A sermon on 1 Peter 2:1-10 given by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on May 10, 2020, Fifth Sunday after Resurrection of the Lord.
The Beloved Bride of God
As we continue Fifty Days of Resurrection Hope, we turn now back to the beginning of 1 Peter 2 and look at “A Common Hope.”
And as we start, I just want to say that 1 Peter has most definitely captured me this Easter season. This letter, written to a scattered and isolated church, comes to us on the wings the Holy Spirit in such a powerful way into our day and circumstance.
So today, in 1 Peter 2:1-10, we remember that as we glory in Christ’s resurrection, we are also to glory in the common (i.e. shared, like the Book of Common Prayer) identity and vocation we share as the church (ἐκκλησία = called out / called into community). Friends, when the church is true to her identity, there is nothing else like her in the world. Though she be hated, though she be neglected, though she be maligned, she belongs to God and is precious in his sight through Jesus Christ. We should be reminded – the church is the only thing God ever promised would triumph and never die!
And it is into this shared identity and vocation that each of us is called anew today.
The Church’s Identity (Vs. 4-6, 7, 9)
There are three things we need to see about our identity as the body of Christ:
1. Corporate Identity:
We in the West tend to look at the Bible from a more individualistic standpoint – we, almost on autopilot, read it and ask what does it say to me? Here, we need to remember that the whole of Scripture is addressed, not to individuals, but to Christ’s church. Verse 4 says, “As you come to him.” We might easily miss here that this “you” is addressed to the body of Christ! It is plural, not individual. We each – young and old, men and women, people from every tribe and tongue – are living stones set into the mosaic of God’s holy temple – the church. We find out identity in that setting (invitation). One of the reasons the early church was so effective at evangelizing the Greco-Roman world, was because of the incredible quality of its community. Where did that come from? Right here – the New Testament. Can it be so again? The church must renew its identity in this time! When people long for community, we must show them that true community is found through and in Jesus Christ.
The American view of the individual’s relationship to community has been described as “Together Alone.” Think of that. Up to this point, people have largely seen themselves as autonomous and in control, with minimal dependence on others.
Now, think of how things have changed. Within the last month, I have explicitly seen the opposite phrase “Alone Together” being used to describe how people feel in this time. We recognize now how dependent we are on the common grace of ordered economy and society. How much more should that be true in the church? In verse 2, Peter calls Christians “to long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it they may grow up into salvation.” Brothers and sisters, during this time, do we long for and love our corporate identity together as Christ’s body? Are we longing to be built up into Christ together? If not, what work does the Lord need to do in our heart? And for those who may be watching during this time of isolation and who do not yet know Christ Jesus, I want to say to you: is it possible that the Lord is working in you now to reveal your need for true spiritual community in Jesus through the forgiveness of your sins? Don’t turn away from that. Examine that. See that it’s true.
2. Beloved by God & Made Holy
As the living temple of God, we are the very dwelling place of God Almighty – sanctified and set apart by him. Not a building, not a singular location, but us together. Of course, the very best of church architecture has only sought to make this stunning reality plane, not replace it. We are physical creatures, and we can’t help but display what we believe when we come together.
In 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, Paul writes of the church as God’s temple, specifically applying passages given to Israel in the Old Testament:
“We are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”
God loves his Church – Jesus died so that she might be washed clean and that we might each be made, within that family, sons and daughters of the living God. And here we must say that in our time, it is oh so popular to claim love for Jesus while hating the church. Yes, sometimes there has been good reason for that. And whenever that has been true, the church must repent. But we must also say that New Testament knows absolutely nothing of embracing Jesus, while rejecting his body of redeemed sinners, whom he died for. Someone might say, I won’t go to church – it’s full of arrogant hypocrites. Well, let’s just stop for a second and ask the question: what does that make you?
Scot McKnight, writing on C.S. Lewis’s famous passage from The Weight of Glory, puts it this way:
“‘It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day [in glory] be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.’ … It is no stretch of the imagination to think this way of the church and the world. … Some day this church will be so full of God’s glory and so like the glory of Christ. … We need to repent from a [constant] state of critical evaluation of the church, which Christ has bought and for which God has planned a great future.” (1 Peter NIVAC, pgs.112-113)
In contrast, the early Christians spoke of the Church as the womb of faith. And it is that. There, each of us is to be nurtured in our faith that we might grow up into Christ. There are no lone rangers in the Christian life. I need to learn that, and so do you. Right now, when we cannot be at worship together, is the perfect time to contemplate all that means, and, where necessary, repent of our neglect of Christ’s people.
3. Shared Rejection with Christ
Thirdly, in the church’s identity, even as she is received and accepted by God Almighty, there is a consistent element of rejection in every age. Just as Jesus was rejected by “the builders,” so the God’s people will, in some way, be rejected in society and culture. Our allegiance is to Christ and his Kingdom, and that will always bring offense – intended or not.
This is why it is utterly futile for the church to be driven by the whims of culture. To be obsessed with being relevant, hip, or merely trendy. You cannot remove the offense of the Gospel. You cannot trick people into becoming Christians! The church must, first and foremost, be faithful to her identity and to God who bought her.
As Derek Webb once sung (and I would remind that he sung this!):
The truth is never sexy
So it’s not an easy sell
You can dress her like the culture
But she’ll shock ’em just as well
And she don’t need an apology for being who she is
And she don’t need your help making enemies
So I don’t care if nobody loves me
Derek Webb, “Nobody Loves Me” – She Must and Shall Go Free
The Church’s Vocation (vs. 2, 9)
Lastly, we need to see, that although the body of Christ exists to spiritually nourish its members, she also exists to proclaim the excellencies of him who called her out of darkness into his marvelous light. As Archbishop Eliud Wabukala recently put it, “We need to remind ourselves that the church exists for mission to the world … without mission, the church loses its relevance.” You see, the church’s true relevance to the world lies in her identity and her mission. Only she can be who she is and do what she does, blessed and empowered as she is by God himself. Friends, again I say to you, how diligently we ought to be praying together for our path forward in this time. The world needs us – even if it doesn’t realize that. As one of our diocesan priest’s put it to me – the local church is the hope of the world. That’s a big claim, but it comes from God.
And so we give all glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, now and forevermore. Amen.