Text: 1 Peter 2.2-10
Jesus spent a good portion of his last days with his disciples preparing them for what would lie ahead. In the 40 days between his resurrection and his ascension, he appeared to them many times, as Luke tells us in Acts, “speaking about the kingdom of God,” and preparing them for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1.1-11, NRSV). He was preparing them for how they would carry on and minister in his name even as he was no longer with them in body.
We have but a few accounts from this period in the gospels, and during this Easter season we have read and considered several of them. Even with the few accounts recorded for us, we do have much of what Jesus shared with them. We have, in the gospels and the letters of the New Testament, his teaching and their experience of him all filtered through the needs and experiences of the developing church—the wisdom the resurrected Christ passed on to his disciples. Out of that great storehouse of wisdom, out of his experience with the master, Peter says in today’s epistle, “Let’s grow up to become rocks.”
Now in this passage, Peter is the master of mixed metaphors. He begins with newborns, milk, and maturity and moves right on into rocks and buildings. He then segues right into priests and sacrifices, returns to rocks and buildings, shifts back into priests (mixed with a bit of darkness and light), and then jumps straight on into no metaphor at all: a people.
We can forgive him, of course, after all he was a fisherman, not a writer. So given the milk, the rocks, the priests, the buildings, and cornerstones, I think the only really pertinent question, really, is this:
What does it mean to be a rock?
We might chuckle a little, but to ask that question is not really all that far of the mark. Peter just finished telling us about our great share in the living hope of Jesus Christ, the salvation of which angels are envious, and the holiness expected of us who live under the blood of Christ. “So rid yourselves,” he says at the beginning of chapter 2, “of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander, and long for the pure, spiritual milk that by it we may grow” into all of this he just described—our salvation (1 Peter 2.1-2)! For the very first example of what this means, Peter turns to the one thing he knows very well: Be a rock. He does not really say it quite so bluntly, although he could and it would not be out of character for Peter. But in essence, this is what he says: Grow up and be a rock!
Peter knows rocks very well. He knows they can be dead and useless. He knows they can be too large and immovable. He knows they can be lifted and thrown in anger. He knows they can ruin soil and keep good seed from taking root and growing.
But Peter also knows something else about rocks. He know that rocks are solid. He knows that rocks make great foundations. He knows that even the largest rocks can be rolled away. He knows that even rocks can cry out in praise at the presence of their creator.
More than anything, Peter knows that rocks can be crumbled and remade by the one who makes all things new.
In Peter’s memory is his confident proclamation that Jesus is the Christ (even when the wet-behind-the-ears fisherman had no idea what that really meant). He remembers the kindly words of one who did—”upon this rock, I will build my church” (Matt. 16.18). Peter remembers the man who built his house upon the rock, the seed scattered on the stony ground, and the rocks in the hands of Pharisees and others as Jesus and his disciples made many narrow escapes. Peter remembers the rock who slept on rocks in the garden when he was meant to keep watch and pray. Peter remembers the rock that crumbed when it could not stand under the pressure of accusation and denied the Lord.
I am sure Peter remembers as well every stone on which Jesus stumbled as he carried the cross to Golgotha, the rock on which Jesus died. I am sure he still winces at the memory of the huge immovable stone placed to seal the rock-hewn tomb.
But Peter also remembers the immovable rock moved aside and the cool touch of the stone on which the empty burial clothes lay. He can still feel pebbles on the beach where his risen Lord sat cooking fish on the fire and the rock on which he sat when Jesus asked, “Peter, do you love me” (John 21.15)? How could he forget the rock from which his Lord rose into the heavens and on which the angels sat to say he would come again (Acts 1.6-11)?
Then there was the cool stone floor as the tongues of fire leapt in the air overhead and the hard stone of the temple near where Peter stood as he proclaimed “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainly that God has made him both Lord and Messiah. this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2.36).
Ah, “Peter, you are a rock, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16.18, paraphrased).
So Peter tells us in his first letter, prepare your minds for action, discipline yourselves, and be not conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Live in reverent fear, and rid yourselves of malice, guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Long for the pure, spiritual milk and grow into salvation. Be holy (1 Peter 1.13-15). Be a rock! But not just any old dead, immovable rock—be a living stone! “Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…” (2.4-5).
Who better to tell us what this means than Peter, even with the mixed metaphors of an excitable fisherman. What does Peter have to tell us about living stones? A living stone is only useful to the creator, and even then only in the kingdom he is building. In fact, living stones are useless enough in themselves to have been rejected by everyone else. The value of a living stone is not that it is especially beautiful in and of itself and not that it is especially suited to any particular purpose. To be honest, most living stones are rough around the edges, uneven on their surfaces, and maybe even cracked and crumbling.
