Living, breathing church (February 26, 2023)

A uniform lesson for February 26, 2023.

Uniform Lesson for February 26, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: 1 Peter 2:1-10

We end our quarter on the theme From Darkness to Light with a reading from 1 Peter, reminding us that God has called us “out of darkness into [God’s] marvelous light” (v. 9). This transformation from darkness to light is firstly something God has done for us but is also something God invites us to participate in for the sake of the world: as living stones, as a holy nation and as a community that continues to “grow into salvation” (v. 2). Yes, this transformative work is grounded in God’s calling but it also demands deepening responsibilities.

Living stones

Church folk are trained to respond to any over-emphasis on our church buildings with something along the lines of: “Well, you know the church is not the building, it’s the people.” If some of our neighbors were more truthful, they might reply: “I’m not so sure that’s a real improvement!” We can be a self-righteous people;
a cold-hearted people; a focused-on-the-past kind of community. And yet.

Peter, whom Jesus in Matthew 14 called “the rock,” reminds these congregations of the diaspora that they are built upon a “living stone,” Christ Jesus (v. 14). This rock has the power to make them “living stones” as well; in order to serve as a temple or meeting place, for God and all humankind (v.5). Though the world may reject Jesus as trustworthy, Jesus has become the “cornerstone” of this new kind of living structure (vv. 6-7). God’s people do not need to make themselves into “living stones”; no, they simply must “let themselves be built into a spiritual house” (v. 5). As the psalmist says: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). This is a living house, established on a living rock, built by a living Lord.

Maybe we church folk need to practice both humility and proper gratitude. We are not the builders, but the built; having been built, and made alive in Christ, we have something to offer to the world. We can serve as a community where God’s presence is manifest and where the gifts of God’s Spirit can be experienced. No, not perfectly, but when you find yourself alone and rejected, cut off from the hope and forgiveness that keep human possibilities alive, this gathering of living rocks is not a bad place to be. One might even call it “a holy priesthood” — thanks be to God (v. 5).

Holy nation

As if that weren’t enough, the writer of this letter goes further, stating “but you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (v. 9). Note that these are all collective descriptions. There is no such thing as a solitary church. Note also that this is a result of God’s choosing, not our own: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people” (v. 10). To be clear, the purpose for this choosing is not pride but proclamation: “That you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (v. 9).  We might prefer a gospel that is about our own salvation and satisfaction but this is a story of a people blessed to be a blessing, a community called not to be served, but to serve.

Ongoing transformation

God sends Zechariah the angel Gabriel so he will trust God’s promises that a child is coming, a child whose name will be John. But not only does the angel’s appearance terrify Zechariah (what do you expect in the Holy of Holies!), Zechariah demands a sign from the angel in order to believe. So Zechariah joins another line of questioners and doubters, fallible human beings God can still use to accomplish God’s purposes but with some twists and turns along the way. Zechariah comes out of this encounter unable to speak or witness regarding what he has seen and heard. Not only is he up in years, not only is he one half of a barren couple, but now he is the bearer of a promise he cannot proclaim. A mute witness. A tongue-tied testifier.

Here we must laugh at the humor of God’s choices. God not only seems to prefer the most unlikely candidates, but God is willing to allow detours and switchbacks in order to make the story both more interesting and more inviting. Yes, Zechariah could have encountered Gabriel and come out with the
good news of God’s promises. But what kind of story would that be? And what kind of people would
such a story include? Let’s look in the mirror!

Question for discussion:

How would the ‘building maintenance’ line item in the budget change if we thought of the church building as alive, and made up of each one of us, together?

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