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writing things down…

1 Peter and PMC

Today was our last Sunday at Pasadena Mennonite Church. It also happened to be the 21st birthday of the church. The church met at a nearby park, had an acoustic worship time, and then had a potluck. It was a wonderful way to be with our Pasadena community one last time. In lieu of a sermon, the worship planners asked three people to answer the following question and relate the answer to 1 Peter 2:1-5. I happened to be one of the three people asked to offer reflections. After the service a couple of people asked if I had printed copies of my sermonette. Indeed I do. It is below.

The question:

How have you seen God building PMC over the years you have attended?

1 Peter 2:1-5 (NRSV):

Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 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.

My reflections:

As a teacher of NT exegesis, my first impulse when asked to reflect on the 1 Peter text, was to do a mini-exegetical exercise. Fortunately for you most of my books are packed away already.

I’m left then with the text alone. It’s not a bad place to begin. However, I was also asked to reflect on the growth of this community on the occasion of its 21st birthday. Thus, without my exegetical tools, I’m left to make observations on the text and this community. How appropriate! For how can one truly explore one without the other? There is a necessary mutual influence. But, I have to start somewhere. So I am going to go with my initial impulse and start with textual observations, weaving in related observations about the community.

So bear with me as I sound like an exegesis professor for just a minute:
I should first note that most English translations fail to show that v. 1 is actually a subordinate clause, it is not a sentence of its own. It might better read, “Ridding (Taking off of) yourselves, therefore, all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander, [COMMA] like newborn infants, long for…” Of course that would make for a long complicated sentence. But what we ought to see is that ridding ourselves is not the main point, it is the preparation for the main point–“long for!”

Second, I want to raise questions about “pure, spiritual milk”. It is not a satisfying translation in my opinion. “Spiritual” here in v. 2 is not the same “spiritual” we find in v. 5. They are different words in the original language. Here it is a word more along the lines of rational, genuine or true. It is a “true, pure, sincere, genuine milk” that stands in opposition to the malice, insincerity and slander the readers are told to shed.

These two observations about the text lead me to an observation about this community. If PMC is anything it is sincere and without pretense. This community characteristic helps create a setting where individuals are comfortable shedding their own pretenses. Here people are invited to take off their malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander. They are invited to be a part of a people longing for more of that good tasting sustenance that is of the Lord. “If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” reads v. 3, and it expects the answer that I see repeated at PMC over and over again — YES! Yes, we have tasted the goodness of the Lord and we long for more. So come alongside us, no need to carry around that malice and guile. Go ahead, set aside the insincerity and envy. And that slander…you don’t need that either. Let it all go and just be yourself. Grow with us. Grow with us into salvation. Here try this pure, sincere, genuine, milk. It is from the Lord and it tastes so good.

In the nearly two years Gail and I have been at PMC, we’ve felt a freedom from pretenses. The malice, guile and slander, seem to slide right off when we are among you. There is a freedom to long with you, to grow with you, to taste the Lord’s goodness in the purity of your sincerity.

The passage shifts in v. 4 from good tasting milk to living stones. It continues the longing and growing themes by inviting the readers to come to the living stone, who, no doubt because of his sincerity and genuineness, his lack of malice and guile, his goodness, was at one and the same time rejected by a people who would rather have lived with a veneer of insincerity and honored by God who is incapable of insincerity. Notice this though, the readers, WE are urged to come to the living stone AS LIVING STONES. There is a clear and explicit connection between the readers, US, and Christ. We too as living stones are chosen and precious to God and…this is important…we are built into a spiritual house. That’s a passive verb! We are not doing the building. It is not our job to build. We are told to take off the insincere and malicious baggage we carry around. We are told to long for genuine nourishment. We are told to come to the living stone as living stones. We are not the builders. We are the building supplies.

PMC for the last 21 years, or at least the last 2 (that’s all I have to go on), has been moving toward the living stone. It does its best to move in that direction as a community of living stones. I can therefore expand on my earlier claim. If PMC is anything it is sincere, without pretense, and striving to move toward Christ in Christlike ways. Despite the reputation as somewhat of a maverick community in the Mennonite world, in this way PMC is very Mennonite, striving toward and emulating Christ. And, God has been very Godlike in recognizing us as precious living stones, accepting the spiritual sacrifices of our rocky lives, and placing us bricks together into a spiritual house with Christ as the mortar.

We are an ever expanding spiritual house where pretenses are discarded, where sincerity and the Lord’s goodness nourishes us. And, since we are 21 now, I guess I can say it this way: We are a place where Rolling Rocks are making their way together toward the Maker’s Mark, empowered by the spirit of Christ.

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