1 Peter Cont.’d: Embracing the Opposite

by susan on May 12, 2014

the-cornerstoneYesterday’s message began with this Seinfeld clip, where George Costanza experiments with an “opposite” approach.  For the audio version of this message, go here.

Embracing the Opposite
1 Peter 2:1-10

It is a show about nothing, but there may be something to it. We have all had some moments, some phases when we can relate to poor old George.  Defeated.  Desperate.  Nothing seems to be working… we’re willing to try anything to find a place in this world.

Last week we began hearing and exploring the letter of 1 Peter. It was a letter written to scattered Christians who were persecuted, rejected and searching for how to live in light of the resurrection of Christ. They were searching to live in light of their new identities.

As we keep moving through the letter of 1Peter, we come to a passage filled with some surprising images. These images are meant to help these early Christians understand who they are and to help them find their place in the world.

Ironically, the first image is a very “motherly one”, but let me just remind you that this letter is written to both men and women when it says:
So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. You’ve had a taste of God. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God.

Spoken in a very patriarchal or male dominated culture where women were still often treated like property, this description would have grabbed some attention. And, let’s be honest. It’s not everyday that we imagine, much less relate to God as our mother either. We tend to and were taught to relate to God as a vengeful, iron fisted disciplinarian who demands much of us.

Apparently, there is another side to God, one that has gotten less attention, probably because it is viewed as the weaker, less powerful side. The God who breastfeeds her infant children so that they can grow into healthy, whole human beings. Mothers know that breastfeeding takes patience, it can be painful, it is not always the quick, convenient way. Yet, like a mother who breastfeeds her children, so God nurtures and takes care of us. So God fills us, patiently giving us life. These early Christians would need to depend on God as they struggled to find their way.

Another surprising image has to do with stones:
Welcome to the living Stone, the source of life. The workmen took one look and threw it out; God set it in the place of honor.

To begin with, stones are not living, breathing and walking around; at least, not in my experience.
So, what is with calling a stone “living” here?

The word “stone” is used 6 times in 5 verses here, and it means little to us, but it would have meant something to 1st century Christians who were familiar with scripture.  The word “stone” reminded them of two things.   The first had to do with the temple. The temple was the dwelling place of God and it had been destroyed. The great hope of Israel was that God would return and again live in the temple. It had to rebuilt first, though. There was a long held tradition that it would be built on a specific “rock” or “cornerstone”. If they could just find the right rock, then maybe the temple could be rebuilt and the Lord would return to it.

The second important thing to know about the word for “stone” is that in ancient Hebrew, it is very much like the word “son”. Prophetic scriptures tell us that the son of God would build a temple on the right stone. By referring to Jesus as a “living stone, the one the builders rejected”, something important is being said. They can stop looking for a literal stone after all. The cornerstone is a person.   The new temple will be a living one built upon Jesus…and, we know what happened to Jesus; he was rejected because he did not fit the plans of those in power.

It is one thing to follow Jesus’ teachings, but it is another to build your life and your future around the rejected son of God. This means that hardship and suffering will continue to be part of the journey. This means that the path of following Jesus is not one of upward mobility, at least not according to culture’s standards, it is the path of downward mobility.
“Down We Go” is the title of my friend, Kathy Escobar’s book for a reason and in it, she reminds us that downward mobility should not come as a surprise to us because,
“Jesus told us his ways were harder. He said that to follow him meant that we were going to have to give up everything familiar, that most people would think that we were crazy, that we’d be poor, persecuted and rejected and that we’d lose our security and so many things we held dear. At the same time, he told us we’d also find life.”

When you are rejected or don’t fit in, you just might be in the right place. Imagine the power of these words to displaced Christians struggling to find their place.

The letter continues:
Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God.
But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.

Perhaps the most surprising image in this passage is found here: the rejected ones are the chosen ones, chosen to BE the living sanctuary of God. They could stop looking for a literal stone. Together, they are God’s dwelling place – a spiritual house built around Jesus.

These images may have been surprising, but the ideas behind them were not new. They were rooted in scripture. But still.
They are the opposite of how we tend to view life.
They are counter-intuitive, counter-cultural, counter-everything:
God as mother, patiently helping you to grow into maturity.
Jesus the rejected son, as the stone you must build everything around.
God’s new home not as a towering sanctuary built with human hands; instead as a living, breathing community of faith.

These ideas are as crazy as some of the things that Jesus taught; things like “the first will be last,” “love your enemies”, “pray for those who persecute you.” They are the opposite of what we tend to think, the opposite of what we tend to do.

And, leaning in to the “opposite” of what surrounds us or the opposite of what we have clung to for a long time is never easy.

This has not been the easiest of weeks in the Rogers house. No matter how hopeful and supported you feel, abruptly and involuntarily losing half of your family’s income is difficult. Don’t worry, though. When faced with these situations, I have a coping mechanism already in place. You could call it the “suck it up” routine”. I distance myself, I try to figure out how to make things work on my own, I rely on the one who I know can get the job done – that’s me of course. This tactic makes perfect sense in our individualistic culture (look out for number one). It’s something that has worked for me in the past. And, it may even be in my genes. But, it is not rooted in my identity in Christ.

I realized this when I was out for a walk on Friday morning, and I made a decision. I am trying the opposite. It is not my preferred way, but I am leaning into helplessness. I am leaning into relationships with others. I am leaning into God, who I know is patiently taking care of us.
This is not easy. It’s counter-intuitive. It’s counter-cultural. It’s counter-everything.

So are many things we are called to do as we try to embrace our identities as followers of Jesus. That is why we are not asked to walk the road alone, but are invited into community with others who are also on the journey toward becoming all that God intends for us to be.

What about you?
How do these countercultural, counter-intuitive images invite you to move in a different direction?
And, what could happen if together we trusted God’s care, built everything around Jesus and became a dwelling place for the living God? What might God do through us?  What might God build through us if we dared to embrace the “opposite”?

Previous post:

Next post: