Focus Statement: 1 Peter 2:10
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.
Call to worship
In these times when touch is potentially dangerous and many of us fear closeness
We call on Jesus the source of love
In these times when many of us are experiencing limited movement
We call on Jesus to expand our horizons
In these times when we cannot share the simple things in life like a common meal
We call on Jesus to redefine our communion
God is our strength and our song, and God is our salvation!
Breath prayers, a form of contemplative prayer linked to the rhythm of breathing, have been practiced in the church for centuries. They remind us that God is closer to us than even our own breath. Whenever the instruction indicates, inhale or exhale deeply before saying the words out loud or meditating on them in silence, whatever your preference is. This breath prayer, provided by Mennonite Central Committee Canada, uses text from Psalm 46.
Inhale God is our refuge and strength, Exhale a very present help in trouble.
Inhale. We will not fear, Exhale though the earth should change.
Inhale. The Lord Almighty, Exhale is with us.
Inhale. The Lord says, “Be still and know,” Exhale “that I am God.”
Song Here in this Place HWB 6
Affirmation of Faith (from STS 181)
We believe in a bright and amazing God
who has been to the depths of despair
on our behalf;
who has risen in splendor and majesty;
who decorates the universe
with sparkling water, clear white light
twinkling stars and sharp colors,
over and over and over again.
We commit ourselves
to one another as brothers and sisters,
and to the Maker’s business in the world.
Song Psalm 121
Scripture: Acts 7:54 – 8:3;
1 Peter 2:2-10
This is God’s word to the people.
Thanks be to God.
Message “But now...”
Stones. We find them on our driveways, in our back lanes, in the playground. Stones fly up from the road, seemingly out of nowhere, and chip the windshields of our cars. Every year I pick stones out of my garden as I plant. Don’t ask me where they come from. Stones get caught in our lawnmower, when I cut the grass. And then, while I’m picking stones out of my garden and yard, the neighbour is hauling in a truckload of stones to landscape and create a rock garden. Stones seem to be everywhere, whether you want them or not.
They even show up in our lectionary texts today. In Acts 7, a particularly rocky and horrific text, people are so enraged by the preaching and teaching of Stephen, an early Christian leader, that they drag him out of the city, pick up rocks and stone him to death. Stones become a tool of rage, an instrument of killing. It’s ugly and gruesome, almost too ghastly to think about. Quick, flip the page to the next lectionary text – 1 Peter 2 – and there are more stones. But this time they are living stones, stones precious and chosen in God’s sight. Living stones, built into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood.
If you happened to gather some stones for worship this morning, I invite you to hold a few and visualize, feel this dramatic shift in imagery. Stones as instruments of death. Stones as living, precious building materials. A sharp contrast. These two texts, these two images of stones, don’t really belong together; they are from different New Testament books, different writers, different stories. But our lectionary puts these texts together, sets these stones side-by-side, in juxtaposition. Stones of death. Stones of life.
And if there are rocky contrasts between the two texts, there are also sharp demarcations right within the text of 1 Peter. The writer of 1 Peter talks about Jesus as the cornerstone that is chosen, but also the stone the builders rejected. The stone is precious, but also a stumbling block. The stone is a solid foundation, but also one that makes people fall.
What are we to do with these hard, sharp contrasts? Stones of death, rejection, stumbling, falling. Stones of life, precious, chosen, foundational. On what does this contrast turn? What changes rock from cold hard stones of death to living stones?
It’s an astounding transformation. 1 Peter describes it this way:
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.
But now. Everything seems to hinge on those words. But now. They signal a powerful transformation from being without mercy to receiving mercy, from being no people to being God’s people. From stones as instruments of stumbling and death, to stones of building and life. What is behind those pivotal words, but now?
I was fascinated by this question, so I pondered the transformative power of these words all week. I muttered but now!to the robins on the front yard in the morning. I bounced but now! across the pages of the Bible commentaries and off my office walls. I announced but now! to the oak and maple in the park. I sat down to supper and declared but now! to my family. (They raised their eyebrows and prescribed ice cream and rest.)
I don’t think I learned much all week. I do not understand how this king of transformation happens in our lives, how our hard hearts of stone become living, precious stones, holy and chosen. I can only say a few things:
First, this transformation is so undefinable because it is entirely an act of God’s mercy. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. This is not our doing. We cannot define it. We cannot determine how this encounter with God happens. Sometimes this transformation comes in sudden, wild, disruptive moments. In the Acts passage, the story where Stephen is stoned, a shadowing figure is lurking at the edges of the crowd. A young man, at whose feet the witnesses of the stoning lay their coats. His name is Saul, and he approves of the killing and then, as the text goes on to tell us, he continues ravaging the church by entering house after house, dragging off Christians and putting them to prison. And this Saul, the great persecutor of the early church, is hovering on the edge of his own but now moment. That moment of great, disruptive mercy on the road to Damascus. The moment when a light from heaven flashes, Jesus speaks to him, and he is struck blind.
