SERMON PREACHED AT ALL SAINTS’ CHARLEVILLE
FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
(17th April) 2005
1 Pet. 2.1-10
We noted in passing a week ago Luke’s concern to emphasize the seamless unity of the Christian community, and the unhindered wave of conversions that swept across the Roman Empire. But Luke didn’t only emphasize the spectacular. He emphasized too the humble and the powerless-strange, the simple actions of breaking bread together, on what we might call sacramentality.
Peter too had a vision and an experience of a growing church. He writes as a pastor to his people, but he writes always also as an evangelist, believing that as his people stand out as a people of God, they will attract their neighbours to the way of the Cross. The outcome he expects is the same that Luke expects from wonders, signs and preaching – the conversion of those who do not believe.
To this end that Peter makes allusions to baptismal rites and reclothing: “reclothe us in our rightful mind” as one of the great hymnists wrote, likewise alluding to the ancient practice of reclothing a baptized person in white as they emerge from the waters. Peter is writing to a Christian community in which believers are being ostracized for their faith. He believes that persecution is a cause for joy, a sign that the Christian community is standing in the footsteps of Jesus. We are called as a people of God to live as strangers in this land, for we are citizens of another, far off country. Our behaviour is to be exemplary – a recurring theme in early Christian writings – for we are always an advertisement for the way of the Cross.
Only our motivation for behaviour differs from community. Ours is to be a motivation en-souled in new life, in our pilgrim status, and in our desire or others to experience the Christ we serve. Peter expects us to be longing for God’s gifts. He expects us to thirst for knowledge of Christ made available to his people primarily in preaching, but to us two millennia later in the process of breaking open the word not only in preaching but also in biblical study (logikos has implications of preaching and breaking open the word) and koinonia, fellowship. His mention of having “tasted that the Lord is good” may be a eucharistic reference in the same way that reclothing is a reference to the rites of baptism.
But Peter believes there is what we might call a conditionality of faith. We are God’s people in so far as we behave as an exemplary community: where we are overcoming differences and showing compassion & justice for each other and for the wider community in ways that are greater than those of the amongst whom we are called to dwell, then we are being the people of God. But where we backstab or gossip or nurture old hurts, and where we run each other down, then we are ceasing to be advertisements for the risen Lord, and are no longer the people of God. Where, as he puts it, “malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander” dominate our existence we have failed in our vocation. These are the ingredients most likely to destroy our witness and our credibility. This is what Peter is building up a case that climaxes at v.5: if we are satisfactorily grounded, then we, as Peter’s community, can “be holy even as God is holy.” If we are not merely believing but obeying the difficult demands of Christ then we are “holy even as God is holy.” If we are unpopular for the right reasons, as the conscience of a community, then we are “holy even as God is holy.”
Above all, Peter reminds us, we are called to be a people of worship. Peter and Paul disagreed on much, but one thing they had in common in their faith was the centrality of this strange act of worship. “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. We are called to worship – for worship is proclamation. In this action of focusing out of our selves and on to the unseen God dwells the way of proclamation and of Christlike holiness, according to Peter.