Sermon on 1 Peter 2:2-10, for the 5th Sunday of Easter 2020 (A), "Spiritual Growth"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. 1 Peter 2 beautifully pictures our growth and sanctification in the Christian faith, and teaches what the Christian church is. We aren’t lone individuals, but members of the spiritual house of Christ. 
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation--if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.  Peter calls us back to the basics.  Infants crave pure milk because it is their life, their growth, and even the sharing of their mother’s immunity. The pure milk we crave is God’s Word. As a new Christian learns the words of faith, they start to explore what it means to trust in Jesus and follow Him. But even mature Christians still depend completely on God for salvation. Jesus used infancy as a picture of our complete dependency on God. 
Jesus’ disciples frequently became competitive in an unhealthy way, glory-seeking, exalting themselves,  imagining they had excelled in discipleship--but Jesus had to humble them and call them back to the faith of a child. Their vanity and pride were in the opposite direction of discipleship. The uncomplicated dependence on God, and a sincere trust, is why Jesus points us to a child-like faith. But don’t mistake this for ignorance, childishness, or complacency. Jesus wants growth in knowledge, maturity, and action, but out of a humble, child-like spirit, always connected to Him as the source of our spiritual life and growth.  
God’s Word is pure milk when we don’t mix it up with man’s word and our philosophies or ideas, that pollute it. We want the 100% pure teaching of God’s Word. Just a drop of false teaching, like a drop of sewage, would pollute and poison God’s Word. So we must be watchful not to be deceived by any false teachings, or mix them with the Word. 
Old and New Testament describe spirituality in infancy. (Psalm 71:5-6; Matthew 18:6). We are spiritual vessels, made in the image of God--that is part of our humanity. Not only that, we are made for a relationship with God from the first moments of our existence, from conception, and while God knit us together in our mother’s womb (Ps. 139). So there is nothing strange or unusual about speaking of spirituality in infants, except to our ears. We don’t “become spiritual” at a certain age; it is part and parcel of our human existence. We are meant for spirituality. The abnormal situation is to be OUT OF relationship with God. From infancy, God’s Word, the Good News of the Gospel, satisfies our hunger, nourishes us and supplies all we need to grow. It builds our immunity to the lies and deception of the devil, helping us grow strong and steadfast against him. It is pure, spiritual milk. 
If you have tasted that the Lord is good, our reading says. It's quoted from Psalm 34:8, which says, “taste and see that the Lord is good.” An invite to consider the goodness of God, and experience it. Many doubt the goodness of God. But 1 Peter 2 shows us that the believer and unbeliever encounter God differently. The believer finds that God is indeed good, because they have tasted and seen His goodness and faithfulness. But the unbeliever sees God through the filter of their fear or suspicion, or blames God for suffering and evil in this world. They distort their own view of God, and hate the false god that they have created in their minds. And when they encounter Jesus, they do not see Him as a refuge, a foundation or a friend, but they stumble against Jesus as a rock of offense. So believers and unbelievers experience God very differently. 
So how do we taste and see that the Lord is good?  By getting rich? The Scriptures warn again and again that money and possessions are vanishing, and what we have today may not be ours tomorrow. Will we know the Lord is good by an easy and carefree life? Jesus says take up your cross and follow Him; difficulty and struggle will face a Christian. So how shall we taste the goodness of the Lord? 
Let me switch the question into another area of life. Growing up, my favorite hockey team was the Detroit Red Wings. I followed all their regular season, the playoffs, and several Stanley Cup championships.  The team captain, Steve Yzerman, was an incredibly hard-working, humble, talented team player. He struggled through some major injuries while winning his last Cup. If you were to ask him to define the goodness of reaching that premier accomplishment--he wouldn’t have said the road was easy, without pain or injury, or without countless hours of intense physical training, exhaustion, setbacks or defeats, struggles with teammates, weeks and weeks of travel away from family--all those were part of the journey, and sacrifices to achieve the highest team honor in hockey. The difficulty and the hardship were part of the glory and meaning of the victory. It was good, despite the difficult road. The struggle shaped them into champions, and the test proved them.
Likewise, if we never experienced any significant hardship, would we feel much gratitude in our hearts for God bringing us through? Jesus said that the one who is forgiven little loves little, but the one who is forgiven much loves much. Gratitude grows in proportion to the greatness of our need, and the greatness of the mercy shown to us. Some who have endured great grief, failure, difficulty, and loss, nevertheless give the most beautiful praise to the goodness of God. 
