Easter 5a -- Graduate Sunday
Preached: May 22, 2011
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit brings us to Jesus is 1 Peter 2.
He is the Living Stone. Although people have rejected him, before God he is chosen and precious. As you come to him, you, as living stones, are built into a spiritual hose. You are built into a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices. These please God through Jesus Christ.
Therefore the Scriptures say: “Look, I place in Zion a chosen and precious cornerstone. Whoever believes in him will never be put to shame.” So he is precious to you who believe. But to the unbeliever this stones the builders rejected became the cornerstone. He is the stone stumbled over and the rock that traps. Since they do not obey the word, they stumble over him, as is the order of things.
But you are a chosen family, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a valued people to declare his praises. He called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people; now you're God's people. Once you had not received mercy; now you have.
(1 Peter 2:4-10)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior, and especially you our 2011 graduate, Lauren, Chanc, and Sam:
Growing up I had building blocks. The first ones I remember were wooden cubes with colorful letters on them. My parents might still have some around for the grandkids. I moved on to Lincoln Logs and then interlocking plastic blocks, sort of like Lego's but a different brand. What an advancement those were! Now my little brothers couldn't s easily destroy my houses.
I know that by the time you're a senior in high school you have other interests. Yet even in adult life, building blocks play an important role in our lives. Concrete blocks hold up our homes. Two by fours, rather than Lincoln Logs, frame our houses. Brick and concrete, glass, and steal are the building blocks of our modern world.
But all of these, from the wooden play blocks of the toddler to the steal girders of the skyscraper, all are non-living. Even the toddler knows that. So how striking when the Apostle Peter talks about living stones. He picks stones, the deadest of building blocks, you might say. Unlike wood, stone was never alive. To emphasize how dead something is, don't we say, "stone-dead"? What a contradiction, or oxymoron, to talk about living stones! The Holy Spirit wants us to sit up and take notice. Here is something remarkable, even impossible. How wonderful, amazing, and miraculous this is!
How can there be living stones? Only because of the one-of-a-kind, true, genuine, authentic Living Stone, namely, Jesus Christ. He is the archetype, the original, but even more than that. He is the power, the fountain, the source, the foundation, the cornerstone through which life comes to us. Because he lives, we also live. It all depends on him. He, the Living Stone, calls you to be his own. He calls you to be his own living stones, his own believing people, his own royal priests. The Living Stone calls you to be his own. Remember that theme.
We were once stone dead. Think of Palm Sunday. The Sunday school has carried palm leaves into church for many years. As the crowds shouted their Hosannas to Jesus, the Pharisees wanted him to stop them. But Jesus said, "[I]f they keep quiet, the stones will cry out" (Luke 19:40 NIV1984). You, dear friends, are those stones.
You and I, we were once stone-dead in sin. We could not believe in Jesus by our own thinking or choosing. We could not come to him. But he came to you. Through the water and word of Baptism, he made you alive. You became his own living stones, built into his spiritual house. You now cry out, "Hosanna! Please, save!" For you know Jesus as your only Savior. You believe his promise of full and free forgiveness. You trust him, for he nailed your sins to the cross and rose from the dead to bring you eternal life. He is the one, true Living Stone.
You are living stones through him alone. Don't build on any other cornerstone. Only through Jesus, only because of his death that pays for your sins and his resurrection that declares the verdict that your guilt is not counted against you for Jesus' sake -- through him alone are you living stones. So trust him. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5, 6 NIV1984). That was your confirmation verse, Lauren. Words for all of us to take to heart. Only through him are you living stones. So trust Jesus, trust him alone, trust him with all your heart.
As you trust in Jesus, you are not only living stones, but you also his believing people. Faith makes the difference. If Jesus is not in your heart and mind, you are stone dead. There is no in between. Either you believe in Jesus, and that faith will show in your life, or you do not believe, even though you know about Jesus and at one time trusted him with a child-like faith. There is no in between. The Apostle makes that clear in the text: "[T]he one who trusts in him will never be put to shame. Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe ... [t]hey stumble because they disobey the message" (1 Peter 2:6-8 NIV1984). To stumble means to fall away and land in the pit of hell. There is no in between.
"[T]o you who believe, this stone is precious" (1 Peter 2:7 NIV1984). What a way to describe faith! Faith holds Jesus, the Living Stone, as precious, so very precious. As his believing people, hold Jesus most precious.
What does it mean to hold something as precious? Maybe a way to picture that is to think of the story of the Lord of the Rings. The creature named Gollum called the One Ring that ruled the others Rings of Power, "My precious." How did that affect his behavior and life? Because that ring was so precious to him, it filled his heart and mind. The thought of it and the desire for it consumed him. He searched for it. He pursued it. He spared no cost. He exposed himself to great danger for the sake of that ring and endured extreme pain hoping to gain it again. He did whatever he needed to, all for the sake of the ring. That's what it means to hold something precious.
