Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sermon: The Renovator

1 Peter 2:2-10

From time to time on TV I watch home renovation shows. There are lots of them, and all of them are about the same in terms of process. They start with a home that looks old, doesn’t function well for the current owner’s lifestyle because they have married, had kids, or some other change in life. In addition, the house probably has a couple of hidden challenges – like scary plumbing or a weight bearing wall that shouldn’t be weight bearing. Into this challenging mix steps the amazingly gifted renovator who is able to see the potential and beauty that is hiding just out of sight of most of us. After lots of work, and a bucketful of money, the house is transformed into something new, attractive and functional.

I think what draws me to the show are the transformations that are possible. To see something that was once the source of frustration become something that is a source of joy to the owners is exciting.

And I wonder if God ever feels like a master renovator of our lives. God sees the potential and beauty in us that is hiding just out of sight of most of us. And so God pours in lots of work, and a bucketful of resources to transform us, so that rather being a source of frustration to God and others we can be a source of joy to both.

There is a lot of potential in the parallels between ourselves and an old building in need of work (not that I am saying you are old), but rather that all of us need work. Scripture actually makes use of that image a couple of times – you remember the phrase that your body is a temple? That’s from 1 Corinthians 6:19 – “Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?”

But there is another longer passage in 1 Peter in which Peter uses the image of building a temple. Jesus is the cornerstone, and each of us are stones to be used in the building of the temple. The building which God is building is not us alone as individuals, but rather us together as a community – the church.

Listen as I read 1 Peter 2:3b-10 and see if you can see how God, the renovator, plans to use us.

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.

Peter starts our calling us stones, stones that are being made into a temple for God, where each of the stones is meant to be a holy representative, of God. I suppose the biggest difference between this image and the home renovation shows is that this is a new build. We are not told to imagine an old decrepit, falling down temple that has lots of problems. Instead we are told to imagine a new build. A build where the people who were once nobody are now God’s people, where stones that were once rejected have now been shaped into ones that are specially chosen and valuable.

For us as individuals that is wonderful news. If you weren’t raised in a church, if you never felt loved, if you felt rejected by others, if you have never felt like you had a place or a home, or you never fit in, God is calling you to be a part of this new thing that God is doing in your life. Take joy my friends that God does not reject you, rather as the renovator in the home improvement show, God really does see the beauty and potential in you. I wasn’t making that up.

But the passage is not just about us as individuals, as I said, what God is building is a community, a temple in which we all fit together, and God has been working on this Christian project for some 2000 years, so the church of Jesus Christ is no longer a new build, in fact it is more like a building in need of renovation.

Now, I am not talking about the church building being in need of renovation. When I talk about the church I am talking about the people, the congregations, the Christians around the world who follow Christ, however we are organized. That’s the church to me. And I am not talking about the things that church growth experts talk about, like the style of the service and the programs we offer. I am talking about much deeper things – the heart of the church, that which has always been vital and true.

So I began to think about what Peter would tell us if he were to compare our church situation with a home renovation show.

I think he would begin by telling us that there is much that we need to keep, that we need to remain built upon our foundation of Christ, and that the bones of the building of the church are very good. He would probably remind us of the potential of the church, how it can be everything that we need it to be, that it can be functional and beautiful again.

But . . . as with every renovation, he might also suggest that there are some big changes that need to happen – like gutting the kitchen, removing a wall or two and totally redesigning some of our inner workings.

Again I am not talking about our church building, but about the way we as Christians are organized and come together. Perhaps what we once thought was good is no longer useful, or it has been misused, and now needs to be rebuilt. If I had to name one example, I would suggest that our biggest problem right now in the church is that we have lost our sense of mystery and our willingness to ask questions. We have looked for security in certainty (well defined answers about God that are 500 years old or older). And when someone questions those answers, we treat them like outsiders. In other words we reject the stones that God wants to use in the temple because they make us uncomfortable. It is no different a situation than the one Peter faced as he reached out from the established Jewish religion to those who were not Jewish. He understood that through Christ the cornerstone, people were being invited in that did not share his old established religious values, rather they came as a new priesthood, bringing spiritual sacrifices to God.

We may live in a similar time in which we have to open our doors to people that will question everything we do and say, that may challenge the very things we think are most fundamental about our faith – stripping it to the very foundation where only Christ remains – but what do I know! I am no prophet or seer who can see the future, I only know that there is a great source of building material out there that doesn’t feel welcome in the church – and that isn’t the way it is supposed to be. Anyway, enough of that.

A second renovation that I think Peter would suggest is that he would remind us that although God is the builder, we are the building materials of the church. Since the construction of the church uses us, what the church ends up being very much reflects us. So if we are shoddy Christians, our builder has to work a lot longer and harder on us to get us to be ready for the final reveal. We may need some repair, repainting and a bit of polish. So we should be working on ourselves. It should be our personal goal to be the very best Christians we can be. We should be brushing up on our bible knowledge, getting better in our prayer life, and most of all we should be growing in our ability to love others – that is the most vital of all the spiritual gifts. If you don’t love people more today than you did yesterday, you aren’t growing in your spirit like God wants. You can speak in the tongues of angels, but if you have not love, you have nothing. So people work on growing in love. Remember the church looks like you.

Of course, most of us will never quite perfect ourselves in love, but here is the good news, God chooses to use us anyway. Perhaps because we have character, or perhaps because God sees the potential in us, just as God sees the potential in the finished church. But God uses us, calls us a part of the royal priesthood, even though we have growth yet to accomplish.

The renovator is still at work on us personally and on the church. We are living stones in the greater work which God is doing. We should be striving toward perfected love so that our place in God’s work is beautiful and complete.

As you go from this place today, my prayer is that you would know that God chooses even the people rejected by the world for the building of this holy temple. That means you are accepted, claimed and valued by God. It also means that God values and accepts other around you who may be rejected and despised. With this group of unusual stones God then builds. Our role is to grow into the potential that God sees in us – especially in that one vital gift – the gift of love, which is the bedrock of Christ, and the foundation of all that we believe.

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