But God has chosen the living stones to be used to build something even more precious than they are by themselves. In the master builder’s hands, living stones are precious because they submit to his skill and his purpose. Living stones are useful, because they have been broken and are ready to be made into something new. A living stone in the master’s hand takes the shape of the cornerstone, Jesus Christ himself—the first chosen and precious stone, the very foundation on which we are grounded, and a stumbling block to those who do not believe (2.6-8).
On our own, we are but a useless rock, tossed aside and of little account. Used by the master, hewn into the shape of Jesus and laid on his foundation, fulfilling our function by his design, and laid alongside all other living stones who have submitted to the master to become a spiritual house of his own making, we become the holy priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people (2.9-10).
Notice, by the way, that we are not houses, but a house, not priests, but a priesthood, not people, but a people, a nation. We are one body, one entity, built upon the one foundation that is Jesus Christ to fulfill his purpose. That purpose, as Peter tells us is 1) to worship—“offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” and 2) to proclaim the gospel—“that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (2.5,9). This is the very simple nature, mystery, and ministry of the church.
Peter tells us in a very straightforward way that God has done something wonderful for us through Jesus Christ. Certainly he has given us the great and wonderful gift of salvation for which we longed—the salvation that even the angels envy. But this is not reason to rejoice in our good fortune or to rest on his grace without concern. This is reason to prepare, to discipline ourselves to be obedient and holy, and to live the new life he has given us—together.
To fulfill that purpose means to grow up and be rocks—living stones that the Lord takes and builds into the church: The church that looks like and is built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ; the church that is conformed to his plan and his image; the church that is a holy priesthood that worships its Lord sacrificially, the church that proclaims his mighty acts of salvation by being his people; and yes, the church that is a stumbling block to those who see the living Christ in us and must make the choice of darkness or light, of death or life. Our calling is to be one household, one priesthood, one nation, and one people—God’s people, living stones who glorify God by being used of him.
Yes, Peter proclaims, you have been recipients of his great grace and glory, now grow up and be rocks! Be eager to be used. Be eager to fulfill your intended function. Be eager to be hewn and reshaped. Be ready to minister as God’s own people, living stones, useful rocks.
Peter goes on in the next chapters to explain further what that means in terms of relationships to the lost, to authorities and earthy masters, to wives and husbands, and to one another. I encourage you to read on this afternoon. Consider Peter’s word’s of wisdom, of life, and of submission to the will of God.
Before we go, I hope you’ll allow me one last mixed metaphor. Our cornerstone, our head, and our foundation was also the Good Shepherd we remembered last week. Peter, the rock, crumbled under pressure when Jesus was taken to be crucified. Peter was broken, and useless, and had gone back to the only thing he knew to do: fishing. Sometime during the weeks we now remember between Easter and Pentecost, Peter the crumbled and useless rock encountered the Good Shepherd on the shore (John 21). Much like the very first time he encountered his Lord and was undone (Remember Luke 5.8—“Go away from me Lord,” he said. “I am a sinful man!), when he realized his worthlessness in the face of Christ’s worthiness, and when Jesus put his fears to rest and called him to follow. Much like that time years before when Peter the useless fisherman was made into a fisher of men, this time Peter heard the words that would pick up the pieces of broken and useless rock and make him into a living stone. “Do you love me,” Jesus asked three times, and three times to Peter’s affirmation he responded—”Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep” (John 21.15-17). “Peter, you are broken now, you are ready to be what I need you to be. Be my living stone. Fulfill the purpose I had for you from the beginning. Peter, follow me.”
As before, Peter followed. Peter knew what it was to be a living stone. Peter knew that who he was and what he did were all wrapped up in submitting to the master’s building plans. As Peter tells us all, it is time to grow up and be rocks, crumbled and remade into living stones, dead rocks reborn into the living people of God, useless rocks chosen and remade into a spiritual household, the church of Jesus Christ our Lord.
As we sit this morning on our soft cushions in this building of brick and mortar, reflect on these questions: Are you a dead and useless rock, or a living stone? Are we but a pile of rubble, discarded rocks with no purpose but our own, or are we God’s people, one household, one holy priesthood, a holy nation?
“We are living stones,” I hope we can say, “built upon the one foundation, God’s own people!” Yes?
Think about one last question, the one Peter answered with his life—the one he tried to get us to answer with ours.
What are we going to do about it?
Hear this final admonition from Peter:
Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks, must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4.10-11)