Now since the ring was evil, holding it precious destroyed Gollum. How different when you hold the Living Stone as precious, more precious than anyone or anything else!
But that's not easy. The world wants to disconnect you from the Living Stone, knocking you out of his house. The world wants you to consider other things as precious as Jesus. Note the subtlety there! The world says, “You can have Jesus as long as you keep him in his space. Don't let him fill your heart, mind, and life. There are too many other things out there that are as precious, if not more so. How precious friends seem as you say goodbye. How precious your education and preparation for a career seem so that you can succeed in life. How precious finding that special someone to be your life-long spouse and raise a family together. How precious the fun and recreation that eases the stresses and worries. How precious that job for an income to have things and to do things.” How deceptive the world is!
Yet all these are gawdy fakes compared to the one, genuine Living Stone, Jesus Christ. All those other things, family and friends, careers and recreation, will pass away. But the Living Stone brings life new each day. Those who believe in him will never be put to shame. The world will try to make you feel ashamed about Jesus, embarrassed about your non-scientific beliefs. The world will try to convince you that you're missing out if you don't pursue other things as if they were as precious as Jesus. But in the end, Jesus will return. And you, who hold him most precious in this life, will reign with him in glory, never to be put to shame, while all others are lost. There is no in between.
The Living Stone calls you to be his own, his own believing people. So hold him as most precious. Fill your heart and mind with his Word. Pursue him and his righteousness. Take up your cross. Don't count the cost. Whatever the danger, pain, or lose, cherish him, treasure him, live for him, follow him. He is your precious Living Stone. You will not be put to shame. Rather you can say with the Apostle Paul: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18 NIV1984). That was your confirmation verse, Chanc. That's what awaits his believing people, who hold him most precious.
And thirdly, as Satan question your purpose in life, remember who you are and why you are here. Who are you? You are not only living stones and Christ's believing people, you are also his royal priests. That's who the Living Stone has called you to be. And as his royal priests, declare his praises. That's what the Living Stone has called you to do.
"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9 NIV1984).
What does that mean that you are royal priests? Priests stood between God and the people. To approach the Deity the people had to go through the priests. But you have direct access to God. For through faith in Jesus, you are priests. Jesus has removed the sins that blocked your prayers and made you works and sacrifices of praises unacceptable. He is the Mediator, who became man, to reconcile you to God through his death. He is the Way. No one comes to the Father except through him. So through Jesus, your God and Savior, you have direct access to God. You don't need a human priest, or pastor, or saint to bring your prayers, works, or sacrifices of praise to the heavenly throne. You, yourself, are a priest through faith in Jesus.
As astounding as that sounds, just remember your Baptism. As Jesus washed away your sins, you were reborn into God's family. Call on your heavenly Father as a true child going to his or her dear Father. For through Jesus you are royal priests with direct access to God. What grace and mercy God has given us to call on him!
And as his royal priests, what a purpose you have in this life: To declare his praise! Whose praise? "[H]im who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 1:9 NIV1984). That also teaches us what it means to declare his praises. We don't follow the ways of darkness any longer. We flee sin and its temptations, because we've been called out of the darkness. Rather our actions shine with the love and forgiveness God has shown on us through Christ Jesus. And our words point others to Jesus, our Light and Salvation, our Living Stone. What grace and mercy that God has given you such a high purpose!
As his royal priests, your life is a sacrifice of praise. Hebrews 13 tells us: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise -- the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:15, 16 NIV1984). Isn't that a wonder! Through Jesus God is well-pleased with your words of confession and your acts of kindness. Even though, as sinners even the best we do is corrupted by our sin, yet because Jesus takes away your sin, God is well-pleased with you and gladly accepts your sacrifices of praise. What grace and mercy he has shown us!
No matter what career or future is in front of you, think about how you can shine as a light reflecting the Good News of Jesus and his love to those around you. Then your words and actions declare his praises. Your life is a sacrifice of praise. And through you the Living Stone is calling others to be his own.
Living a life that shines with Jesus as a sacrifice of praise can seem rather daunting and overwhelming, but remember his grace and mercy that his made you his royal priests and given you this noble purpose. Our personal strengths and abilities certainly fall short of such a calling. But God's grace to you will not fall short. For he promises, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV1984). That was your confirmation verse, Sam.
So you, our graduates from the class of 2011, remember the Living Stone, Jesus Christ. Trust in him with all your heart. For he has called you to be his living stones; that's what you are through him alone. Follow him in faith to the heavenly kingdom. For he has called you to be his believing people who hold him as most precious. Offer your life as a sacrifice of praise to him as you rely on his grace no matter what weakness discourages you. For he has called you to be his royal priests. Or to sum up in a way brought to mind by your commencement address, Lauren: When your faith is built on Jesus, your precious Savior from sin and death, then remember what he has called you to be and tell yourself: “I am a living stone through Jesus. I am one of his believing people, who hold him most precious. I am a royal priest. For the Living Stone has called me to be his own.” Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.