this changes everything … doesn’t it?: growing into salvation

1 Peter 2:2-10

This morning, I’d like to pursue some of the images our text offers us
because at some point this past week,
I thought each one had some significant relevance for us.

Image number one, an image of us, right?
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk,
so that by it you may grow into salvation—
if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

The image of milk as nourishment comes up several other times in the New Testament,
but it’s not used derogatorily here.
You know like Paul writing the Corinthians:
“And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people,
but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.
I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food.
Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh.
For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you,
are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?”
(1 Corinthians 3:2)
or the author of the epistle to the Hebrews:
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers,
you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God.
You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk,
being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness.
But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained
by practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14).

Here in 1 Peter, milk’s not set up as part of a comparison
between maturity and immaturity in the faith
in such a way that belittles milk and, by implication, those who drink it.
Which is wise.
Don’t want to mess with these guys!
(projected images of superheroes in the got milk ad campaign)

There is rather in 1 Peter, a sense of appropriateness.
Like babies, long for—get upset if you don’t get—
don’t settle for not getting and not getting now—
pitch a fit—don’t worry where you are—
don’t worry about whether you might embarrass your parents—
you know exactly what you want—
which is exactly what you need,
and that combination is not to take for granted.
Wanting what you need doesn’t happen so much as you grow older.

“In some churches of the second century,
milk and honey were fed to initiates after baptism”
(Fred B. Craddock, First and Second Peter and Jude
in Westminster Bible Companion
[Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1995] 35).
Interesting, huh? How do you think we should take that?
Do we associate it with the promise of God?
“Baptized, you are now heir to the promise of God—
a promise associated with the promised land, a land of milk and honey.”
Or do we think, “Baptized, you are now, a beginner.”
Which makes what of a land of milk and honey?!
Interesting to consider, isn’t it?
“I will lead you out of slavery into a beginning.”
We arrive, at long last, not at the end—not at the goal, but at the beginning.
“You have so much further to go.”

Two more things before we leave this first image.
“Spiritual” milk. You wondered about that?
The Greek word is logikon—which has no relation to pneuma (spirit),
but would better be translated: rational, reasonable, logical—
“which in the first century was deemed to be the human capacity
that, if properly trained, could master the passions”
(Richard B. Vinson, 1 & 2 Peter, Jude
in Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary
[Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2010] 89).
So here, the suggestion that devotion and commitment to God—
practice in the faith—allows for control of the negative emotions—
the unhealthy ways of acting that are destructive to community—
so have some milk. It will help you grow strong bones
knit together into an ever maturing community.
And logikon, of course, is rooted in the word logos.

Which makes wonderful sense, since our exploration of this image concludes
with the reference to psalm 33: “Taste and see the the Lord is—”
and it’s typically translated “good”—
“magnanimous” or “kind” might actually be better translations of the Greek.
And you all remember, I’m sure, from last week,
that all Old Testament quotes in 1 Peter
are from the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint,
and in Greek (hang with me here!), the word “magnanimous” or “kind,” is chrestos.
Taste and see, chrestos o kyrios—“kind is the Lord.”
Which sounds a whole lot like christos o kyrios, doesn’t it? “Christ is the Lord.”
Now isn’t that just fun?
I mean it’s meaningful and theological—
tying Old and New Testament testimony together,
but it’s also just fun:
“They’ll read this, but it will sound like this!”
Fun—and powerfully affirming:
long for what you want and need—
and that turns out to be our tasty God.
God meets us where we are with what we need.

Now the second image starts off about Jesus.
“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals
yet chosen and precious in God’s sight ….”
Jesus is the living stone, right? It’s singular.
And we are to come to Jesus
as we are to long for milk (which is Jesus!).
“and like living stones,
let yourselves be built into a spiritual house,
to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices
acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Ah, so we are living stones as well. We are like Jesus—
part of one construct—a spiritual house,
and it’s not logikon this time—not a rational house.
Pneuma is the root—the spirit.

