When I was in seminary I enjoyed the deep discussions we got to have, the ways we examined the scriptures and the ways we were trained to ask questions. One concept that fascinated me is the idea of the power of stories, not just the story of God’s interaction with history in the bible, but the stories of the early church, the stories of the reformers and others who have gone before us, and the power that comes from the way we frame our own stories and align the arc of our lives with the logos word of God in Jesus. We talked about the power of our narratives and the effects of connecting ourselves to the story that God is unfolding in the world. A narrative is simply another way of saying the way a story unfolds, and the meta-narrative is the story behind the story that frames all the stories we hear. Today’s scripture is about one of the most significant Christian meta-narratives and has some very important insights for us as a way to look at the bible and how we might be called to embody the good news of redemption and true freedom in Jesus. It has been a while since we took a break from this series for advent, so let me provide a little context again for today’s text. Peter was a disciple of Jesus who tended to speak first and think second. You never had to wonder about what Peter’s opinion was because he shared it frequently. Peter was a fisherman by trade and frankly wasn’t the greatest fisherman ever. When Jesus called him to follow he did, no questions asked, he dropped everything and followed. Peter was also pretty observant. He was the first disciple to really believe that Jesus was the messiah, even though he had a ton of misconceptions about what that actually meant. Peter became one of the pillars of the early Christian community, eventually leading the church in Rome where according to the stories of the church he was crucified upside-down. It is thought that the letter of first Peter was written towards the end of his life in an attempt to pass down some of the more important lessons of faith from Peter’s experience. I will read verses 4-9 of 1 Peter chapter 2 and we will focus on verses 6-9.
4 Come to Him—the living stone—who was rejected by people but accepted by God as chosen and precious. 5Like living stones, let yourselves be assembled into a spiritual house, a holy order of priests who offer up spiritual sacrifices that will be acceptable to God through Jesus the Anointed. 6For it says in the words of the prophet Isaiah, See here—I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone, chosen and precious; Whoever depends upon Him will never be disgraced.* 7To you who believe and depend on Him, He is precious; but to you who don’t, remember the words of the psalmist: The stone that the builders rejected has been laid as the cornerstone—the very stone that holds together the entire foundation,* 8and of Isaiah: A stone that blocks their way, a rock that trips them.* They stumble because they don’t follow the word of God, as they were destined to do. 9But you are a chosen people, set aside to be a royal order of priests, a holy nation, God’s own; so that you may proclaim the wondrous acts of the One who called you out of inky darkness into shimmering light. 1 Peter 2:4-9 The Voice
We speak often of God’s ways not being our ways, but we often don’t grasp how truly different his ways are. In fact it might even be more accurate to say that God’s ways are the exact opposite of the way the value systems of this world tell us to operate. In fact God’s priorities and values are foolishness to the ways the culture of this world measure value. This is why God’s message of redemption is so hard for people to accept. We don’t want to look up at the expanse of the starry sky to see how utterly insignificant we are. Quite often we don’t want to look inside and start digging through the muck that has collected in our souls to see how our vision is distorted by values not rooted in God. Today I want us to see what we can learn from the “foolishness” of God, which happens to be exponentially wiser than the highest wisdom produced by any human ever to walk this earth.
