This is a version of the sermon I preached for Sunday, May 10, 2020, for the online-only worship of Broken Bow United Methodist Church (you can also worship online through this site and/or see and hear the preached sermon). This is the Fifth Lord’s Day of Easter. A bulletin for worship can be found here.
Today’s sermon is based on 1 Peter 2:2-10.
“Can we take the longer way home?”
Each weekday, we’ve been getting sack lunches from the school. It makes meal planning and grocery buying a little easier, and we want to support this vital community program so that it’s available for others. We treat our daily treks as a time to be together and a time to practice our new family activity – skateboarding. Inevitably, someone will want to skate more and ask to go the long way. Sometimes we oblige the request, taking the longer way so we can practice skating a little more. But, some days, at least one of us just wants to get home as quickly as possible so that we can eat, because, as the naysayer puts it, “I’m so hungry.”
Of course, on our lunchtime skates, the hunger we’re experiencing is physical; however, from Peter’s letter, from which we read today, it’s clear that we humans can also be spiritually hungry for God. For the mid-First Century Christians spread throughout modern-day Turkey, there’s much to make them hungry for God.
From the content of the letter overall, it’s clear that they’re struggling in their lives of faith. At the very least, they’re finding it hard to fit in among their communities. They’re not Jewish, even if some where Jewish-Christians. And they’re not like the other Roman citizens. They worship differently, and they abstain from the religious practices of everyone else around them. They proclaim to follow a man who was rejected by his own people, and crucified a low-down criminal and enemy of the state of Rome. In a culture that dealt in the currency of image and honor and shame, these early Christians were hungering for assurance of God’s presence with them that would give them strength, courage, and wisdom to endure the challenges of life faithfully.
Peter knows they’re hungry, and that hungering for God is as natural as an infant’s hunger for milk. He knows they’re hungering for assurance of God’s grace. And so, he directs their hunger toward God, encouraging them to “crave pure spiritual milk [of the word], so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Pet 2:2, NIV).
We know a similar sort of spiritual hunger. In the past week, the Education Committee of the church has reached out to most of the nearly fifty families that participate in our Wednesday and Sunday Christian formation ministries. We asked families for prayer requests, and if they shared, nearly all of them related to the uncertainty and frustrations of this unique season of our lives. Like Peter’s first audience, we find ourselves craving assurance of God’s presence leading us through and protecting us and those we love. And like Peter’s first audience, we too are struggling with being separated and spread out. Peter called them “God’s chosen strangers in the world of diaspora” at the beginning of their letter (1 Pet 1:1). And so do we feel like strangers, for everything is a little strange. The normal things – like sanctuary worship, school, coffee groups, eating out, and all types of activities – have all ground to a halt as we’ve sought to stay safe at home out of love for our neighbors. How’s that going for you? Is the isolation getting to you? Is loneliness, fear, or doubt creeping in?
Yes, we know hunger: hunger for the normalcy of life, hunger for relationship, and hunger for assurance that God is with us through all this. In one of our Wednesday evening Zoom conversations, a high schooler shared that “each night, I pray for God to give me trust that God is with us through all this.” This student hungers for God’s presence, strength, and grace. Don’t we all?
To the spread out and hungry Christians of the First Century, and today, Peter writes today with reassurance. He recounts the story of Jesus tightly, alluding repeatedly to images of God’s promise in the Psalms and prophets that interpret who Jesus is. Jesus is the living stone, who was rejected, while hungering for a community of changed hearts and lives. Jesus is the living temple, in whose flesh God’s presence dwells, even when God’s presence seems absent or far off. Jesus is the cornerstone, the anchoring piece of architecture upon which God’s new creation is begun. In all these ways, Jesus assures hungering people of God’s presence at work in their lives.
But Peter doesn’t stop with proclaiming God’s work and presence experienced in Jesus. In the midst of a broken and hurting world, in the midst of a fractured and separated church, Peter proclaims that, by God’s grace, we are given new birth. In Jesus, we are formed as living stones like Jesus, and as such, we are being built by God into a new and spiritual temple – a place of safety and refuge in which God’s presence dwells. In Jesus, Peter tells us, we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possessions” (v. 9). And, we have “become this people so that [we] may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called [us] out of darkness into [God’s] amazing light” (v.9). Peter proclaims that, hungry though we may be, we are God’s people by God’s mercy and grace.
Peter writes to reassure Christians hungering for God’s presence that God’s presence and activity is, indeed, at work in, around, and through us in Christ. God nourishes us with God’s presence, so that we can grow as the people and place through which God’s presence is known in the world. But, let’s not just take Peter’s word for it. Let’s also look at how we see God nourishing us and revealing Godself among us in real time.
In the past couple weeks, the United Methodist Women of the church have been busy seeking to encourage and equip people of the church. They started by sending personalized cards with Upper Room devotionals and other devotional materials to many of the most isolated people in our congregation. Like Peter, they know that God nourishes us to grow into our salvation through devotional practices like prayer and scripture reading.
Then, they followed this up by delivering May baskets to many people and families in the congregation. I didn’t hear of any footraces back to cars, but I witnessed the joy on the faces of my kids when someone from the church thought of them. And I heard from others, far past footrace age, who also enjoyed the simple gift and friendship. God nourishes us through Christian community, so that we can grow in our trust of God.
Then, remember how the Education Committee checked in on the church’s families with kids? In addition to asking for prayer requests, they also asked about their devotional practices. Now, not every conversation included much conversation on this point, and not everyone was available to talk, but almost half of the families in the church reported deepening spiritual practices as families during this season. Some mentioned scripture reading, devotional readings, and intentional family conversations, often at mealtimes. In the midst of a season of hungering for God’s presence, God is nourishing us with the pure, spiritual milk of the word and prayer, so that we can grow into our salvation, into our trust of and connection with God.
God is nourishing us, meeting us where we hunger most, and assuring us of God’s presence through acts of kindness, generosity, and devotion. We already crave God’s presence: like infants, we’re created that way. But in Christ, through the ministry of the church and our own spiritual practices, God is meeting us where our hunger is, and God is filling us. May we indeed, continue to taste and see God’s goodness. And may we live as witnesses to all we meet of God’s nourishing presence with us. Amen.
- The Ancient Near Eastern cultures were highly dependent on status – on shame and honor, and inclusion and exclusion. This was a challenge for early Christians, because association with Jesus gave them outsider and shameful status, or lack thereof. “The flow of immigrants from the East into Rome was like sewage dumped in a grand river, according to the Roman satirist Juvenal, writing in the early second century” (Saturae 3.60-65, in Joel B. Green’s 1 Peter: The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary, Eerdman’s Publishing, 2007, pg 9). In what ways does shame/honor or inclusion/exclusion shape, influence, and challenge your life today? When and how has following Jesus made you feel like an outsider?
- The Christians Peter writes to in this epistle struggle also with being separated (being in “diaspora”). In what was have you felt distanced or separated lately? And, how has this distancing impacted or affected your sense of connection to God?
- The sermon seeks to give examples of how Peter’s assurances of God’s presence and God’s work are being seen today. Do you think these examples truly offer assurance of God’s presence? How have you experienced assurance of God’s presence?
- The sermon also implies that the actions and ministries of ordinary people, within and beyond the church, can be means of God’s grace. How have you experienced God through others? How might God be using you to be a means of God’s grace for others today? When have you recognized that you were a means of grace for others?