A sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, preached by Alice Lawhead at our online service on 10 May 2020
Both of today’s readings hit the mark, as we enter Week Nine of isolation. If the walls are closing in around you, the idea of a house with many dwelling places may seem especially appealing just now!
But let’s concentrate on the passage from I Peter (2:4-10) this morning.
It is a bit unusual, because in scripture we more often come across pictures that arise out of the animal world, or the world of plants. Think of the story of the lost lamb, the parable of scattered seed, the image of the vine and the branches. But here, in a letter from Peter to believers who were living in dangerous times, an architectural metaphor is dropped into the message. Now we are thinking about bricks and mortar. Why?
Well, think of the early church. It arose out of Judaism, whose
- central place was the temple in Jerusalem, whose
- central rite was sacrifice on the altar in that temple, whose
- central figures were the priests and Levites who had favoured access to that structure.
The early believers in Jesus Christ, though, did not meet in that temple or anything like it. They met in homes, in underground graveyards, wherever they could. This was so counter-cultural that the early Christians were sometimes accused of being pagans, because without a place – without a temple — to embody your belief . . . what are you, really? And when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD, it became a question for every Jew.
Into this atmosphere, Peter comes along with a strong picture, and words of encouragement.
The House of God Peter describes is unconventional: the cornerstone (we might say foundation), for example, was initially rejected by the builders as being unsuitable, but now it’s holding the whole thing up. The stones …. Well, the stones are alive! Think of that. And allthose who believe and follow Christ are themselves a chosen people, a holy priesthood! They have the special access once only given to the elite. It’s a very new way of thinking:
The House of God is not a place you go to, it’s what you are.
The building where we normally meet, is known around the world as an important parish church. It’s a significant structure; it’s in all the books. We love and respect that structure, and it will be a happy, happy day when we can worship there again.
But this passage in Peter challenges us to define St. Mary’s Iffley not as a building, but as a construction made up of individuals – you, and me, and all the people of God who worship Him and offer ourselves, our very lives, to form his church.
Isn’t this something quite easy to grasp, as we are currently denied access to the place on Church Way where we normally meet? If it wasn’t clear to us before, it certainly is now. Unable to gather physically, we are gathered ‘virtually’ but … is it only virtual?
When this service is over, those of us who are viewing it on Zoom will wait for a bit and then one by one, our images will appear in a little box on the screen and the faces of those who are already on the screen will light up in recognition – oh, there’s John! There’s Barbara. Kate’s here!
And as more and more faces appear in their little boxes, we’ll realize that today’s congregation is larger than that of a typical Sunday morning service, and some of those attending are people we haven’t seen for a long time – families who have moved overseas, friends from around the country, from around the world. Our faces in boxes multiply in a grid, we’re stacked on top of each other and alongside each other …
And now, there it is: We see a clear picture of the building Peter was talking about: The spiritual house built of living stones, resting on the foundation of Jesus Christ. ‘Chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.’