“On Being God’s People”

Easter 5

May 14, 2017


Text:  1 Peter 2:2-10; Acts 7:55-60; John 14:1-14


    We often describe the church as being “the people of God”.  We read that description in our lesson from 1 Peter today:  “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession….Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”  But what does it mean when we say that?  And what are we to do about that?  Peter uses several images to describe what it means to be God’s people.

    First, he says we are to be nourished by God’s pure word, like a newborn baby desiring its mother’s milk.  We need to stay away from spiritual junk food and instead grow through encounter with the word of God in Jesus Christ.

    Second, we are not to do this in isolation.  Peter describes us as like living stones being built into a spiritual temple.  A stone building is not built with one stone, but with many.  Such buildings have a cornerstone, a most important stone in the foundation without which the building cannot stand.  Peter tells us that Jesus is that cornerstone.  Jesus is the foundation on which our life together as God’s people must be built, or it is doomed to fall.

    Thirdly, it means we represent God in the world.  We, whether we are laity or clergy, are a royal priesthood.  The job of a priest has two parts.  One is to represent people to God.  Peter wrote that we are to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ.  Those sacrifices are not only for our own benefit, for the sake of others.  We offer the sacrifice of intercessory prayer for those who are sick or dealing with other difficulties.  We offer the sacrifice of giving of ourselves to God by giving to help those in need.  

The priest’s other job is to represent God to the people.  We do this by testifying to others of God’s wonderful acts in Jesus Christ.  We do this also by helping people to know that God loves them and cares for them, no matter how undeserving they may believe they are or how much others have rejected them.

In short, being God’s people means we give our lives to God for the sake of God’s mission in the world.  Let’s consider a bit further what that can look like in practice.

Sometimes the price of giving our lives to God is high.  In Acts we read about the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.  When we first read about Stephen, he is named as one of the original seven deacons the apostles appointed to make sure the needy among them were cared for.  But Stephen also soon emerges as a bold and fiery preacher of Christ crucified and risen. Indeed, right before the Scripture we read this morning is the text of Stephen's final sermon, in which he forcefully and directly declares Jesus to be Messiah and also holds the religious leaders responsible for his death.  This, of course, enraged the religious leaders, and when Stephen declared he was having a vision of God with Jesus seated at his right hand, they executed him by stoning as a blasphemer.  As he died, Stephen followed the example of Jesus by asking God to forgive his killers.

Stephen gave his life to God for the sake of God’s mission in the world.  Now you and I most likely will not be asked to give our lives the way Stephen did.  But martyrdom certainly is not the only way to give our lives to God.

In our reading from John’s Gospel we find Jesus in the process of preparing the disciples for his departure from this earth.  He promises that he goes to prepare a place for them, that they and all who belong to him might be with him.  We have heard these verses read and preached on many occasions, especially at funerals.  Jesus goes on to assert that he is the way, the truth, and the life, the means by which a person comes to the Father and enters into relationship with him.  

But the disciples don’t find this sufficient. They want Jesus to show them the Father. Jesus explains that they have already seen the Father because they have seen Jesus, for Jesus is in the Father and the Father in Jesus, and the Father does his works in Jesus.

All this is well and good. But then Jesus offers the real zinger:  “I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father.”  We are to give our lives to God by doing the works of God through Jesus in the world.  

Now I find it hard to imagine how I or any other person could do greater works than Jesus until I remember that the earthly Jesus, amazing as he was, was still only one person.  We can do greater works  than Jesus because we are many.  We can provide all of our hands and hearts and lives to do God’s work and share God’s love with others.  We can touch far more lives than the earthly Jesus could touch alone.

God’s people give their lives to God for the sake of God’s mission in the world.  Even if we are not called on to die for God, we are called on to live for God by doing God’s works.  As God’s people, let us be faithful in giving our lives to God for the sake of God’s mission in the world. Amen.

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