Living Holy, 1st Peter 2:2-10, Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2020
This morning I would like to tell you about a guy I know who was considered to be a church planter. Yet it seems like no matter what He did, He never was very well-liked. In fact, he was told that to his face on multiple occasions. Suffice to say, he was not very well-respected either. In fact, after he finished one of his sermons, a large part of his congregation got up and walked out. Once he went from having about 300 people or more present, to a little over 75. It didn’t seem like very good church growth.
This guy didn’t have many friends either. And even those who claimed to be his friends abandoned him. One was so disloyal, he even tried to have him killed.
To make matters worse he ended up with no real money for ministry, or assets of any kind. He had no house, no car; he didn’t even have a church building to speak in. The poor guy was even rejected by those who were supposed to be his colleagues. In fact, those in leadership basically black balled him and totally rejected his work.
If you measure success by these kinds of accomplishments, you would have to admit this guy was a total failure. Would you agree? If so, you just pronounced Jesus Christ a failure. Many in our world, our nation and even our church are suffering from an identity crisis. We have lost sight of who Jesus truly is.
In all, only about fifty days of Jesus’ ministry are mentioned in the four Gospels of the Bible. Jesus’ term of ministry equaled about three years, or 1080 days. If my math is correct, that means that slightly less than half of one percent of the days that Jesus was actively ministering are recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Imagine all of the teaching, the conversations, and the ministry that we have never heard about.
The same Jesus who walked the dusty roads of Galilee, welcoming and forgiving sinners, caring for the helpless and lost, praying fervently for friend and foe alike; that Jesus is also among us today. He has risen from the dead, He is living, real, active, His presence is among us.
Sometimes we may ask questions about the presence of Christ today. Having risen from the dead, isn’t it reasonable to ask where is He? Please do not think that this is a flippant or irreverent sort of question. It is not, because genuine faith, even that which takes seriously the Gospel witness can ask this sort of a question. Anyone can have an identity crisis from time to time.
Yet, in the New Testament we can find a reminder of His presents among us, and an understanding that proclaims that Jesus has risen from the dead, and lives; and now we live holy lives accordingly.
Consider the text of 1st Peter that we have been reading. There must have been many converts in the early church with their own identity crisis too. They must have heard, and wondered about those named in Peter’s letter. “To those who are elect exiles … according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” (1:1b-2a)
And Peter comments that they are: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (9)
It’s often easy to let the world define us, instead if God’s Word. It’s often easy to let the world shaped our witness and life. This can easily create an identity crises. For example, in every age some have regarded people as little more than animals. Karl Marx said that man is an animal, a hungry animal. What he wants most, claimed Marx, are three meals a day. If he doesn’t get enough to eat he’ll be troublesome. He must be assured that he won’t get hungry; ultimately this is the way to world peace.
Charles Darwin thought otherwise. To him man is an animal, but a fighting animal. He has to struggle and gain power if he is to be satisfied. Just having enough to eat isn’t enough; he must dominate. Make him boss so he can give orders and bask in the praise of others and he’ll be content.
Sigmund Freud disagreed. Man is a lusting animal. He must have freedom in sexual matters or he’ll be unhappy. Let his biology have free rein and all will be well.
Aristotle also said that man is an animal. His greatest need is knowledge. Educate him about the consequences of right and wrong and he’ll choose the right. He misbehaves because he doesn’t know any better.
Jesus, and His disciples, did not argue about differences between man and animals, but they had no doubts about the enormity of man’s sinfulness and the identity crises it creates. By nature we are all dead in transgressions and sins, and hostile to God.
Because of this condition, it is necessary to be “born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable through the living and enduring Word of God.” Our Lord said, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). In the waters of Baptism, bonded with the Word, the Holy Spirit works saving faith in Jesus Christ, and a person is truly reborn.
That alone is what identifies God’s people to be living holy and, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” (9a)
The major task of the Old Testament priests was to offer sacrifices to God, in the New Testament, Peter describes the responsibility of these new priests about living holy. He urges them to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”(9b)
In our day of Corona virus it is easy to slip into a sort of individualism, one can often hear “I don’t get anything out of going to church anyway.” Yet our immediate sacrifice to God is one of praise and worship, especially with other Christians.
What we “get out of it” is the privilege of glorifying our God together. We can remember Mary of Bethany, who chose “what was better” when it her irritated sister Martha, and she reprimanded Jesus for not directing Mary to help her with preparations that had to be made. Jesus gently informed her that listening to the Word has priority.
That is where our identity and living holy begins. But it doesn’t stop with worship. The writer to the Hebrews also reminds us we are living holy and declare His praise when we “do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifice God is pleased” (13:16). Our living holy identity is seen as Christ’s presence in our lives, and is facilitated through the Holy Spirit.
It is in the twenty-eighth chapter of the Old Testament book of Exodus that describes in great detail the priestly garments God ordered Aaron and his sons to wear: a breast piece, an ephod, a robe, a woven tunic, a turban, and a sash. They were colorful; gold, blue, purple, scarlet, and adorned with precious stones. The purple stole that I wear during Lent is fashioned after this text, made and given to me by a lovely woman from Houston Arkansas.
But not all of God’s New Testament priests wear such garments. Rather their vestments, your vestments, are the prayers you offer on behalf of others, the kindnesses, the cup of cold water, the hands that reach out to heal and help. That’s what helps to define your living holy identity today.
Peter defines the Christian in this iconic passage of today’s text. Christ has by His death and resurrection become a watershed event, a division based upon faith. For the believer He is the cornerstone, but for the unbeliever He is the stumbling block. There is no walking past this Jesus and remaining as we were before He came. That is simply not an option.
Now we who believe lay claim to the highest of honors, the heritage and identity that belonged to the Jewish people of Old. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. God has chosen us! We are no accident of birth; we are no randomly generated product of nature’s whim. We are chosen, deliberately, intentionally, lovingly, chosen. We are a royal priesthood. Priests stand between God and the rest of the people, bringing their requests to God, returning with His blessings for the people.
But let’s not forget the real meat of the passage in the next line. This is our identity so that we may proclaim the wonders and marvels and excellences of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous Light. That is the purpose statement of living holy. We are a telling people.
We don’t have to tell any other story other than the one we have experienced. He has called us out of darkness. That is our story. We are in a marvelous light, not a light of our own making, but His Light, the light that shines in the forgiving and loving people of God.
Sometimes we die like Jesus, sometimes we act like Jesus, sometimes we speak like Jesus, but in all our words and deeds are done in Him, His light shines and we are in the telling business.
You cannot judge the effectiveness of your life by the measures of the world. To them, you and I look foolish, weak, and powerless. But today Jesus promises you and me that our identity is found in Him and His Spirit is at work in our hands, our words, and our presence. And that makes all the difference in the world.
God has put you here because this world is hurting, because this planet needs His love and you are the vessels of that love. That is your identity. That is how you live as holy and royal priests of God. That is how you live in the sure and certain hope of the inheritance that awaits all His chosen people. Amen.