Fifth Sunday of Easter (2023)
Pericopal Series: Living in the Hope of Our Inheritance
1. Living Our Unchangeable Inheritance (1 Peter 1:3–9)
2. Living in Reverent Fear (1 Peter 1:17–21)
3. Living through Unjust Suffering (1 Peter 2:19–25)
4. Living as Holy Priests (1 Peter 2:4–10)
5. Living to Witness to the Hope (1 Peter 3:15–22)
6. Living through Trials and Temptations (1 Peter 4:12–17; 5:6–11)
As Peter wrote the words of today’s Epistle reading, did he remember the day he quoted Psalm 118 to the upper crust of Jerusalem? Did he think about the day he faced down the high priestly family who had condemned Jesus to death with the words “the stone you builders rejected”?
The world looks at God hidden in Christ and sees either a loser or a joke. The Jews rejected him because of his humility. The world today rejects him because of his claims of being the one way, the one truth, the one life. And neither case do they see Christ as the stone that should set their angles or head their corners. They would rather fashion their lives by their own design. This rejected stone, however, will ultimately be their downfall.
For believers, though, this rejected stone is what saves and builds. Jesus said ago, “I am the life.” That living stone is life, gives life, and makes living stones out of people who are scattered in darkness. That stone transforms us from sinful to holy from common to royal, from profane to sacred, from dark to light.
In his writings regarding the priesthood of all believers Martin Luther makes the point several times: “Through baptism all of us are consecrated to the priesthood . . . and there is no difference at all (between clergy and laity) except that of office.” (Martin Luther, Three Treatises [Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1960] 91). We just as we witnessed this consecration in the lives of Charlotte and Aubrey. As they were Baptized, Jesus through the Holy Spirit, moved them into the holy priesthood.
They and we, who cling to Christ by faith, are Holy Priests before God.
Who are the priests?
Who are the priests?
There were many converts in the early church, and I wonder if they were having some sort of identity crisis. They heard and wondered about the several names read in Peter’s letter “to God’s elect, strangers in the world . . . a chosen people, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” Each had its special meaning, but one name stood out because it was given twice: “a holy priesthood” and “a royal priesthood.” To men and women who had lived in “debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry,” such a high and respectable title surely made a deep impression.
In every age some have regarded people as little more than animals. Karl Marx said that man is an animal, a hungry animal. What he wants most, claimed Marx, are three meals a day. If he doesn’t get enough to eat he’ll be troublesome. He must be assured that he won’t get hungry; ultimately this is the way to world peace.
Charles Darwin thought otherwise. To him man is an animal, but a fighting animal. He has to struggle and gain power if he is to be satisfied. Just having enough to eat isn’t enough; he must dominate. Make him boss so he can give orders and bask in the praise of others and he’ll be content.
Sigmund Freud disagreed. Man is a lusting animal. He must have freedom in sexual matters or he’ll be unhappy. Let his biology have free rein and all will be well.
Aristotle also said that man is an animal. His greatest need is knowledge. Educate him about the consequences of right and wrong and he’ll choose the right. He misbehaves because he doesn’t know any better.
Jesus and his disciples did not argue about differences between man and animals, but they had no doubts about the enormity of man’s, sinfulness. By nature we are all “dead in transgressions and sins” (Eph 2:1), “hostile to God” (Romans 8:7). Because of this condition it is necessary to be “born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable through the living and enduring Word of God.” Our Lord said, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” (Jn 3:5). In the waters of Baptism, bonded with the Word, the Holy Spirit works saving faith in Jesus Christ and a person is truly reborn, just as we witnessed with these two young ladies.
This alone qualifies God’s people to be holy and royal priests. When Israel became a nation, the Levites, one of the 12 tribes, were set apart to be priests. Among other requirements, a priest had to be without physical blemish and could marry only a virgin. The new priesthood, however, is based solely on faith.
What are the priests to do?
What are the priests to do?
While the major task of the Old Testament priests was to offer sacrifices to God, another kind of sacrifice is the responsibility of the new priests. Peter urges us to declare the, praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.
The immediate sacrifice is one of “praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name” (Hebrews 13:15). This obviously is worship that takes place with other Christians. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (Heb 10:25).
In our day of individualism (“I’ll do my own thing”) one often hears “I don’t get anything out of going to church.” What we “get out of it” is the privilege of glorifying our God. Remember when Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha? Martha was busy with all the preparations, while Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet. Martha reprimanded Jesus for not directing Mary to help her, to which Jesus informed her that Mary had chosen the “better part.” Jesus gently informed her that listening to the Word has priority (Lk 10:39–42).
This is where genuine worship begins: “Our Lord speaks and we listen. . . . Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure” (Lutheran Worship, 6).
But worship doesn’t stop there. We declare his praise when we “do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifice God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16). What keeps us from doing good? There are many excuses but one especially—often not recognized—is just plain laziness. The ancients called it “sloth,” suggesting the three-toed creature that hangs by his claws for days without a care in the world.
In a parable closing the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus compares two builders. The wise builder built his house on a rock, and the house stood firm in a storm. The foolish man built his house on sand, and it fell with a great crash as the rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew (Matthew 7:24–27). Was he warning against laziness? Or was it like sewing a patch of unshrunken cloth on an old garment, which makes the tear worse under stress (Mt 9:16). He chastises the lazy servant who hid the talent entrusted to him in the ground rather than putting it to work (Mt 25:14–30).
Our Lord and his disciples were anything but lazy, going “around, doing good” (Acts 10:38), so busy with ministering to the needs of others that “they did not even have a chance to eat” (Mark 6:31).
The 28th chapter of Exodus describes in great detail the priestly garments God ordered Aaron and his sons to wear: breastpiece, ephod, robe, a woven tunic, a turban, and a sash. They were colorful—gold, blue, purple, scarlet—and adorned with precious stones.
In contrast, God’s New Testament priests do not wear such garments. Rather their vestments are the prayers they offer on behalf of others, the kindnesses, the cup of cold water, the hands that reach out to heal and help, pointing to the living Christ who is the only way to heaven. That is how we live, as the royal priests of God, as we offer our sacrifices of praise and live in the sure hope of our inheritance that awaits all the “chosen people” who have been “called out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.