Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter
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Note: All Scripture quotations in the written sermon are taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, ESV Text Edition: 2016. Copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
The sermon text for the fifth Sunday of Easter is the epistle reading from 1 Peter 2:2-10:
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
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. For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”
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, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies 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.
Introduction: Easter is the start of something new: the resurrection of Jesus is the dawn of a new creation. As the American theologian Carl Michaelson put it, Jesus is the “hinge of history.” In Jesus the story of the world has made a decisive turn; indeed, Jesus is the fulcrum upon which history turns. The First Epistle of Peter puts it this way: Christ is the cornerstone. He is the foundation upon which the church is built. The laying of the cornerstone is decisive—once it is laid there is no taking it back. One is either built upon it or stumbles over it: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (1 Pet 2:7).
Every Christian experiences a life-defining change; there is life before faith in Christ as resurrected Lord and Saviour, and there is life after this event. St. Peter writes: “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.” (1 Pet 2:10). Today we consider God’s blessed working of faith in Christ in us which has changed each one of us and incorporated us into God’s Holy Church. We will end by meditating on our heavenly calling as the Church.
There is the before and the after and we will begin with the before.
In Abraham and his descendants God chose a people to be His people in the world. God told Abraham that He would bless all the families of the world through Abraham’s descendants. Abraham’s descendants were to be God’s priests, God’s ambassadors on Earth to declare the true and Living God and his salvation to the world. But Abraham’s descendants, God’s people Israel, were not faithful to God and many fell away to apostasy, refusing to worship God alone and trust in His promise of a coming Saviour and turned to worship the false gods who would give them what they wanted now in this life. St. Peter compares your condition before God called you to faith in Christ like that of faithless Israel or the Gentiles who did not worship God.
Once you were not a people (1 Pet 2:10a), once you had not received mercy (1 Pet 2:10b). This was your position before God for however few days you were a baby before you were baptized or for however many years you were outside God’s Holy Church before you were baptized and had faith in Christ.
Without faith in Christ everyone is alone in this world, on their own and separated from God and one another, having only their or their own family’s best interests at heart. We were rebels against God and scattered stones in the world. Like Satan we wanted to be God, to reign on our own independently, we did not want to be God’s people, His loyal subjects. We were at enmity with God. St. Paul describes our situation before God called us to faith in Romans chapter three: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18). We were rebels, apart from God and His love and salvation.
There is the before and there is the after.
But now you are God’s people (1 Pet 2:10a)…but now you have received mercy. (1 Pet 2:10b). Not only is Jesus the hinge of human history, the story of your life made a definitive turn when Christ made You His own in Holy Baptism, fixing your life and salvation on the saving foundation and work of Jesus Christ.
God took you from being a sinner and a rebel, had mercy on you in Christ and forgave you for Christ’s sake, for Christ’s perfect keeping of the Law and His blessed death for your sins. Now you are God’s child and He is building you up into something. That building is God’s work, under the Spirit’s direction. God is doing a new work in you since Your Baptism into Christ’s Easter resurrection: “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…” (1 Pet 2:4-5a)
Illustration: When you buy a new house in a new subdivision you can pick from one of the floor plans the builder has, or if you are willing to spend a lot more you can hire an architect who will help you design your own house and have a private building company build it for you, or most special, you can hire a famous architect like Frank Lloyd Wright, who, when he was alive would design and build a beautiful house for his clients which would always be something of a surprise. It’s this kind of mysterious and beautiful building work that God is doing in your life.
God is doing some post-Easter building and you are his building material, His “living stone,” and a part of God’s building plans where God is both the master architect and builder.
Because He is holy, God will only build with holy building material, living stones. And so this is what God has done for you: He continually sanctifies you and makes you holy, first in Holy Baptism and then through His Holy Word which strengthens your trust in Christ’s death for your sin. God has given you a new heart that says “no” to your Old Adam, your rebel heart that wants to make your passions and false gods reign.
A building is only as good as it’s material. In this regard, God calls you a living stone. You are no longer a rebel, doing things on your own and for yourself, but you are God’s living stone and God is doing His building using you. You are God’s living stone due to the life that is in Christ which He shares with You in His resurrection.