“For it stands in scripture: ‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
Now we’re set apart from Jesus.
Jesus is the cornerstone on which the building rests.
We are the stones that build on that cornerstone.

This cornerstone image comes from the Old Testament—
found in the psalms (Psalm 118:22a). Found also in Isaiah:
“Thus says the Lord God, ‘See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
“One who trusts will not panic.”
And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plummet;
hail will sweep away the refuge of lies …’” (Isaiah 28:16-17).

So our text is building on an Old Testament image.
But our author explicitly combines two very different images from Isaiah:
the cornerstone, the tested, precious, sure foundation,
and the stone one trips over.

“But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy;
let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
He will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against;
for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over—
a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken;
they shall be snared and taken” (Isaiah 8:13-15).

“To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,’
and ‘A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.’”
We build precisely on that which trips others.
There’s a separation into those who are obedient and those who are not—
those who believe and those who don’t.
“They stumble because they disobey the word,
as they were destined to do.”
There’s the truth of God and the different ways people respond to that truth.
God is either what someone is built on and into or what trips you up.
You either long for milk to grow into salvation, or you don’t.
You either come to Jesus as foundation, or you don’t.

You remember the meditation from last week’s bulletin?
The one that suggested people reacted most to what Jesus did.
I think what trips other people up is less what we say we believe
and more what we actually do live.
The stumbling stone that is God in our world has to do with people of God
who forgive and love—who judge not—
who are passionately concerned for the least of these.
It has to do with values and priorities that cause our world to stumble—
that scandalize our culture.

Another interesting tid-bit.
Because this epistle was associated with Peter (whether written by him or not),
don’t you think people were smiling reading about living stones?
Because Jesus named Peter, Rock, right?
But that’s cephas in aramaic and petros in Greek,
and all the stones in our passage have the lithos root—
from which we get paleolithic—except—
except for one. It’s translated “the rock that makes them fall,”
but it’s literally “the scandalous rock”—the scandalous petra!
The rock that scandalized Jesus can still scandalize our world—
can still be a part of the community being built
to embody Jesus and redeem all creation.
A good word of hope and promise.

“But you are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,
in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts
of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
That sound familiar? Part of our church covenant.
This is where that part comes from

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people ….”
Now, you might could say, this is another image,
but I think it’s part of the living stone imagery.
We are being built into the people of God—growing into salvation.
Those who know their Bibles, like you, know this reference to Hosea—
once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.
Hosea was the prophet whose wife Gomer committed adultery,
and whose children were symbolically named rejection and pain and hurt—
not my people—not mine.
Years of therapy as adults.
But Hosea’s relationship with Gomer was redeemed,
and the children were renamed.
They still needed the therapy,
but in the end, it came within the loving support of family.

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people (mine) ….”
And our third image comes to us right at the end:
“Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
It’s like the milk we receive, right? And God is the mercy we receive,
the milk we need, the salvation we are always coming to know.
Even if—even if is the implicit suggestion—even if
we’re not causing others to stumble in the right way,
but stumbling ourselves in the wrong way—
even if we go astray.
And in each case, it’s ongoing. We are receiving milk.
We are growing into salvation. We are being built up.
We are receiving mercy. And we’re aiming toward God.

And so here are the questions posed:
Are we drinking milk? Are we growing into salvation?
Are we being build up into a spiritual house?
Do we perform the mighty acts of God?
Are we both the temple and priests—
the mediation of God in our world?
And if we’re to be growing, then are you content with who you are—
as a Christian? Or do you think there’s more you could be?