The first element of the meta-narrative is that the choice of foundation belongs to God. Jesus was born into the slave class, not the ruling class. Those whom the culture of Jesus’ time deemed more valuable were those with power and authority. That God would choose to come as the lowest class as one of the most vulnerable must inform our understanding of how God’s kingdom operates. We have to acknowledge that it does indeed seem foolish that the folks on the bottom have a special place in God’s heart. In fact throughout the scripture God most often chooses to use those who might best be described as bumbling incompetents, losers, victims, powerless, weak, and broken to advance his kingdom and hold up the standards of his kingdom. Doesn’t God know how crazy that is? But God promises that those who depend on Him will not be disgraced. In the introduction to his book Genuine Christianity, Ron Sider relates how absurd God’s plan looks to others in a fictional conversation between Jesus and the Angel Gabriel after Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
“Well, how did it go?” Gabriel asks Jesus. “Did you complete your mission and save the world?” “Well, yes and no,” Jesus replies. I modeled a godly life for about thirty years. I preached to a few thousand Jews in one corner of the Roman Empire. I died for the sins of the world and promised that those who believe in me will live forever. And I burst from the tomb on the third day to show my circle of 120 frightened followers that my life and story are God’s way to save the whole world. Then I gave the Holy Spirit to those 120 and left them to finish the task.” “You mean,” Gabriel asks in amazement, “your whole plan to save the world depends on that ragtag bunch of fishermen, ex-prostitutes and tax collectors?” “That’s right,” Jesus replies. “But what if they fail?” Gabriel persists with growing alarm. ”What’s your backup plan?” ”There is no backup plan,” Jesus says quietly. (Sider 1996)
Looking back on the last 2000 or so years, it is pretty obvious that God’s plan is working out better than anyone could have anticipated, because it brought the good news to people that didn’t have anyone to depend on. These people had no illusions about their value to the society around them, and hearing that God not only valued them but chose them as his agents to bring redemption in the world motivated a movement that outlasted the powerful empire that oppressed it from the beginning. Our narrative is not dependent on us, but instead draws us in to become part of the story of God’s interaction with humanity. To people who are not part of the faith, we are the story, the bible, we are God’s narrative of redemption.
The second element in this foolish meta-narrative is that following Christ’s values will be a stumbling block to systems that operate according to other values. Following Jesus will mean that everyone from religious systems that are operating as commercial enterprises to governments that deny the dignity and value of human life to businesses that view people in terms of financial ability will find us to be a stumbling block. They won’t have any idea how such a ragtag bunch of people could possibly cause them so much difficulty, but as we listen to and obey God’s message we will very simply and quietly find ourselves in the way of business as usual. This world thrives on treating people as resources to be exploited for personal or corporate profit and we can show people a better way. We can show people that they are valuable not for what they can give or what they can do, or even for having access to the halls of power, but that true worth can only be found in the love of God. The world is constantly trying to manipulate us by telling us how worthless we are unless we fit their mold. For me the message was “You are worthless because you are fat. Why bother to deny it, you just go ahead and eat another bag of Doritos, wash it down with a pint of Haagen Dasz and call it a day.” But that message wasn’t true, and until I could see the lies behind it and depend on God and my community I couldn’t fight it. Jesus embodied that message of value and freedom from lies and his words and example in the scriptures can guide us, but Jesus didn’t only give us words on a page, he gave us the Holy Spirit that we might have the power we need to obey his words and a community of others to hold us accountable to our call.
Let me tell you, I need the Holy Spirit and my faith community in order to follow Jesus. I need to be reminded by my family that I am a living message from God to the world around me. Left to my own devices I fall right in with the value systems of this world, and I bet I am not the only one. This is truly a weak point in our congregation, and it is holding us back from all that God can do through us. Last Sunday I gave the elders a goal. This goal came from careful prayer and consideration of the gifts and talents and most importantly the call found at the end of today’s passage “you are a chosen people, set aside to be a royal order of priests, a holy nation, God’s own; so that you may proclaim the wondrous acts of the One who called you out of inky darkness into shimmering light.” The goal is to grow so deeply as a body that in five years we will need to plant another church. I have set aside time to put together a plan and will have that ready to share with the elders by our next meeting and will soon be approaching some of you to consider leading a home meeting as a place to foster Christian growth and welcome people who might be a little intimidated by coming to a church building into God’s story of redemption. Most importantly I think we are ready. I have heard many people express a desire to commit themselves more deeply to Jesus and spread his word, but aren’t sure quite where to start. I want to let you all know that this questioning and desire has been heard and that I am working diligently to put a plan together to help us live into the mission God has given us to live out and share his message of redemption. At our business meeting next week I will be bringing a slightly different mission statement than the ones I had brought before it says simply that “We are called to live and serve as priests proclaiming the wondrous acts of the One who called us out of inky darkness into shimmering light.” As we enter into our time of open worship remember that this is not the time for announcements or prayer requests, but is a time to listen for the voice of God and share how God is speaking to us, to get God’s input on the message he is calling us to share. In the blue pamphlet in the pews is a flowchart that can help as we discern our leadings to speak in this time. Let us seek God together.
Sider, Ronald J. Genuine Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.