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Not Rolling Stones
But Living Stones
1 Peter 2:2-10
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the first letter of Peter, chapter 2, and follow along as I read verses 2-10. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation--
3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
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.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Powerpuff Girls and Kim Possibles
As most of you know, I have two granddaughters whom I love dearly. I was talking with my granddaughter Marin the other day, and I knew that she is not much interested in things I am doing, so I talked about things she was doing. I knew that “Powerpuff Girls” had been her favorite toy. She has all four powerpuff dolls, in several versions. She has powerpuff posters. She has powerpuff sheets on her bed. She has Powerpuff blankets. So I asked Marin if the Powerpuff Girls were still her favorite toys. She said that they were all right, but they were not really her favorites any more. Her favorites were now “Kim Possible.” She has Kim Possible dolls, and Kim Possible bookbags, Kim Possible clothes. Now if we want to assign blame here, I will confess that of the Kim Possible and Powerpuff Girl stuff she has was given to her by her doting grandparents. But the thought did occur to me: How big a collection of Powerpuff Girls and Kim Possibles does a five-year-old need?
I have seen a number of articles about "The Spoiling of America." This is not concern about the environment, but about children. Do we give them too much? Do we spoil them too much?
- How many Super Nintendo cartridges does it take to satisfy your 9-year-old?
- How much money must really be spent on entertainment at your 11-year-old's birthday party?
- How many sports and hobbies must you fully outfit your 14-year-old for?
- How important is it that a new car be in the driveway on the day your 16-year-old gets a driver's license?
And it is not so much the things that we give them as the attitudes we may be teaching by giving things. Now I do not expect a five-year-old to think much beyond toys and things. The problem is the adults who act like spoiled children. They think that the meaning of life is to get more things. Their question is: What is in it for me? What is the “bottom line.”
I have seen this especially in dealing with homeless people. I might want to talk to them about Jesus, about praying, and reading the Bible. What many of them are thinking about though is: How much are you going to give me? What is the bottom line? And not only homeless people think this way. I suspect that the majority of Americans think this way.
The sad thing about that is that people who base their lives on "bottom-line living" find out that their devotion to a "god of more" is not enough. Wanting more and more adds up to adds up to less and less—less satisfaction, less joy, less enthusiasm, less happiness.
Christian psychologist David G. Meyers, in his book The Pursuit of Happiness: Who Is Happy-And Why (New York: William Morrow, 1992), studied that issue and made these conclusions in his "Consumer Reports" on happiness. Meyers contends that happiness is not connected to how much money you make, or how many possessions you own, or whether you are highly educated, or whether you are old or young. Meyers discovered that while per capita income in America more than doubled in real terms between 1957 and 1990, the number of Americans who reported being "very happy" remained the same, 1/3. In 1957 about 1/3 of the people described themselves as “very happy.” In 1990, in spite of having double the per capital income of 1957, about 1/3 of the people described themselves as “very happy.” In other words, having more is not what it is all about. More does not answer our deepest yearnings or fulfill our deepest needs. The American Dream, defined in terms of material things, is The American Nightmare. We may live in the best of times materially, but they may be the worst of times spiritually.
In Meyer's words:
Never has a culture experienced such comfort and opportunity, or such massive genocide and environmental devastation.
Never has a technology given us so many conveniences, or such terrible instruments of degradation and destruction.
Never have we been so self-reliant, or so lonely.
Never have we seemed so free, or our prisons so overstuffed.
Never have we had so much education, or such high rates of teen delinquency, despair and suicide.
Never have we been so sophisticated about pleasure, or so likely to suffer broken or miserable marriages. (178)
Now strangely enough, it is this very modern problem that 1 Peter is discussing. Peter spoke to a Christian community that was struggling to establish its sense of identity and commitment in a largely pagan, alien culture. It is the same problem we have. Today we live in a worldly secular culture, which is alien to any kind of Christian lifestyle. How do we cope with this pagan culture? Peter has some answers for us.
