The Plight of the Precious and Peculiar Pebble
A Meditation on 1 Peter 2:2-10
Rev. Michelle Denney Grunseich
Aston Presbyterian Church
May 10, 2020
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 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. 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.” 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” 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. 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. 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.”
How did you get here today? By that, I am not asking how it came to pass that you woke up, and had breakfast, and got dressed. I am not wondering how Aston Presbyterian came to be your church or how the PC (USA) came to be a symbol with which you self-identify. No, what I really want to know is—How did you get here today?
Although they may be interesting stories, the question is not one regarding the choices of your ancestors. That this congregation is the one you’ve been part of for 50 years or that your father’s father’s father helped to found is not what is keeping you here. That you’ve always gotten up on Sunday morning and headed off to church is not the reason that you are worshipping this morning. The question that I am asking goes far, far deeper than habit or history. How did you get here today? Why are you a Christian? Why does any of this really matter?
With a slightly different historical lens, this is Peter’s question—both to the people of his time, and to our modern world. The people to whom Peter was writing were a discombobulated bunch—Gentile pagans who were “scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithnyia” (modern-day Turkey). Many of them are believed to have been people for whom a religious life was not overwhelmingly important. They were a people who went to the synagogue because “their fathers before them did”, but they were not a people well-versed in spiritual life. They were, on the whole, socially marginalized people who really ‘fit in’ nowhere—“homeless” people, of sorts, outsiders in their communities. It was only in God’s house that they found a place and a voice. It was in God’s house that they found their family. It was through their community contact that they found a home.
Peter’s message, then, bears three key features: salvation, church, and the Christian spiritual life. This is what he is primarily concerned with. Peter’s letter is an exhortation to a group of disenfranchised people to encourage them to be steadfast in their faith. That seems like quite a leap, asking a disorganized group of people to jump from paganism to piety in one fell swoop. But Peter reminds them that when they entered the family of God, they were healed and claimed. The salvific act of God in granting His grace to them is the cornerstone of their faith.
The dominant image of the church in 1 Peter is the family of God. Once saved through Christ, they were no longer scattered about, but were the family of God—they found a place to call home in a world that was in upheaval and confusion. Out of their salvation, they were called Christian life—no easy feat for a group of new Christians who were outcast and bewildered by how to bear Christian witness. It’s tough for us to imagine the setting in which these people lived. It’s hard to conceive of a world of marginalization and suffering when we think of it in light of our own rich privilege. Which is why my question still stands, How did you get here today?
How we wind up where we wind up is largelya matter of interest or inertia. Are you a person who reads Scripture each morning? Who prays regularly? Someone who is fascinated by theology and curious about our Biblical history? Or is the reason you are here less about interest and more about inertia? Are you here because you’ve always come? Are you here because you think you should be here? Maybe you are here because you’re searching…because you seek the Truth.
Whatever your reason, I know you are here because somewhere along the way, you received the message of Christ. And the reason you received that message is because someone shared it with you.
Peter reminds us, “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.” While we’re thinking about this passage from Peter, I want you to think about the first person who brought you to Christ. Was it a parent or parents? Maybe a pastor when you were a child? Maybe a Sunday School teacher? Maybe it was someone you met as an adult who led you to learn more about Christ. What was about them that made you listen to them? We know that Christ is our cornerstone, chosen and precious, but think about the person who brought you to Him. I imagine it was someone you loved and deeply trusted. I am sure it was someone that had a willing spirit and a loving heart. Someone brought you to Christ. How did you get here today?
During the time that Peter was writing, Christians were being persecuted and often killed by the Roman Emperor, Nero, one of the of most vicious and tyrannical emperors of the Empire. Indeed, it was under Nero that Peter himself was murdered. Nero is infamous in biblical writings for his autocracy and cruelty. He was despised and feared. Christians, particularly, had every reason to be terrified of Nero. Think about how easy it would have been for the people to whom Peter was writing—particularly when you consider how disaffected they were—to give up on their embryonic Christianity and denounce their God. But they didn’t. I wonder who it was for them—the person of strong faith and sound spirit who kept them on the path of Christ. I wonder how they stayed the course in Peter’s day.
Perhaps it was the early establishment of the church that helped them remain strong and steadfast. Peter’s letter is full of terminology relating to spiritual formation and evangelism. He stressed time and again the importance of deep spirituality, which is even more understandable when we consider the trying times in which he shared his apostolic witness. Those early believers served one another to build and strengthen the faith of those whose lives they touched.
How did you get here today? Who was it who brought you to Christ? And what is keeping you faithful? Just like the early Christians, the person who brought you to faith was your rock—your living stone of strength—your precious pebble. Somehow, those people encouraged us and nurtured in us a faith that will help to withstand even the most hateful and harassing modern-day Neros we can think of. Being a Christian means both being part of a community, but also being ‘set apart’. We are called to live in the world, but not be of the world. We are called to live lives worthy of our calling, always pointing outward and upward to our living Savior. We are humble, where the world is prideful. We reserve judgment, where the world criticizes. We are hopeful, where the world is jaded. We are a peculiar lot, we Christians.
No one would blame us for giving up. The road is hard, and the rewards are few. Faith doesn’t make us richer or smarter. But for some reason, we haven’t. How did you get here today? Who was it who brought you to Christ? What is keeping you faithful? …..And to whom are YOU that person?
Peter calls us ‘living stones’…it certainly sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? To think of something as hard and unchangeable as a stone being something that lives. But when I read that, I think that what Peter alludes to is our call as Christians to be strong rocks of faith in the building of the church. Just like stones are set beside one another and on top of one another in building the foundation of a strong building, WE are the living stones in the continuance of faith. Each one of us is a precious and peculiar pebble, called out from banality to relevance in Christ. How did you get here today? Where are you going in your faith journey? Who is looking to you to lead them to Christ? It’s a heavy question with enormous responsibility—but someone was willing to be “that person” for you. The great Richard Foster writes, “Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”
Christ is our foundation’s cornerstone, and together, every pebble, every stone, every rock strengthens us as a people of God. We are the living stones of the Christian faith. Mercy and grace abound as we strengthen one another…it is in community that we have power for the journey. Amen.