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24/4/2016 pm: “Discarded Cornerstone; Chosen People”

Two different destinies.

Been fascinating to watch the M&S building going up. And I know that it’s a big project, and it takes a lot of planning to get everything in sequence. Not far away from completion now. But I couldn’t help but compare it to the site here during the building work. What strikes me most of all is the difference in intensity. When this building was being completed, the degree of intensity was amazing. People didn’t need to be persuaded to get on with work; when they finished one job, they were looking around for the next. Not like that on many other projects! Drove down the spur road today. Impressed by how many people were on site. Less than impressed by the fact that not one of them appeared to be actually doing anything!

A tale of two cities.

Here’s the picture. Two images.

First image is a building site, some builders. And a stone – surely intended to be the cornerstone, but discarded, just dumped in a corner of the site. In a place where people curse it, as they keep tripping over it. But something amazing happens – the building is constructed around it. And it grows into a temple – The Temple.

The image is straightforward. The Jews dismissed Jesus’ claims, and rejected him. They had something else in mind altogether, a different kind of temple in a different place; a different way forward from here. ‘It will start over there, and it will look like this, and this.’ Jesus is rejected – executed on a cross, with the assistance of Rome, and dumped out of sight in a tomb.

But God surprises Israel, and begins to build the new kingdom not according to their plans, but working from the fixed point of the Cross. The building, the temple – it rises according to the plan of God. And it includes people and places that had never been foreseen.

Second image. A people, a priesthood. Linked to the first image because they both have to do with a temple. But this is about the people, not the building. The ‘chosen people’ would have been understood by everyone to be the Jews. But they had become closed, insular. The nation was defined by the people it excluded – Gentiles; the imperfect, the sick, the unholy, the women. The promise of God came to apply to fewer and fewer of them. Jesus had experienced first hand the outrage of people like this as he had sought to include the wrong kind. Don’t you know what kind of woman she is? How can you touch a woman made filthy by her bleeding for years? How can you reach out to a Centurion? These are not our kind of people.

But God again surprises Israel. You – see 1:18 for the kind of people these are – who were not a people. You who were excluded, who had fallen away. You who were on the outside of the temple. You have come (and there is a delicious irony in Peter, the rock, calling Jesus ‘The Stone’) and have been accepted. Back to that building metaphor again – you are the stones that have been thrown away. But measure you against the cornerstone, and you are in.

Chosen people – you have been picked for the team. All that the Jews had treasured and reserved, now thrown wide open. A people belonging to God. This rag-bag bunch of people could now read all the bits in the OT where God says ‘I will be your God and you will be my people’ and say ‘That means me!’

The floorplan of this new building means that people who once were outside are now within the boundaries. And – dare we say it – there are some who believed they were within the Holy of Holies who now turn out to be outside the wall. The boundaries have been redrawn.

Royal priesthood – no longer is the reserved privilege of the tribe of Levi. In Christ the unwanted have been given the keys to the kingdom, the telephone number of the King.

Holy nation – for the Jews this meant (Dt 28:9) that they were at the heart of God’s purposes for the whole world. And the story of redemption all turned around them. Peter isn’t saying they have been written out of the story; he’s saying that a whole ragged band of others – us – have been written in.

Recipients of Grace and heralds of Glory. Yesterday, you were just a slave, just a shop worker, just a child, just a woman, just a housewife. Now – you are a cabinet minister, an ambassador.

I have a lot of time for the Queen. In early 1952, Elizabeth and Philip set out for a tour of Australia and New Zealand by way of Kenya. On 6 February 1952, they had just returned to their Kenyan home, Sagana Lodge, after a night spent at Treetops Hotel, when word arrived of the death of the King and consequently Elizabeth’s immediate accession to the throne. Philip broke the news to the new Queen. She was proclaimed queen throughout her realms and the royal party hastily returned to the United Kingdom. She and the Duke of Edinburgh moved into Buckingham Palace.

Astonishing. but she was born to the role; she knew it would be hers one day. Her Father was King, her grandfather was a King. Her mother was the daughter of an earl. What Peter is saying is far more astonishing: you who once lived ‘the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers’ have now become part of the people of God.

And just gently, Peter begins to make clear the consequences. If you are on the inside, then like those who have been ‘in’ before, you are called to exemplify the kingdom. You are called to be heralds of glory. You are called to live this, to speak this. You are no longer a nobody. You have to live like the child of God you really are.


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