Easter Means No Fear… of Insignificance
Man's Trash is God's Treasure
A sermon based on 1 Peter 2:4-10
Sunday, May 22, 2011 – Easter 5A
This week I read a news article about a company in China that manufactures iPhones under contract for Apple.[*] The company, named Foxconn, has been having some real problems that have made Apple consider using another company for the production of their phones. The problem? Last year 11 employees, jumped to their deaths from factory windows. That's how much they hated their jobs and how insignificant they felt.
But what struck me about the article, was the solution that Foxconn came up with. On the one hand it made me chuckle. But on the other hand it made me very sad. You see, their solution was to put up almost ten million square feet of mesh netting wrapped around the building to catch jumpers.
I chuckled because it seemed utterly ridiculous to treat just the symptom (the jumpers) and not the problem (of unhappy, depressed, suicidal workers). (To be fair, the company did also hire a few counselors and increase workers salaries.) But I'm saddened that they don't have the real solution to the despair and pain that those workers are feeling.
This morning, I want you all to pay careful attention. Because even if you're not feeling hurt and pain and near despair, I promise that someone you care about either is feeling that pain, or they will down the road. With dead-end jobs, or no jobs, with struggling marriages and disintegrating families, with sickness and disease, and guilt and frustration, countless people are left feeling worthless, hopeless, and insignificant.
So I want you to pay careful attention to the real solution—not just some safety net that will leave the despairing looking for another way out of their problems and pain—but to God's solution: "Know who you are—who you really are—because of Easter." God, through Peter, reminds us of what we were. We were sinners. We were miserable losers. We were trash. …But not anymore!!! Now we are saints! Now we are royalty! Now we are priests! Listen again to God's encouragement given to you (and through you to others), that man's trash is God's treasure. We read 1 Peter 2:4-10…
4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says:
"See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." 7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,"
8 and, "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall."
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
9 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. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
I. Man's Trash (Christ) is God's Treasure…
You know, there are times that I feel relatively insignificant. I wonder if what I'm doing with my life really makes a difference. After all, what I do I really have to show for my efforts? I've never built a mega-church. Thousands of souls aren't being saved through my preaching. Maybe a handful? …at best!
And while that is significant work, I'm even more comforted when I think of Jesus. What did his ministry look like? He was the perfect preacher. He was the perfect teacher! He never missed a teachable moment. He never misspoke! He always conveyed the truth that he was sharing in exactly the right way. But what did he have to show for it?
He had no mega-church. Thousands didn't come to believe in him until after his death. His followers were very few. The leaders he trained were only 12. (And one of them, didn't work out so well. …And the other eleven? Well, they all deserted him when he needed them the most.) And when he preached to them, rarely did they get it. You got that from the Gospel lesson, didn't you? "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" …Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." And Jesus' three year ministry ended in his execution!
From outward appearances, it would seem that Jesus' ministry was pretty insignificant. He had little to show for all his work. And I imagine that at times, Jesus too was tempted with thoughts of failure, insignificance, and despair. In fact, Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 49:4, that the coming Messiah would think, "I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing." But was he worthless? Was he insignificant? Of course not!
Though he was "rejected by men… The stone the builders rejected…" he was—he is!—also "the living Stone… chosen by God and precious to him… a chosen and precious cornerstone…"
In other words, looks can be deceiving. What man considered trash, a stone not worth building with because it didn't fit their plans or their design, was really God's treasure. Precious to him! Most valuable! His Son, whom he loves, with whom he is well pleased!
You guys ever watch Antique Roadshow on PBS? You know the one, where someone brings in something that looks like garage sale junk, but turns out to be some rare and priceless heirloom from the royal line of some king that has been lost throughout the centuries and now it's worth a few million dollars?
That's the way it was with Jesus. While the world saw him as trash, he was God's treasure. And he's our treasure too! In Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." 7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. He's precious, not just to God, but to us, because he gives us life. He gives us meaning and purpose. He gives us significance!