I’ve been thinking this week about my golf game … such as it isn’t.
In part, I’m sure, because I played last week with Jack and my brother.
More particularly, I’ve been thinking about how I hit (or don’t) a particular ball.
I’ve been thinking about all the factors that go into the flight of that ball:
the surface on which it rests: sand, tall grass, leaves and branches
(clues as to where most of my balls end up),
if it’s sitting up on something or buried in stuff,
whether or not a tree branch obstructs a full backswing or followthrough,
whether my feet are higher than the ball and I’m reaching down,
or lower than the ball and I’m choking up,
whether I hit the ball at the bottom of my swing,
whether I hit it on a downstroke,
or scoop it or hit it fat,
whether the club face is open or closed,
whether my wrists have turned over,
whether my hands are behind or ahead of the rotation of my body,
whether my weight has shifted from the right foot to the left ….

I really never even think about such things as wind …
or aiming, for that matter, unless general direction counts.
Too abstract!

So many factors go into the flight of any particular ball.
And I have to have considered and practiced all those factors
for them to come together into one smooth, effective swing.

And just as many factors go into the flight of any given moment.
Right?

Now I know that whether or not I improve my golf game
is almost entirely dependent—
not a bit on how much I want to get better—
even less on how I think I should be better,
but on how much time I spend at the driving range,
and the chipping place and the putting green
hitting ball after ball after ball ….

Just so, I’m not just going to grow into salvation.
I’ve got to drink my milk. I’ve got to long for what I need.
I’ve got to come to the foundation I choose.
I’ve got to practice faith; I’ve got to practice hope; I’ve got to practice love.
Now how do I do all that?
Well, part of it is the life of the church.
Part of it you do in weekly worship and prayer—
it fellowship and service.
But some of it—some of it—has to do with what you do during the week—
how you extend God into and through your week.

And we’re trying to help figure out ways to help with that.
That’s part of the mid-week message that includes a link to Scripture—
that includes a prayer. That was behind those mid-day blessings.
We’re thinking about emailing out Theology on Thursdays—
because a lot of theologians offer not just the weighty, abstract, dense,
but brief statements of wonder and beauty.
These aren’t the only ways—may not be the best ways for you.
Some of you need your own private time of Scripture contemplation.
Are you taking it?
Others need a quiet time of prayer. Do you claim that?
Because you all have to do some things to keep growing.
In this culture—in our world, God is not part of our week.
The world is not going to put God out there for us to trip over.
We have to claim the foundation we name. It’s up to us.
To build that spiritual house. To act as temple and priests.
To work toward God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.

David Letterman, the other night, had a football star doing the top ten list.
It was the top ten reasons not to go into football,
and the irony was, of course, that the reasons not to go into football
all indicated the priority of football and sports in our culture.
He’ll have a Hollywood star read a top ten list, and that list
will indicate our preoccupation with looks and size and fame.
So I have a top ten list for you this morning.
(I did think about doing a top seven! but ten seems the way to go.)
And it’s not funny. I thought about that first, but this one’s serious—
to indicate our priority and preoccupation as the people of God—
the top ten reasons to grow into salvation:

10. There is no richer, more abundant life than life with God in faith community.
9. There is no greater truth than love with us, in us and through us.
8. There is no better community than those united in love and service.
7. There is no greater gift than the cultivation of wonder.
6. There is no greater opportunity to seize the day.
5. There is no bigger potential for redeeming all creation.
4. There is no richer story to tell or live.
3. There is no fuller hope into which to live with glad and grateful commitment.
2. There is no more honest history than one combining confession and grace.
1. There is no higher calling than to be called as children of God.

Not to mention that you get milk!
And so here’s the image I want to leave you with:
an iconic image—that takes us to the beginning,
to the God with us along the way—
meeting us where we are—giving us what we need.
(project an image of an icon of Jesus as part of the got milk campaign)
I’m not kidding, you know!
Look past the kosher dairy.
Look past Jesus fit into a got milk campaign.
See the truth there for you this week.
God meets you precisely where you are,
give you precisely what you need,
and works with you in the process of growth.
Thanks be to God.

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One thought on “this changes everything … doesn’t it?: growing into salvation

  1. there is no more nourishing, tastier, healthier food than that served and shared at the communion table and the Wednesday night fellowship dinner.

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