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Easter 5 May 14, 2017 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend

 Sermon for May 14, 2017 | Easter V
1 Peter 2:2-10      
Come to him, a living stone, rejected by mortals yet precious in God’s sight.
You and I live in that part of the nation often referred to as the None Zone [n-o-n-e, not n-u-n as if the region were overrun with Anglican and Catholic nuns]. The term “none” refers to the many people in the Pacific Northwest who, in the national census, mark “None” next to the term religious affiliation. Indeed, one-third of the population has no experience of religion; another third identify loosely with some form of religion but never participate in it; and the remaining third claim both religious affiliation and participation. Of that last third, Episcopalians number less than one percent. In this region, we are, quite clearly, a minority.
Compounding our minority status is the tendency among Episcopalians to assume that people will simply show up on Sunday morning, enjoy the music offered, at least not be embarrassed by the preaching, find comfort in a stable form of worship anchored in the Book of Common Prayer, and be relieved to discover that we do not worship a punitive god surrounded by fire and brimstone. That assumption – “if you build it, they will come” – is compounded by the hesitancy to speak with others in the None Zone about our religious affiliation. As parishioners have whispered to me over the past 15 years, “I just don’t feel the need to tell my co-workers or my friends that I am a Christian.” In a regional culture that since the 19th c. has been marked by deep skepticism of education, government, and religion, it’s not surprising to hear such hesitancy. And in a nation shaped by media perceptions of religion that run from fundamentalist fantasies of the world disintegrating in an apocalyptic battle to the meaningless relativism of “believe whatever you want so long as you are sincere,” it should come as no surprise that one might shy away from sharing one’s religious affiliation. Thus, in addition to being a minority, cultural skepticism can silence the public expression of what many actually experience as a life changing, life-giving alternative to the spiritual emptiness and moral apathy indicated in the many surveys of younger Americans.
It was to a minority community surrounded by cultural skepticism that the first letter of Peter was addressed. After all, the first Christians were viewed as followers of a Jew who was to put death in a form of capital punishment reserved for murderers and traitors to the state. And who, in their right mind, would ever want to share that affiliation with their co-workers and friends? Indeed, common sense might lead one to assume that this small Christian community, with a less than illustrious pedigree, would hunker down, become more conservative, more clubby, fearful of the stranger, and focused on its own internal needs – its “ministries” – rather than living in the skeptical culture around it. 
It is odd, then, to hear the writer of this letter exhort his Christian listeners with a metaphor rather than practical advice. Come, he  says, to the stone who is Christ. Come to the One rejected by some yet precious in the eyes of the Creator of the heavens and this god earth, precious in the eyes of the Liberator from spiritual emptiness and a life marked by apathy, from oppressive forces and the all-too- frequent violence that dehumanizes and destroys. Here, the writer says, there is rock-hard strength; here is the One who offers you that which the world cannot give you: a humble confidence. What an odd gift, I say: this yoking of humility with confidence, a quality not easily discerned in the fading relativism of the religious left or the arrogance of the religious right. And yet a confidence grounded in humility offered to those who just might be drawn to let their friends and co-workers know there is a life changing and life-giving alternative to fundamentalism and relativism.
Yesterday, a number of us joined six of our parishioners who were received and confirmed in their public entrance into this wonderfully peculiar, eclectic, beloved, struggling, serving, thinking Anglican Communion, one branch of Christ’s  holy and catholic Church, born in the waters of Holy Baptism and nourished in the sacred Body and Blood of the Holy Eucharist – what the writer of First Peter oddly, oddly refers to as a royal priesthood. I say oddly because one would expect to find priests serving in a place reserved for ritual practices: in a temple, a church, or chapel. And yet such is not the case here in the letter to Peter, or here in Christ Church. For the sacrifice offered by the royal priesthood, by you and me, does not, does not take place here but rather out there – out there in daily life as you and I, in the humble confidence God gives us, serve the sister, the brother in need; as you and I work for the justice and peace to which we have vowed ourselves.
1 Peter 2:2-10
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”, and “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 marvelous 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.