A Living Hope from Our Living Savior
A Hope That Gives Us Our Identity
A sermon based on 1 Peter 2:4-10
I guess it was just one of those weird seminary traditions. "Who are you?!" the other students would shout if any first year student at the seminary would stand up in the cafeteria to make a motion or an announcement. And it didn't matter if it was the first time he spoke in August or if it was his hundredth time he stood up before the dining assembly in May.
"Who are you?!" he was asked, as a subtle way of reminding those first years to stay humble. "Don't assume everyone knows who you are because your dad was a president or a professor, because you played football in college or had a 4.0 grade point average. Introduce yourself every time you speak so you don't get too big for your britches. And don't worry. We'll help remind you who you are."
But it's not just at seminary that we're asked the question, "Who are you?!" Who are you? How do you answer that question? Do you answer with your name? I think that's a normal response, but does your name define you? Does it give you your identity? Maybe, if your name is Obama or Pelosi, Wilson or Rogers, Gates or Trump. But I don't think too many people would recognize the name Guenther. Maybe you answer, "Who are you?" with your accomplishments, with all that you've done, with your awards and achievements. But your actions don't really define you either. Not really.
And thank God! Because if that were the case, we'd be know as nothing more than "sinner, damned to hell." But God has given us a new identity in Christ. By his life, death, and resurrection, our living Savior has given a living hope—a hope that gives us our true identity. Listen how the apostle Peter describes it in 1 Peter 1:4-10…
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. Who Are You? I Am A Selfish Sinner
"Who are you?!" Well, what do you do? That's typically where men find their identity in their career. But that can be dangerous. Define who you are by what you do and you can feel pretty lousy when things don't go well. And besides, if you found your identity in your job (and what a danger that can be when most people call you "Pastor"), what would happen if you ever lost that job? Your identity would be lost.
Women, on the other hand, tend to find identity in their families, in their husbands (or lack thereof) (and who can blame them they literally change their name when they marry—how can that not affect your identity). Or they find their identity in their kids. But what happens when those children misbehave? Or grow up to be degenerates in spite of mom's best efforts? Or die before mom does? What happens if the marriage isn't all it's cracked up to be or if it ends in divorce? A woman can struggle with serious identity issues too.
But thank God that our identity—whether male or female—doesn't have anything to do with what we do. We aren't defined by what we do at work. We aren't defined by what we do at home. And thank God! Because what we do is sin.
And so we deserve the identity of selfish sinner, with placing too high a value on our own desires and wishes, on our achievements and accomplishments, of thinking that we're something when we're nothing but a selfish sinner.
You guys know me pretty well, right? And you know that I usually have no shortage of self-esteem. But I should have low self-esteem. And not just because I'm a few pounds overweight and balding. Not because of job performance, but because of my sin. (And yes, that extra weight is because of my poor choices, and some of my hair loss might be due to my poor job performance. In other words, those may be the symptoms of the real problem: sin.) It is because of my rebellion against God that I deserve death in hell. In my sin am worse than worthless—I'm harmful to others.
By nature, if I were asked by God, "Who are you?" the only honest answer would have been, "I am a selfish sinner." And the same would be true of you too. And that's all that mattered, no matter how much money we made, how smart, athletic, and well-behaved our kids were, or how many monuments we built to our own greatness.
But that's what I was. And that's what you were. Though we were spiritually dead, dead as a lifeless stone, that's not how we are anymore! Now we've been raised to life by the living Savior.
II. Who Are You? Jesus is the Capstone
People asked Jesus, "Who are you?" and sought to discover his identity. And even though they heard his answer, they saw his miracles, they read his Scriptures, many still came to the wrong conclusion about him. They didn't have enough esteem for Christ. They put the wrong value on him because he wasn't what they expected or wanted. And because he wouldn't conform to what they wanted, they rejected him and his short three-year ministry ended in death.
