May 13 & 14, 2017 Easter 5
1 Peter 2:4-10
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
Recently I read an article about how to deal with those considering suicide. It recounted how in 2011 there was a company in China that manufactured iPhones. The company had a big problem. That year 11 employees jumped to their deaths from the windows on the top story of the factory. That’s how much they hated their jobs and how insignificant they felt. And what was the solution that the company came up with to deal with the problem? It was to put up almost ten million square feet of mesh netting wrapped around the building to catch jumpers. How utterly ridiculous to treat just the symptom (the jumpers) and not the problem (of depressed, suicidal workers). They didn’t have the real solution to the despair and pain that those workers were feeling.
Today so many are feeling that same pain and despair. 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. What is the solution? God gives the solution as he, through Peter, reminds us of what we were and what we are. We were sinners. We were miserable losers. We were trash. But NOT anymore! Now we are saints! Now we are royalty and priests. Listen 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:
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—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. 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.” 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,” 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. 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. 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.
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 do I really have to show for my efforts? I’ve never built a mega-church. I have no big TV ministry. But, then, look at 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 gleaned that from the Gospel lesson, didn’t you? “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 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. Maybe 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 using for building 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.
Have you ever watched Antique Roadshow on PBS? On that show, at times, someone brings in something that looks like garage sale junk, but it 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.” 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!
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, then that makes me pretty worthless and insignificant.
Like the person who comes on Antique Roadshow convinced they have a priceless heirloom only to discover that it’s basically worthless, so too are we when we are convinced that we are something special, apart from Christ. Because of our sins we are worthless. We are useless. We are deserving of hell. But that’s no reason to climb out the window of the 12th story of a factory and jump. We are not trash, not anymore. 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. That’s what Jesus is to us. If you pull him out of the foundation of your life 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. “The one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
Your sins can’t shame you. By Jesus’ death and resurrection they’ve all been taken away. He paid the punishment you deserve for your sins so you don’t have to. Satan can’t shame you. His accusations won’t stick. You are forgiven. Your petty goals can’t shame you. You’ve been given a new and noble purpose in why you live your life and the way you live your life because of what Jesus has done for you. He lives. And you will live and do live for him right now. Easter is a game changer.
It changes who you are. “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 you 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.”
So what if others think you’re worthless. God chose you to be his own. So what if others think you’re nothing special. God calls you royalty, sons and daughters of the king. 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, clerk, 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 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: Christ, who changes everything! He can change them from trash into treasure. He can change the way they view their lives, just as he 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.” Amen.