The lectionary text for this Sunday is the same text I used three years ago when I preached in view of a call at Scott Boulevard Baptist Church; a church in transition. We have indeed written a living and lasting legacy together.
Thanks be to God!
1 Peter 2: 2-10
as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.
Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture,
“Behold, I lay in Zion
A chief cornerstone, elect, precious,
And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”
Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient,
“The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone,
“A stone of stumbling
And a rock of offense.”
They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
The air in the room was thick with tension as we watched the most awkward moment we’d ever experienced unfold before our eyes.
A week before, our parents had told us that we would be leaving the mission field in Brazil, South America to move back to the United States, and my sister and I were not having it.
On this particular afternoon, we had masterminded a plot to get rid of the real estate agent who had come to help my parents get the house ready to sell.
Ever so quietly, we snuck into the kitchen where my mom had laid out a coffee service.
Moving quickly, we emptied the sugar bowl and filled it with salt, and added some water to the brewed coffee, just for a little extra revenge.
We watched them awkwardly sip the salty, watered-down coffee, knowing that this could only end in spankings and clinging to the conviction that we were in the right.
Unfortunately for us, 11 and 7 year olds don’t hold as much power over their parents as they’d like to think.
The house was sold to a developer who would be building a high rise in its place, and my family began to prepare for the big move.
In one last attempt to preserve life as we knew it, my sister and I hatched one more plan.
The night after Mr. Developer’s workers came to the house to measure and mark the walls, after making sure our parents were sound asleep, we set out about the house armed with rubber erasers, undoing all the marks on every wall, room by room.
The playroom – where we kept our dollhouse and Barbies, dress-up clothes and all of our favorite books.
The living room – where we sat through weekly family conferences and ate popcorn on Friday Family Movie Nights. The kitchen- where we learned to cook AND clean, and where we ate our breakfasts before school while our parents told us stories or fun facts.
The dining room- where we celebrated life: Christmases, the adoption of our baby sister, the baptisms of church friends, our own baptisms.
Yes. This was OUR house and no one was going to take it from us.
Eventually, we realized that we didn’t really have a say in the matter, and we said “goodbye” to Bama, our dog, Oliver, our cat, and all of our church friends.
We boarded a plane and flew to Alabama to spend some time with grandparents on both sides before ending up in Atlanta.
I decided that I was just going to be miserable and miss my old life forever. That lasted for about a year – but it was a pretty lonely year.
I had a hard time making friends and adjusting to a new way of living. It was a big change – scary and painful.
Change is never easy. Whether it’s a change of job, a change in health status, a change of routine, or even a big move.
Moves are hard because there are so many questions and a lot of the answers depend on certain factors.
“What will happen to this room after I’m gone?” “What if the new resident changes the color? It’s supposed to be this exact shade of green.” “What if they pull up the flowering plants I planted in the back yard?”
We worry that we will be forgotten, or that we will forget the good times we had and the hard times that made us who we are. We wonder what will happen to us and the memories we hold dear.
The changes that are outside of our control are usually the scariest to face. When health declines and ways of worshipping have to be creatively reimagined.
When the courageous but difficult decision is made to say goodbye to one worship space and hello to another, we wonder. “In this worship space, I was the greeter, who welcomed new faces with a smile and a kind word.
Who will I be in the new space?” “If I can’t go to church, is God still with me in my solitary worship on Sunday morning?”
Sometimes outside factors threaten the way that we are used to doing things, and it’s lonely and isolating and scary and painful.
I imagine the first century church receiving this letter from someone who calls himself Peter might know how that feels.
Though there are other religious groups in the town around them who also assemble for worship,
the other groups assemble in temples – extravagant and ornate temples-
this group of first century Christians who have gathered in their house church can’t help but feel isolated and alone, even amidst such extravagance and beauty.
This house church is a mix of people from all over – some of them used to belong to some of the temples around town, so no doubt they remember what it was like to belong to a community of worth.