But Peter (a.k.a. "Rocky") explains why as he talks about rocks a lot these verses. First, he calls Jesus the living Stone—a reminder that Jesus didn't stay dead—a reminder that Jesus is solid as a rock—unchanging throughout time. Then he calls him the cornerstone—the straight edge against whom all things measure up. And finally he calls him the capstone. The top of the arch on which the whole thing leans like the foundation of a house or the bottow layer of game of Jenga. Get rid of him and everything falls apart. But with him in the center of your life and it all holds together.
Jesus once said that he could make the stones cry out his praises. Well, he pretty much did that… with us. When we were dead in sin—stone cold in our spiritual lifelessness—he made us alive, like living stones! (cf. Ephesians 2) He did this by living a sinless life in our place, by dying an innocent death in our place. He gave us life when he rose from the dead, never to die again. (And nothing can change that fact!) And brought us to life when he led us to believe these truths and gave us faith in him so that we can say with certainty that we know who Jesus is. His identity is not hidden from us. He is the Son of God. He is the Savior from sin. He is our Savior, our sure and certain hope.
And through that faith he brought us from death to life. We are living stones. Thought that faith he brought us into his Church. We are being built up in him. Through that faith he cleansed us of all our sin. We are holy without any mistake, blemish. And through that faith, we find our new identity in him…
III. Who Are You? I Am A Special Saint
Do you ever feel like you're nothing special? Like you're worthless? Like you really don't matter in the big scheme of things? Well, you're wrong. You may not matter to the paparazzi, to the history books, or even to the person you wish would return your love. But you are worth everything to the God who gives you his unconditional love.
The living Stone has made us like living stones in his Church. Who are you? You are special. This is the identity that God has given you…
9 But you are a chosen people, [you are] a royal priesthood, [you are] a holy nation, [you are] 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.
It's still popular hobby to trace your genealogy learn more about your family tree. It's suggested that if you know your past, know yourself. But that's not really true. If I were descended from a king it wouldn't change my finances today. And if I were descended from a mass-murderer, it would not define my actions or my life. But Peter traces your new geneology and it does impact your identity every day. "Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God." And your new birth certificate is your baptismal certificate. You're a part of his family and this, more than anything defines who you are and gives you your identity.
You may still not feel very special, but you are. And this is not to promote good self-esteem, but Christ-esteem. This is what he thinks of you. No, this is what he declares of you. And so this is reality. For his word makes it so.
Who are you?! You are a sinless saint! Holy in every way! You are a child of God! You are royalty then! You are sons and daughters of the King! You are a prince! You are a princess! This is your identity! This is what defines who you are!
And this new identity also gives us purpose and meaning to our lives. It gives us confidence. It gives us direction. We have been called with a special mission. We are all living stones built into a church, or really, the Church (with a capital "C")—that is, not just a part of Grace Lutheran, but a part of the body of Christ! That means that you are a part of something big—something far bigger than these walls, something far bigger than your own life!
You are a part of a movement that will keep marching on through the millennia until it finally comes to its full and perfect completion on Judgment Day! And you have a job that will outlive you for a long time! You can, and you do, and you will continue to, have an impact on people's lives for eternity! What a wonderful purpose you get with your identity!
And this massive construction project isn't yours, but God's. You're not the foreman, but he has hand-picked you to be on his crew. A man was was working on a construction site. He spend long hours at his back-breaking work. But he loved his job and he did it with a passion. You see, he knew he was a part of something bigger, than digging the ditches, and stacking the bricks. He was building a new oncology unit at the hospital—at the same hospital where his daughter had died of cancer last year. And so he knew that the brick laying and ditch digging was meaningful work. It would help to save lives.
So too, when you put a few dollars in the plate, when you volunteer to clean the church or mow the lawn this summer, when you help with an outreach event or just call a fellow member or a friend to see how they're doing… you are a part of something bigger. You are helping to putting another brick on the building of the Church. And your work is so meaningful because it helps to save lives for eternity!
This is who you are. You are special. You are chosen. You are royal. You are holy. You are in the service of God with a job with eternal significance. Who are you? You are a Christian. Let that be your first answer whenever you're asked, as you continue to "declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." In his name, dear friends, amen!