I actually thought yesterday was the end of the world so I didn’t bother preparing a sermon…
Guess they’ll have to recalculate.
‘I am the way.’ ‘Show us the way, asks Thomas.’ ‘We don’t know where you’re going.’ We know that the early Christians were called the ‘way’ as we talked about last week. What did Jesus mean? Now the ‘way’ in Jewish thought was the path of righteousness. Jesus may have been referring to the path through the wilderness to the new Jerusalem that Isaiah speaks of.
Of course that wilderness path is the path to the cross.
In many ways our salvation in Christ is already a reality. He has conquered sin and death on the cross and all who believe in him will not perish but have everlasting life. But all of us know from experience that our walk with God is just that—it is a walk, it is a journey, it is a way.
To follow Christ is to walk with him on the way. It is to walk with him to the presence of his Father. One of the things we have lost is the whole concept of pilgrimage. Muslims go to Mecca, Jews go to Jerusalem. We go to the mall.
To walk with Christ is to follow the rabbi who is going to the Father. The path is narrow, the path is difficult, but the path makes us new people.
Peter’s whole emphasis in his letter is the new people. The people of the new birth and the new way.
I mentioned before the paradoxes in 1 Peter. A paradox is two things that appear contradictory but that are at the same time true. The Trinity, for example, is a paradox…
Peter calls his church the diaspora or the exiles. These are loaded terms.
To be dispersed after being conquered is to find yourself without a home—like the experience of a refugee. This was the history of Israel and what Peter’s community in a sense looks like, a group of irrelevant, persecuted Christians with no home. But the paradox is this:
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.
I use 1 Peter 2 when I teach my New Testament class to undergrads. I ask them to apply the passage to give me a working theology of the church. Peter speaks in glowing terms of the church:
Christ is the Living Stone—you are living stones. And then this description:
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.
He also refers to the church as the ‘Zion’ of the people of God’s expectations—the fulfillment of prophecy.
I won’t go through the whole of this passage but I will look at this one verse which has much to see. 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.
What is a chosen race? This is an interesting way to describe the church. Humans get in trouble when we put too much into ethnic pride or ethnic superiority. History is replete with terrible examples of this kind of thing.
However, to be a Christian is to be purchased by Christ and brought into a new family. Baptismal water is thicker than blood if you want to put it that way. All of the richness that we experience in a human family is a foretaste of a spiritual reality that we have as the body of Christ. The Eastern Orthodox have a wonderful tradition of crowning a couple that is getting married. This is to point people to see the human family as an icon of life in the kingdom of heaven. The family is seen as a ‘micro church.’
The church is the elect of God—chosen before the foundation of the world as Paul puts it. We are the chosen ones, not because of anything we have done, but because of God’s mercy in Christ.
What is a royal priesthood? We are good ‘ol Americans that militate against anything that has to do with a ruling King. We have no concept of royalty. There are no royal families in our midst.
Any talk of royalty in Scripture would cause the reader to remember David and Solomon. You don’t become royal you are graced with royal blood. You inherit it. In the Christian sense, we are adopted into a royal family because of our relationship to Jesus—the son of David and Son of God. We, then, by extension have ‘royal’ privilege. In Christ we are kings and queens in the Kingdom of Heaven.
What does he mean by ‘priesthood?’ The priest in the Old Testament was the one who had special access to God. He was allowed to go into the holiest of holies in the Temple to offer sacrifice and into the Shekinah of God—the presence and glory of God.
For us, Christ is the presence of God and we are the Temple of God. Christ is the Shekinah and we are allowed, as the book of Hebrews says, to boldly approach the throne of God through him.
Luther called this the ‘priesthood of all believers.’ Every Christian has access to God anytime, anywhere.
Why then, have Christian priests? Christian pastors and priests do not mediate Christ to people. We are here to remind all of us of the sacredness of going into the presence of God. The liturgy does not go against the priesthood of all believers—it reminds of what the priesthood of all believers looks like. As protestants we rightly remember the supremacy of the Scripture and the access that we all have to the Scripture—Peter says to long for the spiritual milk which in part is the Scripture. But through the liturgy and the Sacraments all that is in Scripture comes to life. What if all you ever did was read about food and never actually ate it? What if you only read about kissing your spouse but never actually kissed them? What if you only read about climbing the 14ner and never actually climbed it?
What if you only read about the priesthood of all believers but never saw the reverence and seriousness of entering into the presence of God? What if you only read about God and never actually experienced him?
What is a ‘holy nation?’
Of course Peter’s readers would have as their guide the people of Israel, God’s chosen people. Israel was a theocracy ruled by Torah. Is this what Peter is getting at? Is this what we want? Do we want America to be a theocracy? Should the ‘holy nation’ be a geographical reality?
I mentioned the Muslim scholar that said the Koran never envisions Islam as a minority and the New Testament never envisions the church as anything but a minority.
So what is a holy nation?
This is what we are called to be. It is more important to be a part of the Church (the body of Christ in all times and all places) than the part of a particular nation of land. Thank God we live in this land, but we are not defined by the stars and stripes but by the cross.
What does it mean to be holy? In the biblical sense, it is to be set apart for special use. Anglicans understand that certain things are set aside for special use. Like the chalice. We could use any ‘ol cup for the Sacrament but we choose to use something that is set apart and something we care for in a special way.
So it is for the body of Christ. We are a like a chalice offered to the world. We present God to the world. We re-present Christ. We are brought out of the darkness of this world into his marvelous light. Then we show the way to others.
The way the truth and the life—this is what Jesus is. We are to show him to the world.
There is this church I know of that is not perfect but has represented Christ. This church:
- Bought a special wheelchair for a little girl with cerebral palsy whose life has been wracked by pain and countless surgeries.
- Thrived when their demographics changed from all white to a large percentage of blacks.
- Sent care packages to shut ins every Christmas.
- Covered the cost to bury a 2 year old girl whose parents couldn’t afford even a burial.
- Walk together in the midst of many different points of view politically.
- Welcomes little children who do little children things during worship.
- Has a leadership the majority of whom receive no pay.
- Eats together, prays together, and studies together.
There is a scene at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last crusade. Indiana Jones is on a quest for the Holy Grail—the Cup of Christ used in the Last Supper. He makes it into the last of many obstacles and finds a room full of chalices guarded by a thousand year old knight. Most of the chalices are ornate and covered in jewels and gold. The knight tells Dr. Jones to pick a chalice and drink from it, if it does not kill him, it is the Holy Grail. One of the bad guys already chose unwisely.
Indiana Jones looks at the room of chalices and finds one that is wooden and simple. He says, ‘this is the cup of a carpenter,’ and lo and behold it is the correct one.
I look at this congregation which I just described. And I say ‘this is the cup of the carpenter.’
This is the community of the way the tru