Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 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.
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, 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. 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.’
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’,
‘A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.’
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
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 marvellous light.
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
I love the play on words as we reach this part of the letter. The metaphors and images tumble. All of them are deployed to help those who first read it, and now all of us, understand more fully our true identity. These word pictures all overflow with energy and vitality; these words speak life! As ones newborn, we should crave and long for the things that nourish our faith because salvation, it turns out, is less an event and far more a lifelong journey. Already we have been invited to wonder about ourselves. Do I long to be spiritually fed in such ways? Do I know where to find the food my own faith needs? How is my congregation helping me to discover such treasures? How am I helping my congregation, and others far beyond it, discover them and share in them?
As if this isn’t enough to challenge and delight us, the picture shifts to stones and buildings. Our pilgrimage is a shared journey. Stones are both unique in their individuality and yet can be fashioned and formed to fit together into a new whole; a community of holiness. Which lets our writer riff on the possibilities with stones, deploying passages from Isaiah and the Psalms along the way. Stones can be chucked away as worthless much as a man on a Roman cross might be rejected as one more misguided Jewish rebel. Stones can trip us, just as some find the idea of God becoming human and dying, let alone rising and ascending, ridiculous. But our journey is a journey into discovering that what seems impossible is real. We are saved by believing. We grow into salvation, for ourselves and for one another, as we trust and hold on to this jewel of truth. We do so in our worship and our praying but equally in our living and our serving. For the spiritual house God builds with us all is not a prison for the holy, but a hospital for the world.
Moment by moment, decade by decade, the miracle happens: we are and become God’s people.
We, who have tasted that the Lord is good, come to you in this moment, God. Make it your time: to build up in us and amongst us what you need, to demolish in us and amongst us what you do not need. So may this moment, this day, and each of us, be yours. Amen.
The Rev’d Neil Thorogood is Minister, Thornbury URC and Trinity-Henleaze URC (Bristol)