Mercy is sometimes like that. In great unquenchable longing for us, God sometimes crashes into our lives and claims us -- claims us in a bold, unruly moment that throws our lives into chaos. There are stories like this ... perhaps you have one. Other times, the changing of cold, hard stone into something living and precious comes in subtle, stealthy ways. Even as the writer of 1 Peter declares but now! to the early Christian churches, he knows he is writing to a people beset by hardship. They are dispersed across Asia Minor in challenging times, struggling to live faithfully in complex social realities, in a culture aligned to principles very different from those of Christ. He knows that every morning these Christians must wake up and make choices to receive and live out mercy. He tells them, So prepare your minds for action... Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech (New Living Translation). Make many choices, every day, to practice, to live mercy. And, thereby, to be transformed, little by mysterious little, from stones of death to living stones.
I do believe that there are many but now! moments in our lives. That our merciful God brushes up against us, bumps shoulders with us, crashes into us, many times every day. While as humans we must practice social distancing in this time, God still gets in our space, up close and personal. The Bible attests to this again and again; God is a God of intimate encounter who transforms our lives.
What it would mean to wake up every morning and remember this great turning point, this but now! of our lives – that we have received mercy? How might that soften our self-criticism and self-shame and help us know our belovedness? How might we turn with hope and courage from rutted, destructive habits towards living, creative ones? How might that remind us to watch, to pay attention, to the inbreaking of God in our lives?
The other great “but now” of 1 Peter is this: Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. There is something inherently communal in this transformative mercy. We hear this communal tone earlier in the chapter as well. In verse 4 we are told to Come to him, a living stone... and then also, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood. This transformation into living stones happens in community, as we learn by worshiping and serving, working and playing together what it means to show mercy and love toward one another.
Kathleen Norris writes, “My most substantial changes, in terms of religious conversion, come through other people. Even when I become convinced that God is absent from my life, others have a way of suddenly revealing God’s presence.... God [both] seeks us out and gives us to each other.”
Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people. If we let that truth seep into our relationships, how might our irritations with family, our conflicts with neighbours, our resentments toward fellow students or colleagues or church members turn into understanding and dialogue? How might this remind us to reach out to those we had not thought worthy of our attention, because we know now that we are all equally dependent on and recipients of mercy? How might this continue to transform our church community, to deepen our mutual love, to broaden our care for each other? How might that disruptive, transformative “but now” prompt us to imagine the transformation of societal structures into the merciful care for all?
I think I might continue to mutter but now! to the birds on my lawn every morning, and to declare it to the oak and maple trees. I think I might continue to announce but now! to my family members, and to you, my church community. I hope you might join me, so that together we can remember, remind each other, hold one another accountable in living towards transformation. So that many times each day, we can pause to know this remarkable receiving of mercy, this powerful “but now” that mysteriously turns us, both suddenly and slowly, from cold, hard rock to living stones. Amen.
God, bless our tithes and offerings,
that they may heal and make whole
the lives of all your children.
Bless those who give and those who long to give,
that we may become living stones
of mercy, grace and justice
in the house of your creation. Amen.
A Prayer for Mother’s Day
During our prayer time today, we remember our mothers and the many ways they have touched our lives. This prayer is adapted from leadinginworship by Carol Penner. We will continue with prayers for each other and for those around us during our Zoom gathering at 11:00 am.
Loving God, we give thanks today for mothers!
Thank you for mothers who gave birth to us,
and for all who have mothered as their own children.
You teach us all
to cherish and protect the children among us.
to mother lovingly, wisely, joyfully,
to raise children to be the people you call them to be.
We also need your comfort here today, God,
because some are missing mothers, some are missing children,
some are parted by distance or death.
Comfort those who longed to be biological mothers, and could not.
We pray for those here whose mothers have disappointed them;
we ask for grace in relationships where there is pain and bitterness,
for healing in relationships where there is abuse and violence.
Help our congregation be a space
where people can feel mothered, nurtured and loved.
God of mothers, who created mothers, who came as a child and had a mother,
God our Mother, loving us with a sweeter and deeper love
than we have ever known,
hear our prayer this day, Amen.
Song God of the Bible Purple 27
May God be our rock and our refuge;
May Jesus be with us always;
And may the Holy Spirit open the heavens wide before us,
That we might see God in all the things of earth.
Be at peace.
In the name of Christ, Amen.
Worship leader: Lydia Warkentin
Speaker: Judith Friesen Epp