1 Peter 2:2-10 CEB
Instead, like a newborn baby, desire the pure milk of the word. Nourished by it, you will grow into salvation, 3 since you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Now you are coming to him as to a living stone. Even though this stone was rejected by humans, from God’s perspective it is chosen, valuable. You yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple. You are being made into a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Thus it is written in scripture, Look! I am laying a cornerstone in Zion, chosen, valuable. The person who believes in him will never be shamed. So God honors you who believe. For those who refuse to believe, though, the stone the builders tossed aside has become the capstone. This is a stone that makes people stumble and a rock that makes them fall. Because they refuse to believe in the word, they stumble. Indeed, this is the end to which they were appointed. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Leave it to Rocky to obsess about rocks! I guess after Jesus changes your name from Simon to Peter (Petros = Rock) what choice do you really have? Look at our reading from 1 Peter today for instance, everything is a rock. Christ is the cornerstone. Peter tells his audience that they are living stones. Stones are being used to build living temples, and rocks are making people stumble. It only gets worse if you turn to Psalm 31 from the lectionary today, where God is called “a rock of refuge” (Psalm 31:2 NRSV). We think of rocks as being sturdy and solid, and they are certainly the perfect material to build a temple for God. I mean rocks are one thing, but how do you and I end up becoming living stones, the very building blocks of God’s temple? This house of God, made of a community of living people, is to proclaim God’s work through Christ to the world. What does that mean for us here in Thermopolis?
I can’t help but wonder as I read this passage: how often do we think of ourselves as part of God’s holy community in this world? I mean sure, I think of myself as a Christian, and I recognize that I am part of the church, but 1 Peter this morning wants me to contemplate how I am one piece of some larger whole, a “spiritual temple” of God. That’s a bit hard to wrap my mind around! It kind of reminds me of puzzles, you know those 1000-piece ones where one corner of one leaf from one tree in a picture of a forest can take up a whole piece. Caitlin is an avid puzzler, and she seems to have such a good awareness of where things go in the larger whole. I on the other hand sometimes get caught up with one little piece, and end up just trying to find where it, this little leaf piece, goes, that I miss the forest for the trees.
It can be the same of this salvation that Peter says we “will grow into.” It is easy to get caught up in what salvation means for me personally, so much so that I forget what I am being invited to live into now, that community of Christ. Pastor Ron Bartlow of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Tucson describes this feeling well when he says, “Sometimes my hope and longing for what Jesus is preparing for me after this life keep me from seeing the fullness of community God invites me to partake in now,” [as] “I jump ahead to Jesus’ promise of what he prepares for me, and miss seeing how in the meantime God is connecting me with others to be part of something miraculous.” We are being saved into something, and that something includes this Christ-centered community we are being invited to not only be a part of but the very building blocks of its structure. That’s what Peter means when he says, “Now you are coming to him as to a living stone.” We are being gathered around Christ to be made into those building blocks, to build up what Peter calls a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession.” I don’t know about you, but that seems like a big responsibility!
After all, wasn’t Israel also called to be this kind of thing? As I recall, things don't always go well for them in trying to be a chosen people in a hostile world. Now, Peter tells his audience (these women, slaves, and former pagans) to live as a holy people, and in fact, to be the very “continuation of Israel, and their corporate responsibility before God and toward the world.” That’s a big call for very vulnerable people. In fact, the next part of 1 Peter looks at how they should live before God and with the world. That’s what it means to be holy, it is a call to live differently from those around you, “so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light,” as Peter describes it. This call to be the building blocks of God’s temple is a call to live counter-culturally, to show the world who God is in how we live to those who do not know the Lord.
That has me wondering about all of us. Are we also called to be living stones, to build a spiritual temple, and to live counter-culturally in Thermopolis, Wyoming? If we say that 1 Peter still applies to us today, that is a call for all of us here today to live differently. What do you think? What would it mean to live counter-culturally, right here in Thermopolis? Do you think we need to? Perhaps, we all think Thermopolis is not only just fine but actually great, full of people that completely embrace and reflect Christ’s compassionate mercy. After all, isn’t “the world” all those other places out there where people are immoral and bad and violent and need Jesus, but not here? And yet, Peter is telling his audience to be this kind of holy community where they are, in their own cities and towns, for that is all the world they will ever know and it is hostile enough to Christ’s example as it is. Maybe Thermopolis is world enough for us to focus on today.
If Thermopolis were a puzzle, what kind of pieces would make it up? What kind of picture would it show? Even in the last few weeks, our town has been rocked by violence and suicide. Even this last month, there were still plenty of folks that needed supplies from our food pantry. Even now, there are those that live without heat and water. What does it mean to live counter-culturally in Thermopolis, Wyoming? Thankfully, that is not something we all need to answer on our own. We are building pieces in the hands of a divine architect, however, please do not think that you get to be simply rocks. At the bottom of everything, Peter calls us more than simply stones, he says that we are living. Should living things just sit around and wait for God to do all the work? Not at all, we are being invited into a partnership.
Why else would we be nourished by “the pure milk of the word?” Nourishment helps you grow. Nourishment can be “the written word I read, the spoken word I hear in worship, or the incarnate Word I meet in Jesus.” I am encouraged to learn, and you do not learn so you can simply sit around like a helpless lump. Through learning, we are all “encouraged, challenged, nourished, and transformed” to become the kind of people that can “speak of the wonderful acts” of God. We have encountered God’s goodness, mercy, and belonging. God is calling us into a partnership, one where God’s the primary actor, but we are invited to be a part, to share and reflect what we ourselves have encountered. The NRSV translation of 1 Peter helps us understand this a bit better as it translates verse five as “like living stones let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” God wants living stones, willing participants, not dead rocks.
If we are willing, God will take us, use us, and shape us. Not in ways that are comfortable but in ways that are necessary to build God’s house, God’s place of worship in this world, and in the small corner of it called Thermopolis. You are a puzzle piece in the hands of the divine puzzler, and if you are willing, God will put you into the grand story of grace and compassion for all people, for all of creation. God will put your piece into that larger picture. You have a place and purpose in this church, in this temple. We all have a place in Thermopolis (or wherever you find yourself) to spread love and to do good, to bear witness through these things to our Lord and cornerstone, Jesus Christ. Amen.
 Ron Bartlow, “May 7, 2023 - Fifth Sunday of Easter,” in The Abingdon Preaching Annual: 2023, ed. Charley Reeb (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2022), 55-60.
 Abson Predestin Joseph, “1 Peter,” in Wesley One Volume Commentary, eds. Kenneth J. Collins and Robert W. Wall (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2020), 875-881.
 Bartlow, 56.
Pastor Paul Grossman