“Our Identity as Church: Living Stones and a Holy Priesthood” (1 Peter 2:2-10)

Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 7, 2023

“Our Identity as Church: Living Stones and a Holy Priesthood” (1 Peter 2:2-10)

There’s a lot of talk about “identity” these days. How do you “identify”? What do you identify as? A guy may be born as a male, but now he decides that he identifies as a woman. It doesn’t matter what the reality is, because that’s how he identifies. Whoops, I should watch my pronouns: If that’s how “she” identifies, then that’s who “she” is. And you have no right to say any different.

Identity. How do you self-identify? How do you see yourself? “I’m an American!” “I’m a Cardinals fan!” Oh, I’m sorry. . . . I’m a husband, wife, parent, grandparent, butcher, baker, or candlemaker. And those all may be true. But all of those are individual identities. They all start with “I.”

But what about something larger? Do you and I–do we, together–have a collective identity? Yes, we do! Today I want you to think not just about your “me” identity but more so about our “we” identity: who we are together, who we are as church. And in our Epistle today, St. Peter tells us who we are. He says, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.” And so our theme this morning: “Our Identity as Church: Living Stones and a Holy Priesthood.”

“Living stones” and a “holy priesthood”: Now those are not terms we usually think of as our identity. So they need some explanation. Both of these terms go back to the Old Testament. They both have to do with the worship life of ancient Israel. “Living stones” recalls the building of the temple in Jerusalem. And “holy priesthood” refers to those Israelites who were dedicated to the Lord’s service at the temple.

Now Peter takes these Old Testament terms and applies them to us, the New Testament church. Peter wants us to know that this is who we are and that we should see ourselves in this way. He writes: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Now notice, our identity as living stones comes as we are connected to one particular living stone. And that of course is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is the living stone who was rejected by men but chosen and precious in the sight of God.

He was rejected by men. He came to his own, but his own did not receive him. Here was the promised Messiah, at long last coming to his people, and yet so many did not receive him. The scribes and Pharisees, the Sadducees, the chief priests and elders–the very religious leaders who should have recognized Jesus as the Messiah did the exact opposite. They rejected him. Why? Because Jesus exposed their pride and hypocrisy. He threatened their power and prestige. And so they hated him. They had him arrested and crucified. As prophesied in the Psalms and quoted by Peter, Jesus is “the stone that the builders rejected.”

But in fact, this was according to God’s plan. They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. God sent his Son into this world to be the sin-bearer for all humanity. “This is my Son, the beloved, my chosen one,” the Father said at Jesus’ baptism. And so Christ came to do the Father’s will. That meant going to the cross, to redeem sinful mankind. There Jesus shed his holy precious blood to atone for our sins and win our forgiveness. It is done. It is finished. Jesus’ death did the job. For you! You are forgiven, your guilt is removed, and you are right with God. Because of Jesus.

And so God glorified his Son by raising him from the dead and making him Lord of all. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious.” Christ is our cornerstone! He is the living stone, risen from the dead and now alive forever! Christ is the cornerstone of the church, the one foundational stone that determines all the angles in the building. The church is true as it lines up straight with Christ. The church finds its identity as it is connected to Christ. The church finds its life in connection with Christ.

Friends, this is how we are living stones. It’s because we are connected to the living stone, our Lord Jesus Christ. We draw our life from Jesus. You are joined to Jesus through your baptism. God has given you the gift of faith in your Savior. The Word and the Sacraments are the mortar that join us living stones to the one chief cornerstone.

And in the process, these means of grace join us to one another in this spiritual house known as the church. We are not just a bunch of individual stones, scattered and separate and unconnected. No, we have been joined together to take form as the church, to have a real, collective identity. This is who we are. God has made us to be his people. We have an identity and a purpose together. Get this in your head. It’s not just “me and Jesus.” It’s we and Jesus. Let’s think of ourselves in this way.

And so when you absent yourself from the church, it’s like a brick deciding to pull itself out of the building. It weakens the whole structure. Brothers and sisters, fellow bricks, fellow stones, we are stronger when we stay connected and support one another.

We have an identity and a purpose together. This is where the “holy priesthood” idea comes in. “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” What do priests do? They offer up sacrifices. The Old Testament priests were dedicated to the Lord’s service to offer up all kinds of sacrifices: sin offerings, guilt offerings, thanksgiving offerings, and so on. God had set them apart to do this work.

Now here in our text Peter applies this priesthood language to the New Testament church. We as church have been set apart to the Lord’s service. We are dedicated and holy to the Lord. And God has given us this work to do, to offer up spiritual sacrifices.

Here we need to be clear. There are many kinds of sacrifices we offer to God, but there is one we do not make–indeed, we cannot. And that is an atoning sacrifice for our sin. That sacrifice has already been made, once and for all, when our great high priest, Jesus Christ, shed his holy blood on the cross. That one-of-a-kind sacrifice can never be repeated, nor need it be. Jesus did the perfect job for us, complete in every way.

But there are still sacrifices we can offer up to God: sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise. “Eucharistic sacrifices” we can call them. For example, the tithes and firstfruit offerings you put in the plate–these are spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, and they support the work of the church. Then there is the sacrifice of thankful lips, speaking our prayers and singing our praises to the God who has redeemed us, with gladness and gratitude in our hearts. Yes, these are sacrifices, these are offerings, that are pleasing to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is one other spiritual sacrifice you can make, again, the sacrifice of thankful lips: It’s when you tell your friends and neighbors and relatives about what God has done for you. Peter gets at this also in our text. He says: “But you 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.”

Proclaiming his excellencies! Fellow priests, we have the privilege and opportunity to tell others of what God has done for us and for them: “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” This is what God has done for us! We were lost, wandering around in the dark. But God has called us out of that darkness of sin and death, and brought us into his kingdom of light and life! New life, eternal life! Excellent! I’d say this is something worth talking about! God has made us his people, he has made us a royal priesthood, so that we may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Brothers and sisters, what an identity, what a purpose, we have! This is a high calling! And it’s all by grace. We don’t deserve it. But this is God’s gift to us in Christ. He, Jesus, the living stone, is the chosen and precious cornerstone. Through him we living stones are built into a spiritual house and made a holy priesthood. “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.” Living stones and a holy priesthood: What a joy it is to know that this is our identity as church!

Published in: on May 6, 2023 at 2:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: