N. T. Wright concludes his essay on this Sunday’s pericope by saying, ”If we find it hard to keep up with the bewildering range of scriptural references which Peter is pouring into the letter at this point, that what it was like for ex-pagan converts in rural Turkey in the first century.” It is not exactly helpful for a preacher who expected to give her people a “takeaway.” It is helpful, however, for an entry into this passage because preachers can warn their congregations that they are going to have to keep up.
In this section of 1 Peter, he uses many allusions and quotations to Jewish scriptures. If you are not a practical Marcionite in your preaching, then this will be an easier text for your congregation. If you do not frequently send your congregation back to those formative texts, you will need to do so this week.
1 Peter is written to a dispersed people who are functionally in exile and this passage is used to ground their identity in Christ. He calls the Christians to come to the living stone. The living stone bears three meanings for one who knows the OT well. For the 1st century Jew, their great hope had been that God would return to Jerusalem to live in the temple forever. There was a long tradition in Judaism of the temple being built on the “rock or stone” So a Jewish audience hears this and thinks, “hey, that’s a reference to the temple.”
Furthermore, the old testament frequently refers to God as a rock. If, in your worship, you read today’s psalm this concept will not be difficult for people to grasp. God is called a rock twice in it. Then again in Psalm 19:14 “O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” By calling Jesus a living stone, he is also speaking of Jesus’ divinity.
In addition to this Peter is also using a Pun. In Hebrew the word for Stone is eben and the word for Son is ben. If we were listening to this in Hebrew we may get a bit confused, “did he say ben or eben?” Did he say stone or son? Yes. Jesus, the living stone is both the stone and the son. He is living and he is the cornerstone, the foundation of the New temple, which Peter calls us to allow ourselves to be built into. We are to be built into a spiritual house, a holy Priesthood. This is clearly a reference to the temple, which, speaking intertextually, is also Jesus’ body.
Peter continues using the metaphor of the stone by quoting Isaiah 28:16 proving that Jesus is the cornerstone of the temple. But he is quick to note that not all view this cornerstone with affection. He uses Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:14 to explain why some not only reject Jesus, but stumble over him. This may also have assisted the dispersed Christians in understanding why they were facing persecution. Jesus was rejected and people stumbled over him, so the early Christians should not be surprised at their own rejection.
After this caveat, Peter moves to the passage that every Sunday School educated kid will recognize. He tells the church, “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.” The familiarity of this verse may be its undoing.
This is not just Peter’s idea, Peter is telling these exiled people that they do have an identity and they do have a nation. He is giving them nearly the exact same words that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19:6. God told Moses “Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” These were the words that God gave to Israel while it was forming itself into a nation with a telos.
Peter is giving to the dispersed Christians a telos and an identity. They are the church, Christ’s body. They are priests of the sacrificial, resurrected lamb. Their duty is to mediate God’s presence in the world. After all, “Christ creates and indwells this corporate body as his own temple, priesthood, and sacrifice in order that the nations may see in the church the very power, goodness, and glory of God.” And this is not simply something that people do as individuals. While the doctrine of priesthood of all (individuals) is typically justified with this passage, “Peter does not issue a general call to become a Christian and then, as a subsequent and perhaps optional move, for individual Christians to join together into a voluntary association that might serve and promote our projects of being individual Christians.” Peter’s call is to a collection of believers, it is to the church to be the royal priesthood.
Furthermore, Peter’s claim is that the church is a separate nation. This is an area that could really trip people up. Christianity is often guilty of syncretism. People have their national identity and their spiritual identities, and many find no conflict between the two. In Peter’s words, “There is no separation of religion and rule, no division into spheres of the spiritual and the political. As a genos and an ethnos, the church, like Israel, takes its place among the nations as a people among peoples, but with its own distinct political raison d’etre, authority, calling, and practice.”
The church truly is a peculiar people. We follow our risen Lord and he builds us into his living temple. This is akin to saying that He is the vine and we are the branches. Our lives are woven into Christ’s and we serve him as our king.
This is why Christians take on new identities when they come to Christ. The old has gone, the new has come. This new appears in the new nationalistic stories, symbols, liturgies, leaders, beliefs, and practices. These nationalistic tendencies are all centered on the government which rules from a tree. For the church “is ruled and authorized by the ascended Christ alone and supremely; it therefore has its own authority; and it is not answerable to any other authority that may attempt to subsume it.” Essentially the church truly is what Peter calls it, a holy nation. And it is tasked with proclaiming God’s mighty deeds.
We can call the church a nation because the Church’s nationality is contingent on God’s call, just as Israel’s identity was based on God’s call. Peter corroborates this idea by quoting Hosea 2:23. God has called the church into existence, so those who are dispersed and facing persecution can know that God has called them and claimed them as their own.
This passage may be incredibly difficult for people to hear, it will be familiar in its language, but the concepts are truly foreign. Most Christians do not view themselves as immigrants in this land. They think they are better than a “wandering Aramean.” By preaching this passage a preacher is proclaiming an ontological message telling people who exactly they are. This pushes against Lutheran ecclesiology which denies the incarnational nature of the church for a more spiritual reality. As protestants we may be tempted to present this as something purely spiritual, to do so would dishonor the text. Peter believes that God has created a new people, a new nation, a royal priesthood. Our collective testimony bears witness to this in a doxological manner, for we properly reign “in the world when [the Church] worship[s the slaughtered Lamb in praise and in works.”  Wright, N T. The Pastoral Epistles for Everyone. Westminster John Knox Press. Louisville. 2011. 63  Ibid, 61.  John 2:19  Harink, Douglas 1&2 Peter. 1st ed. Brazos Press. Grand Rapids. 2009. 69.  Ibid, 70.  Ibid, 71.  This was a favorite phrase of Leslie Newbigin and can be found in many of his works  O’Donovan, Oliver. The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. 1996, 159.  Harink, 72.