II. Man's Trash (You) is God's Treasure…
Now, let's face it. There are some days when my feelings of insignificance and worthlessness are really well-earned. When I don't do the work that I've been called to do as faithfully as I possibly could, I deserve to be called worthless before God. When I use the gifts and abilities that God has given me to serve my petty, short-lived, worthless ends… well, how insignificant I choose to become!
And at one point I didn't even get it! Like the person who comes on Antique Roadshow convinced they have a priceless heirloom only to discover that it's worth less than you could buy new at Walmart, so too when I was convinced that I was something special, apart from Christ, because of my sin, I was worthless. I was useless. I was deserving of hell. I was trash for my self-centered, godless, worthless way of life. And so were you.
But… that's no reason to climb out the window of the 12th story, because that's what we were. …Not anymore! And everything has changed because of Christ!
In our text Peter quotes several Old Testament passages that refer to Christ as a rock of some sort. In the first, Isaiah calls the Messiah the "precious cornerstone." Now to us, a cornerstone is merely ceremonial—the place where you inscribe the date of construction and a brief dedication. But in those days the corner stone was the first stone laid down. It was perfectly square so that every other stone that was laid lined up perfectly with it. If that one stone was off—even by a little—the rest would be too.
The second passage refers to Jesus as the "capstone." This was the stone at the very top of an arch to "cap" it. All the other stones leaned in against it, then the scaffolding could be removed and the wall built around the arch. But if that capstone were removed it would all come quickly crashing down.
Ever play the game Jenga? You know, the game where you stack little wooden blocks, then pull one out of the middle to place on top without knocking over the tower? Ever notice that when you play that game no one ever pulls a block from the bottom layer? Why not? For obvious reason, right? You remove the bottom block and the rest will come crashing down. It's a game changer.
That's what Jesus is to us. Pull him out of the foundation of your life and everything will come crashing down. But when we build our lives on him, put our trust in him, and believe in him, we will not be put to shame—ever! "The one who trusts in him will never be put to shame."
My worthless behavior can't shame me. By Jesus death and resurrection and they've all been taken away—the so-called little sins and the so-called big! satan can't shame me! His accusations won't stick! I am forgiven! My petty and insignificant goals can't shame me. I've been given a new and noble purpose in why I live my life and the way I live my life because of what Jesus has done for me! He lives! And I will live! And I do live—for him—right now! Easter is a game changer!
And it changes who I am! And who you are too! "Once you were not a people," you were insignificant, "but now you are the people of God," you're special! You belong to him! "Once you had not received mercy," you were junk, "but now you have received mercy." You are God's treasure, precious to him, dearly loved, and fit for service in his church because this is who are now: 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.
So what if others think you're worthless?! God chose you to be his own! To be his representative! So what if others think you're nothing special?! God calls you royalty! Sons and daughters of the king! His princes! His princesses! So what if you have a job that's less than fulfilling?! God has placed you there at this place and at this time to serve as his priests—to represent him before the people in your life. Who cares if others think you're worthless trash?! God calls you his priceless treasure!
And he gives meaning to life and purpose to your every task—even to those that seem most mundane and meaningless. Because as you "…eat or drink or whatever you do…" shuffle papers, drill for oil, change diapers, or work as a janitor, and "…do it all for the glory of God," (1 Corinthians 10:31), you will be, "[declaring] the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
If (or maybe when?) the day comes that you feel like worthless trash, then remember that it went the same way with Jesus. Remember that looks can be deceiving! And remember who you are! You're not trash! You're God's treasure! His priest and representative! And take heart!
And when you encounter someone else who's feeling the hurt and the pain and is near despair, because of dead-end jobs, or no jobs, struggling marriages or disintegrating families, because of sickness and disease, or guilt and frustration, then, as God's priests, share with them the real solution: That Christ changes everything! He changes them, from trash into treasure. He changes the way they view their lives, just as it does for us, as together we remember who we are!
"[We] are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God…" Because of Easter, we have no fear of insignificance! For he is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.