I imagine this letter comes at a good time for them. They’ve been gathering in houses for a while to worship God together and encourage each other, but are now feeling drained because the other groups are starting to get uppity and judgmental.
They feel discouraged, lonely, even worthless and this letter comes like a drink of cold water or a breath of fresh air.
The writer begins with greetings, and then the letter unfolds and the words are as if he were sitting across from them, speaking them himself.
Because most of those assembled come from a tradition that was at least familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures – the writings of the Old Testament, he uses images from well-known scriptures to try to encourage them.
They’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good, just like the Psalmist, and then he addresses their isolation. Let’s listen in as they take turns reading the rest of the letter:
“I know that things have been difficult for each of you, ever since your conversion to this faith. It’s like being a foreigner in another country sometimes.
And I know that sometimes, a lot of times, you feel alone in the world – especially when your neighbors look down on you and make fun of you.
But, you can’t let that get you down. You are chosen by God. Jesus was chosen by God too – and you remember how he was treated by people who didn’t believe, right?
They rejected him, and thought he was worthless. But God chose Jesus as precious and valuable, and has chosen you as precious and valuable too.
You are a royal priesthood. I know, you don’t have generations of priestly blood running through your veins, any of you, but I’m telling you – that doesn’t matter.
The work that you’re doing is important, holy work, and each of you are precious pieces of God’s new mission in and around you.
Some of you used to belong to the cultish temples you see as you walk around the city – it’s true that they are beautifully decorated – the best their people can afford.
But don’t get hung up there, because you belong to a different community now – the community of people who have been transformed by Jesus thought the grace of God.
You don’t need fancy buildings because your worth and the value of your work lie in the simple, redeeming fact that God has chosen you.
You! All of you – a group of people from different backgrounds, different areas, different traditions – God has chosen you to be one unified people to share God’s love and Christ’s message with each other and with the world.
You can do this by praising God in worship wherever you come together because your church isn’t a building.
Your church is built on the stories of faith that surround each of your lives.
When you share your stories and your faith, you become like the stones that hold the beautiful city temples in place; and your legacy doesn’t come from a long line of priestly inheritance or generations of well-meaning, well-to-do people striving to find favor with the emperor to keep their religion afloat –
Your legacy is shaped by the one who called you out of darkness into light, who gives you new visions of mission, who helps you imagine life in grace – and now it’s your turn to share that legacy with others.”
Encouraged by this new information, a simple reframing of their identity, the group of gathered believers finds new inspiration for life and ministry, and they worship, freely and excitedly, praising God for this great news.
I wonder what this letter would sound like if it had been written to you. Imagine with me – let’s say it’s from the same guy, and here’s what he would like to say to you:
Hello! I hope this letter finds you well. I have to tell you, I’ve been hearing about you and the new initiatives you’ve been working on, and about your desire to do mission with each other and with your community.
I heard you worked through the Dawnings process and have made some decisions about how to be a missional church – decisions that will bring some pretty big changes.
Well, I’m very excited for you. I heard about all this and I’ve been thinking of you all for a while and today I decided to write you an encouraging note.
I’m inspired by the way that you’ve allowed God to show you this new way of being church, and thankful that you’re allowing God to lead you as you go through this process.
I encourage you to keep seeking and following God’s leading. Like little babies that need milk to grow – you know how when they’re little, they can’t seem to get enough?
Be like them – always wanting more and more of the good things that God can give you to help you keep growing in faith.
I know that one of the changes facing you will be a shift in worship space.
A buddy of mine, Paul, you may have heard of him actually, he was raised super high society, very educated, well-read, the whole nine yards.
He was used to worshipping in ornate synagogues and temples but when Jesus called him, none of that mattered to him anymore.
Jesus got such a foothold on his heart that he became one of the greatest preachers I’ve ever known. True story.
