain standing as a solid spiritual house.
In fact, if we don’t keep our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, we’re going to end up flat on our faces. Peter tells us that for those who do not believe, Jesus becomes a “stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall” (v. 8). That’s an awful position to be in when we’re trying to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this … We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.” Bonhoeffer explains this further saying.” … a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ” … and “a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ” (21).
Our connections to other people in the church are always in and through Jesus. Christians love each other, but we love each other in Christ. Thus it is not exaggeration to say, It’s all about Jesus. The church today is made up of well over a billion Christians. It is still all about Jesus.
Clinker bricks are bricks did not quite make it. For some reason or another, they come out of the kiln misshapen or deformed. Michael L.C. Henderson tells the story of a Presbyterian Church in New York State that was intentionally built of clinker bricks. Apparently, the congregation wanted to send a message, so they build their church of imperfect, rejected bricks. [“Clinker bricks and Ebenezers,” May 2, 1999, Exeter Congregational United Church of Christ Web Site, users.rcn.com.] The message is that we are all clinker bricks, we are sinners, we are imperfect people full of follies and foibles, but through Christ we become living stones in his church. We do not become living stones because we are so great. It is Christ who is great. We are connected into his church through him.
Back in the thirteenth century, Francis of Assisi went into a ruined chapel to worship Christ. There was no roof on the Chapel of San Damiano, but there was a figure of Christ painted on the cross on one of the tumbled-down walls. As Francis knelt to pray, the Christ figure seemed to speak to him. “Rebuild my church” was the command he heard.
Francis took Christ’s words literally, and set himself to the task of rebuilding that chapel. Gradually he was joined in his life of poverty, prayer and preaching by others whom he welcomed as brothers. Thus the order of Friars minor, a brotherhood of those who identified themselves with the outcasts and the poor of 13th-century Italy, was born.
What Francis came to understand as his brotherhood grew, was that Christ’s call to rebuild the church was not about finding stones with which to rebuild San Damiano, but about living stones, flesh-and-blood stones, with which God was building a spiritual house. His ever increasing brotherhood, made up of those of high and low degree, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, was a collection of stones of different shapes and sizes and degrees of hardness, all of which were part of God’s project of building a spiritual house.
Francis’ call to rebuild the church was about what we call evangelism, connecting people to Jesus.
We sometimes talk about “doing evangelism.” The only real evangelism is Connected evangelism. If we’re going to have any chance of proclaiming the salvation wrought by Jesus Christ to a hurting and hope-starved world, then we’re going to have to hang together as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (2:9). During the American Revolution, when the Continental Congress was considering a final break with England, Benjamin Franklin said: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” As Christians, we must all hang together. We are at our most majestic when we work for the good of the body, and when we do for others instead of ourselves.
I think of times in my life when the church has meant a lot to me. It is strange that I should say this because much of my experience of Christ has been outside the church. I was not raised in the church. As a child I did not go to church at all. I did not become a Christian until I was in the Air Force in 1962. I became a Christian basically by sitting by myself and reading the Bible, and the holy spirit ministered to me and I knew that I believed in Jesus as my savior and Lord.
With that experience then you might think I would be the last person to preach on how Christians need each other and need the church. But in fact as a young Christian, I found that to be a basic truth. When I got out of the Air Force, I wanted to belong to a church.
I went to various churches. I did not know anything about denominations. I did not know the difference between a Baptist and a Methodist and a Presbyterian. I had never heard of an ARP. I just went to churches that were near where I lived.
I still remember the fear and trepidation with which I entered a strange church. We forget how hard that is—to go to a strange place full of strange people and not know quite what to expect. Now some churches appear to be more friendly than others, but that is probably just how we with our unique personality interact with others with their unique personalities. We may feel more at home in a particular church, but that does not mean other churches are bad or unfriendly. When I was visiting different churches, I did not have a single bad experience. I basically walked in off the street and God’s people opened their arms to me and accepted me; and I have always appreciated that.
But the point to keep in mind here is that even though I had no experience with church, when I became a Christian, my new-found faith led me to church. I wanted to be a part of a fellowship of Christ. I loved Jesus and I recognized that Jesus connected me with his people.
So it comes down to this: we need each other. Christians need Christians. Christians are bound to each other through Jesus Christ. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 6/2/05