Although Peter acknowledges the Christians to whom he is writing are little more than "infants" in the faith, requiring a careful diet of "spiritual milk," he nonetheless calls them to become "living stones." Despite the newness of their faith, 1 Peter declares that their spiritual home is rock solid -- as long as it is built upon the "living stone" of Christ. Unless God builds the house, the Bible says, they that labor build the house in vain.
In verse 1 of chapter 2, Peter talks about some qualities that a Christian should not have: malice, guile, insincerity, envy, slander. These qualities read like a litany of bad attitudes.
Somewhat surprisingly, the text does not follow up this list of vices with a corresponding list of virtues. Instead, 1 Peter uses a series of images to describe Christian attitudes. " As "newborn infants," that is, as brand new members of the Christian community of faith, 1 Peter suggests that each believer's natural longing should be for "pure spiritual milk." This "milk" image was also used to describe those just beginning to turn away from their old, evil lives in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 and in Hebrews 5:12-13. The world thinks about piling up dollars, and the more dollars the better. The Christian knows that all these worldly things quickly pass away, that dollars flow through our hands like sand and become nothing. Thus, only spiritual things can have importance. In v3, Peter tells us the basis for the christian way of thinking saying, “you have tasted that the Lord is good.” I love Peter’s language. You have tasted that God is good. This is similar to Psalm 34:8. which demands that we “taste and see that the LORD is good.”
1 Peter's focus on "infant" Christians here and the newness of these Christian communities in general has suggested to some scholars that these texts originally might have been part of a baptismal service. While more recent scholarship has discounted the actual liturgical use of these texts, there is later evidence that shows the baptismal influence of 1 Peter's references. In the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, newly baptized Christians were served not only the bread and wine of the Eucharist meal but a cup of milk mixed with honey, symbolizing the newborn status of the believer.
But 1 Peter does not linger on this image of infants in the faith suckling on spiritual milk. Instead, he moves to yet another image -- one of the most startling images in Scripture, an image as paradoxical as the cross itself: "living stones." Now if there is one thing in this world that we would say is dead, it is a stone. Rocks are very much dead. So when Peter talks of living stones, we wonder if he has not totally lost it.
But as 1 Peter continues to use this and other "stone" images, it seems evident that Peter is deliberately emphasizing the paradoxical nature of this phrase. First, the Lord is the "living stone," which is no more nonsensical than a crucified savior. As Christians, we as so accustomed to the term “crucified savior” that we do not realize how absurd it would sound to a person who heard it for the first time. Stones are the opposite of something living; just as one who is crucified is the opposite of one who saves. But, even though it sounds strange, even absurd, it is in the death of Christ on the cross that we find life. So Christ is the living stone, the crucified savior.
Then, 1 Peter goes on to declare that not only is the Lord a "living stone"; all Christians are also "living stones." Christians are not rolling stones, going from this to that to something else in seeking always more, not rolling stones but living stones-- building blocks in God's great construction project. God is building up a "spiritual house," the true community of faith, the church. Note in verse 5 the passive language 1 Peter uses to describe this building project. God is the builder here. This is not a human construction project.
We can follow Peter’s thought process here. His unique reference to "living stones" leads him on to more familiar "stone" images. Both the "cornerstone" and the "stumbling block" images further distinguish believers who claim Christ from those who reject him. Instead of rejecting the "living stone" who is Christ, new Christians are invited to share in being part of the construction of a new "spiritual house" (v.5). This "house" is, of course, the church itself, the God-designed community of faith which is bonded together through the cement of its commitment to Christ.
For these "resident alien" Christians struggling to live out the faith in Asia Minor, the image of being part of such a secure house, a spiritual home, was especially comforting. Christians, formed together into a close-knit community through the spiritual power of the "living stone," undergo a miraculous transformation. In verse 9, 1 Peter declares that while they may yet feel like "newborn infants" (v.2), these fledgling believers are nonetheless "a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people."