I say that because, thought I know it will be emotional and difficult and maybe a little confusing at first as you prepare for this shift, I also know that you’ll be ok.
You’ll be ok because you’re precious, because God has chosen you for this very important work that you’re doing.
God is building you up into the missional church that you want to be, stone by stone and story by story as your individual stories of faith come together to form the bedrock for your mission and a lasting legacy for years to come.
I’m excited to see the ways that God’s unexpected graces unfold for you during this time of change and growth. Grace and peace, Peter.”
Change is hard and moving from something familiar to something new and unfamiliar can seem daunting at the time and even painful, but when we let the grace of God unfold in unexpected ways, in front of us, as we surrender to God’s will and follow God’s leading, we see good things where we once saw fear and pain.
My sister and I often talk about the good things we would have missed out on, if we’d succeeded in our master plan to overthrow the move.
She wouldn’t have met her amazing husband, and I wouldn’t have been able to go to college, or attend seminary at McAfee, or reconnect with my grandfather during my college years.
My grandfather could crack and scramble eggs using only one hand. He was funny, adventurous and he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket to save his life, but that didn’t stop him from being the loudest singer at church on Sunday morning.
During college, I would drive from Nashville, Tennessee to Florence, Alabama just about every weekend, to hang out with him.
We would go to health fairs, cattle shows, nursing homes to play cards with the people who didn’t get visitors, and wonder around the neighboring towns looking for the best yard sales.
He was a fascinating man: very curious about the world around him – always trying to learn new things. My favorite thing about him was his heart of service – especially to the aging community.
In the town where he lived, there are about three nursing homes near his old house.
On Saturday mornings, he would get up early and have breakfast, read the paper and then take off driving to each of the nursing homes, just to visit the residents who didn’t ever get visitors.
He would spend the better part of the day out visiting, then come home and read his Bible, eat dinner and go to bed.
He was so invested in his service to the homes that at one of them, he was crowned Mr. Valentine by popular vote – and he didn’t even live there!
Some of my favorite memories I have with him were from trips to the nursing homes when he would let me come along.
We would spend time talking to, praying with and losing card games to some of the most interesting people I’ve been able to meet.
When he died in 2010, I got to keep his Bible and his old army cookbook.
My sister got a box of index cards containing a ridiculous range of information, from his favorite scriptures, to notes he’d taken during Sunday church services; from hilarious jokes to fun stories resembling journal entries from everyday life.
In addition to individual “inheritances” each grandchild also received a copy of his autobiography. No one knew he’d written one.
It’s a 10 page long, type-written, hilarious and insightful re-telling of his childhood, his army days, and his days working for the Tennessee Valley Association, along with his reflections on life, love, and faith.
I like to read it because it reflects his values – following Jesus, hard work, honesty, and education; because it is written in a way that sounds like him, and because it is a lasting reminder of his legacy of service to the forgotten, the lonely, and the misunderstood.
Where others saw a burden, he always saw a person deserving of his best love and care.
I can’t help but feel elated at the thought of partnering with all of you in similar acts of service – not only to honor his legacy in my personal life, but also to join with each of you as you, the living stones of Scott Boulevard Baptist Church begin to reframe and rebuild your own legacy.
I’m excited to watch you move forward as you watch your lasting legacy of selfless love, radical devotion, extraordinary strength, creative vision, and unswerving commitment to God’s mission unfold in front of you, and this community.
I would consider it an honor to come alongside each of you in the coming months as you navigate this process.
To sit with you as you grieve,
To listen to you as you remember,
To rejoice with you as you imagine and experience new possibilities,
To partner with you as you shower the love of Christ throughout this church and throughout this community.
My prayer for you is that you will feel valued and treasured by God and this community as you each share your individual faith stories; and that each of you will continue to grow in faith as you continue to long for the good things of God.
I’m excited to see God’s unexpected graces unfold in each of your lives as you constantly allow God to make you into living stones and lasting legacies.