Consider Joseph; arrogant and unaware as a young man. He and his father stirred the jealousies of his brothers without realizing it, and they sold him into slavery and faked his death to their father. Enslaved in Egypt, he was arrested and imprisoned for something he didn’t do, and forgotten even by the friend that he had made in prison, who might be able to help. Nevertheless, after years of hardship, God delivered and raised Joseph up to help many people. Through his trials Joseph tasted and saw God’s goodness. That lesson would not have come so easily from the safety of home. 
Many in the Bible trusted God’s goodness but His promises weren’t fulfilled in their lifetime. What about them? How would they taste and see that the Lord is good? Hebrews 11 asks and answers that they lived by faith, and waited for the better promises of God to come. In other words, God’s timeline to bless us and show His goodness does not end with our death. Far from it! Psalm 23 confesses this hope that I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever, and be led beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Death was not a barrier for the Psalmist to taste and see that the Lord is good. 
Next Peter describes the church of Christ. It’s not a physical building of lifeless rocks and bricks, but a living house, an assembly of people, who he calls “living stones”. Our identity flows from Christ, the first “living stone” rejected by men but chosen and precious by God. The Bible pictures Him as a rock, refuge, fortress, cornerstone, or foundation. The solid Rock on which our lives are secure and safe from any storms or earthquakes or any troubles that threaten us. 
But the world doesn’t want Him. They reject this sure foundation or take offense at Jesus. They want to build on sand. They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. Our flesh sees God’s commands as an annoyance or restriction on our freedom--when in reality God’s good commands are the boundaries that keep us out of danger and harm to ourselves or others. When we stumble over Jesus, it’s because we disobey the Word. Most people who say they don’t believe in God, are mainly interested in protecting the sin in their life. Disobedience distorts how we see God and leads to unbelief. 
Consider what it means that Christ’s church is built of living stones. Jesus said that He is the God of the Living, not of the dead. Not only are all true believers in Jesus Christ, across the globe, part of that living house of Christ--but all who have died in the faith, are still living members of His Temple! One Christian writer wryly said that the Christian church is the only organization in history that doesn’t disenfranchise the dead! In other words, you don’t lose your membership in the body of Christ by dying, because we will live forever with the Lord! This is great comfort, because when the priesthood of believers gathers to worship in the name of Jesus, we are joining the circle around the throne of God with angels, and archangels and all the company of heaven. That includes your faithfully departed loved ones, who believed in Jesus and confessed Him as Lord and Savior! Worship is not an arbitrary or optional activity that fits into our schedule after everything else has its place, but it’s the primary way we come into the presence of Christ, and are joined in Christian fellowship with other living stones who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. 
A single stone is no wall, and no building. A house or a wall requires many interlocking and interdependent bricks, for a unified and useful structure. So also when the apostles wanted to describe Christians in the body of Christ, they did not picture us as disconnected islands, or as scattered stones spread across a field, but unified and interdependent, built by God, and alive! In our modern world we prize our independence and self-will so much that we worship it as an idol! Scripture does call us to work for our living and provide for ourselves. That is good. But isolating ourselves from the community of believers is not good. We are made for fellowship with each other; to be part of a living body. 
Vs 6 says that whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame. Some people isolate themselves from the community of believers and from God because of fear or shame. Maybe they fear the sin in their life makes it impossible to have a relationship with God, or to stand by others (forgetting that we are all sinners!). But that is just why Jesus came! We were once darkness, but now we are called into His marvelous light! We were once not a people--but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Jesus will not turn away those who believe in Him. We will not be put to shame. 

God paid our ransom for all our sins in Jesus Christ. He restored your relationship with God. Believe in Him and you will not be put to shame! In baptism we are buried and raised in that new identity in Him. We become living stones as He is, and a part of this new and ever growing community of believers! Taste and see that this life is good! A life begun in our spiritual infancy, continually nourished into maturity by the pure milk of God’s Word, a life filled with the taste of God’s goodness that will become a feast in heaven, and a life incorporated into the fellowship of His church, as living stones--not isolated or alone, but built into His house with a shared life together. All glory to Him for creating, sustaining, and completing our spiritual growth in Him! Amen. 

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