God the Holy Spirit is building you along with every Christian according to His master building plan on the foundation of Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world, into a spiritual house where He dwells, which is His Church. The Holy Church is all those on Earth whom Christ has given faith in His Lordship and saving work by His Holy Spirit. The Church is the totality of believers in Christ on earth with Christ as the cornerstone or the head of the Church. The Church worships and serves Her Saviour who bought and saved her from sin and death.
The resurrection of Jesus is the hinge of history. Easter is the birth of God’s new creation: His Holy Church. In His Church Christ feeds and nourishes your faith richly. By His Word He absolves your sins and continues to keep you holy. By His Word He guides you with wisdom: how to make decisions that are pleasing to society and your neighbour, while honouring relationships, love, and trust. By His Word God shows you how to pray: as a dear child prays without self-editing and as a child speaks to their father.
There is the old and there is the new, the before and the after. The old you was a rebel against God, a single stone but thinking you were a kingdom unto yourself. But the new life the Holy Spirit gives you by faith in Christ’s blessed death and resurrection is a life of being built into God’s Holy Church, being nourished, guided and blessed by the Lord and His Word.
3) Our Heavenly Calling as God’s Church
Now we turn our attention to meditate on our heavenly calling as God’s Church.
St. Peter calls you, Christ’s living stone, a part of Christ’s Church, to a specific attitude and action: “Like newborn babies long for pure spiritual milk-knowledge of the Word of God-that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Pet 2:2). It’s a call to two things: to study the Word of God and to Christian maturity.
First it’s a call to study the Word of God, the Holy Bible. It’s a call to do this regularly and with intention, to start by getting a good general, working knowledge of the whole Bible and then to deepen that general knowledge. This does not happen overnight it happens over months and years. It’s a marathon not a sprint.
Second, St. Peter’s words, inspired by the Holy Spirit are a call to Christian maturity. St. Peter is calling each member of the church to an individual recognition that no matter how young or old we are we also have a “spiritual age” which is measured by our knowledge of the Holy Bible. St. Peter is revealing you mature in the Christian faith by the act of reading the Word of God, because the Spirit works through the Word to give Christian maturity. St. Peter’s argument is don’t settle for an elementary knowledge of Christmas and Easter and the basics of the Christian faith, but seek to deepen your knowledge of God’s Word to strengthen your faith. Then you will be able to stand up to hard questions, persecution and scorn, as some of Peter’s recipients had faced, and be able to serve and teach others with wisdom, gentleness, humility and patience.
Through reading the Word of God the Spirit will mature our faith in Christ causing us to yield an increasing harvest for God, directing our hearts and minds to love that which God loves. That good harvest includes a mindset of not thinking of yourself more highly than you ought, living in humility, being able to receive rebuke and Christian instruction, bearing with the weak in faith and their idiosyncracies, forgiving those who hurt you and living in love and harmony in the Church.
And lastly Peter says, because we have become a holy priesthood, the chosen people of God in God’s Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ, “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Pet 2:2-10). It’s a call to evangelism. Because we are God’s Holy Church St. Peter says it behoves us to share the Good News of Christ with our mouths. Consider, when was the last time we spoke to someone, anyone, about Jesus as Lord and Saviour? If we can’t remember when, St. Peter’s reminder is: this is who we are, a royal priesthood, a holy nation on earth who are to share the Good News of Christ with the world. That is our high calling as the Church and the Holy Spirit will strengthen us and guide our tongues as we proclaim Jesus as Lord. We are never alone, Christ is always with us because we are built on Him.
Conclusion: The resurrection of Jesus is the dawn of God’s new creation and we are that new creation! Once we were not a people, all on our own, scattered stones. But now God has sent His Son, His Holy One into the world and He has redeemed us from sin rising from the dead on Easter to give us new life. The God who saved us and loves us is continually building us up as living stones in His Holy Church. Built on Christ we receive all the blessings of His Holy Word: we are sanctified, and we live as His royal priesthood to declare Hiss saving work to the world. In Christ’s Holy Name. Amen.