In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last week we saw that God is a God who meets us where we are and moves us to where he wants us to be. This morning I want to follow up on that notion and look briefly at what that might look like in the living of our days. In today’s Epistle lesson, Peter tells us that we are living stones, a holy and royal priesthood. We read this and wonder what that could possibly mean. If we are really honest with ourselves, we know we are hardly priestly. We remember our failures and shortcomings, the times when we have disappointed ourselves, not to mention God. We read stories like the one from Acts today that describe Stephen’s martyrdom and wonder how anyone could be so faithful (or foolish, depending on your perspective). All this can make us wonder from time to time how God could possibly love someone like us, let alone call us one of his priests.
If you ever have felt these kinds of doubts or fears, you should take it as a cue to pick up your Bible and read this passage from Peter again (and others like it) because it contains the wondrous promise of God’s healing and redemption. In other words, it represents the spiritual milk Peter tells us to crave. Passages like today’s Epistle lesson must always be read within the broader framework of the biblical narrative. This narrative is about how God is going about restoring his broken and fallen creation and creatures. We read in Genesis how human sin spoiled God’s good creation and creatures, and about the terrible alienation and hostility between humans and God that resulted. But we also see God pursuing his sinful creatures in the Garden of Eden, calling out to them even as they were hiding from him in the darkness of their own sin, and we get an initial glimpse of the heart of God.
We then read about how God called out his people Israel to be his agents of healing and restoration, but that Israel became part of the problem, primarily because they chose to pursue other gods and therefore became exactly like the people God had called them to help him bless and redeem. But despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God remained faithful to his people and we wonder why he would do that. Yet God’s faithfulness to his unfaithful people gives us hope because we realize that maybe, just maybe, God might choose to remain faithful to us as well, even in our unfaithfulness. You can read that grand narrative in the OT.
As we move to the NT, we see God’s eternal plan to restore his broken creatures and creation continue to unfold in the narratives about Jesus. Here we see God himself intervening in our history on our behalf to be for the world what his people Israel had failed to be, to bring about our healing and reconciliation through his own death on a cross, and to end forever our exile from God and life. This makes our hearts glad because we are reminded that God created us to have a relationship with him, not to destroy us, and in the Gospel story, we see him acting decisively on our behalf to make that possible.
The manner in which God did this took (and continues to take) many of us by surprise. We expected God to visit his world in great power and might, to wave his hand and rid the world of all its evil and brokenness. But God did not do it in that manner. True, God in Christ will return one day in great power and glory to finish the work he started, but he came to us first in weakness and humility to put the world aright. He came as a crucified Messiah, not a conquering warlord, and he calls each of us to follow and imitate him in his work of New Creation.
In the Gospels we see God in Jesus coming to his world to overcome evil and its brokenness. We see Jesus heal the sick, give sight to the blind, raise the dead, and give hope to the hopeless. In Jesus’ mighty resurrection we get a preview of coming attractions, of God’s New Creation in which he will complete his restorative work and return his people to Eden. But it will be an Eden on steroids because the New Creation will be unlike anything we can hope for or imagine. Jesus’ bodily resurrection reminds us that God cares about his creation and intends to restore it. God invites us as his church to be his Kingdom workers and he has given us his Holy Spirit to help us help him in that work, just as he called Israel to do.
If we understand this, we will understand what Peter is saying to us today. We are God’s holy or called out people and we have work to do as Christ’s body, the Church. Together, we are to imitate Jesus in his earthly ministry and be agents of God’s healing and redemption to his broken and hurting world. But we cannot do this unless we first let Jesus work on us through the power and Presence of his Holy Spirit living in us to change us into his likeness. This, of course, takes a lifetime to accomplish, at least for most of us, but this is where we must also remember that God is a God who meets us where we are and will move us to where he wants us to be.
When we take our discipleship seriously enough to let Jesus work on us and change us into his likeness, we are ready to be his agents of New Creation. The term for this is transformative discipleship. So how do we do this? We start by taking Peter’s advice and crave the pure spiritual milk that is found in the Bible. It is impossible for us to be like Jesus if we do not know him personally or know anything about his values and method of operation. And so we read our Bible, pray, worship, take the sacraments, and talk to other faithful Christians to help us keep on track or to get support when we need it.
We then bring Jesus’ values and the economy of the Kingdom to bear on his broken and hurting world. For example, we offer mercy and forgiveness where none is deserved. We refuse to gossip. We start to pay attention to the needs of others and not just our own. We work to alleviate suffering and want where we see it. We may not be able to heal the sick or raise the dead, but we can be with the sick and dying during the time of their lives when they need the human touch the most. I could give many other examples but you get the idea.
This is what Jesus and the NT writers mean when they tell us to love each other. Love always manifests itself in action for the benefit of the beloved in light of the values of the Kingdom. This is what Peter was talking about when he urges us to be living stones and reminds us that we are a holy and royal priesthood. We are changed by God’s Spirit living in us so that we bring God’s love to bear on the world’s hurt just the way Jesus did, and we are content to let God use us to accomplish his will. Our job is not to fix people. It is to expose them to the One who can fix and heal them, and be satisfied in doing that.
And here is where I want you to understand about transformative discipleship. If you are like me, when we hear a word like transformative, we get intimidated because we think we have to do something spectacular like Stephen did when he was martyred. But that is not usually how transformative discipleship works. Instead, it works simply by bringing God’s love in Jesus to bear on people in the context of our daily lives.
Let me give you a quick example from my life to illustrate how this works. When I was 23 I had a fraternity brother who was an only child like me. He was a nice guy but we were only nominal friends because he had his circle of close friends and I had mine. Then his mother committed suicide. I can remember lying on my bed wondering what I should do. I hated funerals and sure didn’t know what to say, so I was tempted to stay away and do nothing. But then something in me reminded me that my friend was an only child just like me and I thought about what I would need if my own mother had committed suicide. I knew I sure wouldn’t want to be alone at a time like that so I went to the funeral home and just sat with him for a couple of days. I don’t remember what we talked about, if anything. I just remember smoking a lot of cigarettes with him during that awful time in his life. So where is the transformation in this story? We became close friends after that and remain so over 35 years later. He has told me more than once how much my presence meant to him and that has always amazed me because my presence wasn’t a big deal.
This isn’t about what a swell guy I am. It is about how Jesus used me to be an agent of his New Creation, to help another young man deal with his terrible grief and loss in the context of our daily lives. I bet each one of you can recall a story like this, either where you were the beneficiary or God’s agent of New Creation, even if you were not aware of it. Notice that at the time I really didn’t understand how Jesus was using me, he just did. Of course there are times when I refused to let Jesus use me. Unfortunately, that is part of the growing process that all Christians must go through. But I have found that the more I grow in my knowledge of Jesus and deepen my relationship with him, the more faithful I am when he calls me. Likewise for you too.
Our Easter hope, the climax of the biblical story of God’s plan to restore his broken and hurting creation, is the basis for transformative discipleship. As our Lord reminds us in today’s Gospel lesson, our eternal future is secure in him and so is our present. When we take our discipleship seriously we have the wondrous privilege of working with God as his Kingdom workers. He can and will use us to help continue Jesus’ work of healing and redemption. This, of course, provides us with real meaning and purpose for living and we do this work best when we do it together as God’s church.
Make no mistake. The work is difficult and we will encounter great opposition because the powers and principalities want to continue to run the world. But take heart and hope. Jesus has overcome the world and will equip us as his people to help him in his work to restore his broken world. And when you understand this, you will discover that you really do have Good News, a total package for living life abundantly, now and for for all eternity.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.