What is it about the Christian faith that the secular world finds so offensive? And what impact does it have on the way we live our lives if our personhood is safe with God? These were the central questions discussed in Faith in Real Life this week as they explored 1 Peter chapter 2.
1 Peter 2:2-10
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.
As we wind down the year, I find myself in a bit of blog fatigue. So I am going to ‘bullet’ some of the points I think are important and hope you can make the connections.
—Vs 2-3 “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.”
Salvation is the abiding awareness of being loved as we are. If you have had a taste of such love, you will long for more. Like a newborn, you will thirst for and seek what feeds and nourishes you. But, in real life, and like newborns, most of us live in the fear that God’s nurture cannot quite be counted on. And we anxiously cry out. It takes a long while to trust that God’s love is not an episodic event but is always available and always sustaining.
This must have been the dilemma of the first century church. They encountered Jesus, living love, and then he was gone. For the Jews, the temple, God’s home on earth, was destroyed. The Jewish Christians were not welcome in the synagogues and, whether Jew or gentile, Christians were aliens and strangers in their communities. A home, even a safe place would have been hard to imagine.
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
The stones of the temple no longer stood on one another. The building, in all of its majesty was destroyed. But in this image, we are called to be ‘living stones’. We can move from place to place, we can assemble and form community. God’s presence is in the community not the building. The image parallels Matthew 18:20—”where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
This is a very important shift in emphasis— from finding God in a Holy Place to finding God in relationship and community. It means God is present in every part of human life and is not restricted to sacred places. Worship is not just a Sunday event. It is a way of life.
The tricky part is: “What does it mean to ‘gather in my name’ or to build upon the cornerstone?” In both cases we organize around and we build upon Jesus. And it is critical that we be able to put some real life words to that creedal statement—that we be able to articulate our core identity. What is it about our faith that is ‘precious in God’s sight’ but runs contrary to secular values (rejected by mortals).
The usual place people go when asked why does secular society reject Christian values is that Christians are seen as self righteous and/or hypocritical. While these are often well founded criticisms, they do not engage the fundamental ways that Christian values are an offence to ‘mortals’—which is the issue Peter was addressing.
In our FIRL groups, we tried to generate a list of core Christian values and tried to examine how these foundational cornerstones could become stumbling blocks. The list included:
We are all children of God and our value and worth come from God alone.
We must be aware that everyone’s interest must be considered—not just our self interest
Vulnerability is required and is the way to love.
Suffering is part of life.
We can’t live these values by ourselves. We build upon and are supported by Jesus.
Every decision we make must include the question: “Are we acting in the service of love?” There often is no right answer but there is the obligation to struggle with the question.
Each of these, and there are more, run contrary to our ‘mortal’ need to survive—our mortal need to protect and advance ourselves. Survival of the fittest requires competitive ranking. It’s OK to be mindful and equal as long as there are plenty of resources. But if there is scarcity, it’s every person for themselves. Power and self-interest rule. To act otherwise is foolhardy. Hence the faith claim that every person matters and must be taken into account is an offence to our hard-wired self-interest.
Likewise, if we build on Christ’s teachings, we are safe with God and that frees us to live differently. But again, the idea that we can be safe is counter intuitive. Mortal safety requires position, power, cunning and competitive edge. God’s way requires vulnerability and acknowledging dependency. God’s way allows for and creates a third way—a way different from our mortal fight or flight instincts. Over and over again we see that the life Jesus calls us to, pushes against the primacy of our mortal lives. The spiritual life leads to abundant and eternal life but those values, the cornerstones upon which we build, are rejected when self interest is paramount.
The important point is that there are fundamental value differences between the spiritual life Jesus taught and the commonly held values based upon self-preservation. Jesus was and is counter cultural. The early Christians were aliens and strangers. They needed to identify their common values in order to let themselves be built into a spiritual home. We have the same challenge.
9 But you are …. 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;
God’s own people are living stones built into a spiritual home —” in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Whether it is the Exodus story or your personal story, the realization that God loves you will call you out of darkness and into light. We gather to tell that story. We gather to live that story. That is what it means to be God’s people. We will always have a home.
If your person, (who you are) is safe with God, you do not have to take everything personally. Let be so.