That is another paradox. Take even the youngest Christian, that newborn babe who is just beginning to imbibe spiritual milk. That person is a member of "a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people."
They have entered into a new attitude toward life and a new attitude toward things. In v10 Peter says, you were not a people. You once worshipped the bottom line. You thought only in terms of more stuff, but now you are not like that, now you are God’s own people.
It almost seems as if there are two kinds of people in this world. There are those with the bottom-line mentality, and then there are those who belong to what Peter describes as a royal priesthood.
There is plenty of evidence pointing to the predominance of the "bottom-line," "more-is-good" mentality in our culture. The most obvious evidence just costs a dollar. It is the multistate powerball lottery. A watershed in American history has been reached: The number one peak experience now sought by Americans is not falling in love; it's winning the lottery. Three out of four Americans have bought lottery tickets. One hundred million Americans in 36 states and the District of Columbia bought $30 billion worth of tickets in 1994. Yet your chances of winning the lottery are about the same as being struck by lightning and simultaneously bitten by a shark.
A game-theory professor once calculated the odds of winning the lottery. Now I am not a poker player, but I know a little about the game. The highest hand in poker is the royal flush—which is ace, king, queen, jack, ten of the same suit. This game theory professor figured out that your chances of winning the lottery are the same as a poker player's chance of drawing four royal flushes in a row, all in spades -- then getting up from the card table and meeting four strangers, all with the same birthday.
Yet despite the lousy odds, Americans buy lottery tickets because they believe that if they could somehow get a pile of money all their problems would be solved. But is that true? Are lottery winners happy people? An Illinois study developed a method of determining "general happiness" and studied those who won lotteries, those who were victims of accidents, and those who had nothing extreme happen to them. According to this study, the least happy people were the lottery winners. People who had bad things happen to them, people who were just ordinary folks, were a lot happier than people who won lotteries.
The lottery has become such a pervasive presence in American culture that one pastor (Dale Vitalis) with tongue deep in cheek suggests a new "B.L.T." ("Bottom-Line Theory") stewardship program he calls "The Lord's Lottery." There are three simple steps:
1. When the ushers bring down the offering plates, the entire offering is then dumped into one big offering plate.
2. An acolyte then reaches in and draws out one offering envelope.
3. The donor of the "winning" offering envelope receives double his or her money back.
Those who have started "The Lord's Lottery" testify to the explosive growth potential it has for membership numbers -- since only full members get offering envelopes.
Now it does not surprise me that the lottery has come to the church, because many churches are in bad financial circumstances, and are desperate to raise money. Church membership, church attendance, church giving has been in decline for sometime. Add to that that the economy is in the pits, that in the last three years the American economy has lost more jobs than at any time since the great depression, then it is no wonder that churches are trying new ways to raise money.
Having said that however, it must also be said that a lottery is the wrong way to do it. The lottery is a completely unbiblical and unchristian notion of stewardship. Why should Christians give to God? Certainly not because they think they are going to win any kind of church lottery. You enter a lottery thinking you are going to get money back. The motive for a lottery is that I might win. That is not a motive for Christian giving. You do not give your offering to God thinking you are going to get money back—even though I have heard it preached that you do get your money back. I have heard some stewardship sermons that say that for every penny you give to God you will get your money back tenfold or even one hundred fold. There were even illustrations offered of people who gave their last cent to God and a few days later received a promotion at work, or discovered that they were the long-lost heirs of a multimillionare uncle. And all of that may be true. But that is not a motive to give to God. You do not give to God expecting to get your money back. The Christian motive for stewardship is simply this: God has already given you more than money can buy. He has made you his own people. Why then do we give to God? Out of gratitude. Why do we give to God? Out of a love that can never match the love that has already loved us. God gives us his mercy and his grace and his love. He makes us a royal priesthood. What are we doing with our giving? What are we doing with our living? We are acknowledging what God has done. God has already done more for us than we can even think about doing. Christian stewardship is saying, we know that, we understand that. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 01/28/04