One of the most interesting chapters for me on the whole question of what the church should be like is 1 Peter 2. In verse 5 there is the image of being living stones – come as living stones, and let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple …. When we talk about the church, often the first thing that comes into our minds is the building. Our buildings are incredibly useful and a valuable resource – but it is always good to remember that the church isn’t really the building. It’s the people. You can have a church without a building, but you can’t have a church without people. We are the church. That’s why I like this idea of living stones. It, in part, serves as a reminder of the value of the building as it uses a building as a description, or image, of the church. But it is the living stones, you and me, who make up the real church.
Staying with 1 Peter 2, in verse 9 there are four descriptions of the church placed in a list – but you are the chosen race, the King’s priests, the holy nation, God’s own people, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God … Four descriptions and a task. The first of these descriptions identifies us as chosen. That is important. We often talk about discipleship and see it as being called to make a choice to follow the way of Jesus. That is absolutely fine, and it is good that we make choices about following Jesus. But we must not forget that, in the first place, it is God who chooses us. We are a chosen race.
Then we are the King’s priests. I think there are two big things to say here. One is that we are the King’s. The King is Jesus. A King reigns or rules. Here is a reminder to let Jesus reign over our lives. A simpler way to put that is to say that Jesus, and his reign, his call, should constantly be influencing our decisions and our way of living. But then we are the King’s priests. A priest is someone who acts on behalf of God, someone who has access to God, someone who is in relationship with God. In the Old Testament they thought that they needed special people to provide that link for the ordinary people. Even today we sometimes use the title priest instead of minister – and a priest, or minister, can be very helpful in enabling our links with God. But in our tradition we recognise very clearly that we don’t need anyone else. We each have direct access to God. That is when we mean when we sometimes talk about the priesthood of all believers. Particular people can have different roles that can be helpful but, in the end, we are all priests. We all have the opportunity and the responsibility of direct contact with God. Prayer is the name that we usually give to that though, when we say that, we need to remember that prayer is a lot more than saying your prayers, though it does include that.
Third, in this great verse of descriptions we are called the holy nation. The important word here is the word holy, and this is again a reminder of how we are linked to God. Holy things are God’s things – how fantastic to be called a holy nation!
And the last description – God’s own people. It sums it up. We are people – and we are God’s. At the point of his baptism God says of Jesus, You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you. We might not manage to deserve that level of commendation, but we can know that we belong to God, that we matter to God, that God cares for us.
I am going to leave verse 9 there, though I could go on to say, as the verse does, something about being chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God and I could also, like this verse, go on to say something about being called out of darkness into his own marvellous light but, as I said, I am going to leave verse 9 there. However, I am not quite ready to leave the chapter, as I want to move on a couple of verses and look at the first part of verse 11. There Peter says: I appeal to you, my friends, as strangers and refugees in this world! Here is a slightly less likely image, but one that is also important. (Part of the point is that none of these images give the whole story. It is like taking a photograph from different angles. We get different views, different perspectives, but they all valuable, all worth having.) Here is the challenge to be that bit different, as strangers and refugees. Here is the reminder that we mustn’t just fit in with the world. God calls us to be different, to do different things. Jesus explained the sort of thing that this means when he talked about walking about second miles and giving away second coats or, to push it a bit further, about loving our enemies – because, actually, I don’t want to love my enemy. I want to get them back. I want to hate them. Here is the reminder that we are challenged to live a radically different way.