Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Text: 1 Peter 2:4-5,9-10
Come to the Lord, the living stone rejected by people as worthless but chosen by God as valuable. Come as living stones, and let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple, where you will serve as holy priests to offer spiritual and acceptable sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ. …But you are the chosen race, the King's priests, the holy nation, God's own people, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness into his own marvellous light. At one time you were not God's people, but now you are his people; at one time you did not know God's mercy, but now you have received his mercy.

What is a Christian?

What is a Christian?
Some people answer that question saying,
A Christian is anyone who isn’t a Muslim, Jew, Hindu or atheist.
Others answer the question this way: A Christian is someone who has been christened, had a priest or pastor pour some water over his/her head, and then, at the age of 14, was confirmed. Whether that person ever darkens the door of a church again except for weddings and funerals doesn’t matter; that person is a Christian.
Some say that we live in a Christian country and unless you state otherwise, you are a Christian.
Others say that my parents were Christian or I went to Sunday School therefore I am a Christian.
Still others answer the question this way, To be a Christian means to be gentle, kind, considerate, to make an honest effort to live by the golden rule and do good things. That constitutes a Christian.
Still, for others, they would answer the question this way: A person is a Christian if they believe in God, or "someone up there" (pointing upwards), or a guiding force, or someone watching over them, or some divine power or energy.
Some say they are Christian because they worship God every time they do a round at the golf course, or walk along a bush track, or sit quietly and watch the glorious colours of the sunset. They say there has to be a God when you look at space or the intricate details of nature. And so, they say they are Christians.

If you were to conduct a survey, I am sure you would get answers which would fit any of those descriptions of what a Christian is. Most likely, you would even come across definitions from those who are critical of Christians. They might say something like this, "Some Christians I know are the biggest hypocrites. They go to church on Sunday and on Monday they are busy cheating and gossiping." Or others might say, "Christians are some of the stupidest people around – going to church every Sunday, believing that there is something after this life".

What is a Christian? The name "Christian" comes from the name of Christ. To be a Christian has something to do with Jesus Christ. In fact, there is no such thing as a Christian who does not believe, trust and hope in Jesus Christ. Didn’t we hear Jesus say to his disciples in the gospel reading from John 14 just a few moments ago, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me" (John 14:6). A bit later Jesus says, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). In other words, if anyone wants to know what God is like then they need look no further than Jesus. Get to know Jesus and you will get to know what God is like. There is no such thing as a christless Christianity – a Christianity that is based on the "golden rule" or the beauty of nature or "someone up there" or because your parents sent you to Sunday School in the distant past is not Christianity.

"I am the way, the truth and the life", Jesus said.
Jesus is the only way that leads us to God.
Jesus is the truth – through him we know the truth about our sin and how he has been dealt with it through his death on the cross.
Jesus gives us new life – new life right now and eternal life in the future.
There is only one way to life – and that is through the truth of Christ.

A Christian then is someone who trusts in and relies on Jesus. Jesus is at the every heart and soul of everything that the Christian does.

Then we heard from St Peter this morning who gives us another angle of what a Christian is. He says, "Come as living stones, and let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple". Peter calls Christians "stones". To be called a stone is not all that complimentary – stones are hard, cold, sharp, solid, unbending, inflexible and when these qualities are applied to human characteristics they aren’t very flattering. But note Peter calls us living stones. Stones naturally don’t have life. In fact, they are about as dead as anything could be.

If they are to be living stones then they have to be given life. Christians are living stones only because they have been given life.
Once they were dead, lost, useless because of their sin, but Jesus has given those worthless stones life.
Jesus has changed those worthless stones into something new and exciting and precious – he has changed them through his death on the cross.
Jesus has given those unresponsive, inert stones life through baptism – a new life in this world and an eternal life in heaven.
We are living stones because and only because of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Without Jesus, we would just be stones, without life, jagged, with sharp edges, useless, without much of a future.
Without Jesus, we would be stones that are inanimate, without life, "dead", without hope. But with the power, presence, and warmth of Jesus our Saviour we become "living" stones. Peter invites us, "Come to the Lord, the living stone...".

A couple of years ago I preached a sermon about how difficult it is to forgive someone who has hurt you deeply. I referred to Chet Hodgin who found it difficult to forgive. His son Keith was murdered in 1991 by a man he had fired, and his son Kevin, a pizza deliveryman, was shot and killed in 1992 during a robbery. When asked if he could ever forgive the murderers if they asked for his forgiveness, he replied, "At this point of time I have no intention of forgiving the animals who viciously murdered my sons. And anyone who disagrees has never walked in my shoes."

This week I received an email from Chet Hodgin who had read that particular sermon on the internet. He wrote,

"I just wanted you to know a little more about me than the article you pulled up. After the murders of my two oldest sons, I became a devoted victim advocate. I work constantly with families of homicide victims. I counsel them and try to help them through the maze of our judicial system. I go to court with them and sit with them through the trials so they will not be alone. At last count, I've attended 14 murder trials. I also work with our legislature to try to establish new laws that protect the rights of the victim. Locally, I am a Real Estate Broker but my passion is with working with victims." (Used with permission).

Can you see what has happened here? I believe this is what Peter was getting at when he called Christians "living stones". We have been set free from everything that would cause us to be "stone-like". The life that Christ gives renews and recreates us. We are no longer dead but alive. We have been renewed so that we can be his disciples serving those in our world who need our support, our love, our comfort and our compassion. That’s what Peter meant when he said, "Come as living stones, and let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple, where you will serve as holy priests to offer spiritual and acceptable sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ" (2:5,6).

It’s worth noting that Peter doesn’t talk in singulars here. He is talking, not about a stone, but about many stones. One stone by itself is of little use, but many stones together can make a mighty building. Some of the greatest buildings - castles, cathedrals, pyramids, walls, - are made of many stones joined together. A stone that might have otherwise been useless becomes a part of something that is valuable and useful. God has joined the living stones, his people, into one temple, the church.

We are living stones, part of that living community who seek to follow in the steps of Jesus, seeking new ways to serve, to love, to care for people, and tell others about the Good News about Jesus.
We are living stones who worship together, pray together, learn together, supporting God’s work together with our time, our energy and money.
We are living stones built into the church of God who witness together about why Jesus is so important to us.
We are living stones "chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness into his own marvellous light" (1Peter 2:9).
We are living stones together. You and I together, pastor and members together, we are "living stones, who serve as holy priests" in the Nambour community.
We are all living stones who together serve the Lord with lives dedicated to him.

But Peter is not content to simply call Christians "living stones" and to say that together they form the church. He goes on, "You are the chosen race, the King's priests, the holy nation, God's own people" (2:9).
These titles tell us that Christians are chosen people who have been brought together by God through baptism and joined to Jesus and to one another. We belong to God; we are the people of God, brought together to serve God, to tell others about his mighty deeds. We have received care and mercy from God, and as royal priests, we share that same care and mercy with others. We have been "chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God" (2: 9b).

The great thing about being a Christian is that you are never a Christian in isolation from other Christians. The Bible always talks about Christians working together, worshipping together, praying together, caring for one another. From the first Pentecost, Christians got together. Luke records, "The believers spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers. They …shared their belongings with one another. (Acts 2:42,44).

May God help us understand ever deeper what it means to be a "living stone", "the chosen race, the King's priests, the holy nation, God's own people".
May he impress on us ever deeper that we are living stones joined together by Christ to make his church. All the stones are important. Each has its own place. Every one has been placed in the church for a special reason. Let’s be the church together.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
28th April
, 2002

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