Living Stones

May 14, 2017

    Series: May 2017

    Category: Faith

    Passage: 1 Peter 2:1-10

    Speaker: Bethany Nelson

    Tags: living stone, strength of god, jesus our cornerstone, live as god's people

    No Audio Available.

    The other day I came across a cartoon featuring two rocks having a conversation.
    Rock 1 – Dude, being a rock is boring.
    Rock 2 – I know.  I wish something exciting would happen to us.
    (A bug starts crawling toward, and then on Rock 1.)
    Rock 1 – Oh no, what is that?
    Rock 2 – I don’t know!
    Rock 1 – What does it want from me?!
    Rock 2 – Don’t panic!  Whatever you do, don’t panic!  Just don’t move.
    (The bug flies away.)
    Rock 1 – Oh my, that was close.
    Rock 2 – Waaaaay too much excitement.  Be careful what you wish for, right?
    Rock 1 – Wait a minute.  Did you just tell me not to move?  Dude, I’m a rock!
    Rock 2 – It was the heat of the moment!

    Of course rocks can’t move!  That is one of the very things that makes them rocks.  They are solid, steady, stable.  For those reasons, I appreciate the Psalmist’s use of a rock as a metaphor to describe God in the passage we heard today.  “Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me,” the Psalmist writes.  “You are indeed my rock and my fortress.”  We see this image of God as rock many, many times in the Psalms specifically, and throughout the Bible. It is probably one of my favorite images of God – God as my rock, as the foundation of my life.  Steady and constant even when the rest of life starts swirling unpredictably around me.

    Then we get to the letter of Peter, where he describes Jesus as a “living stone.”  At first, that seems like a peculiar metaphor.  We have just established that stones don’t move!  How can they be living?  But, when that metaphor is applied to Jesus it really does make sense.  Lest we think of God our rock as cold, barren, or unmoving, Jesus reminds us of the love and the light and the grace of God.  We celebrated at Easter just a few weeks ago that Jesus is alive!  How can Jesus be anything but a living stone?

    After he lifts up Jesus as a living stone, Peter then calls upon us to also be living stones.  To let ourselves be built into a spiritual house.  He even gives us a few clues about what that might look like.  Our house will be a place where we have rid ourselves of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and slander.  It will be a place where we proclaim the mighty acts of God who called us out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.  It will be a place where people receive mercy, and know that they are God’s people. I hear those words from Peter, and two things come to mind.  First, that sounds like something I would definitely like to be a part of.  Second, that sounds very ambitious, if not impossible.  When I look at our world today, I see division.  I see hatred.  I see deep, intense disagreement.  I see malice, guile, insincerity, envy, and slander.  Yet Peter wants us to be like living stones, built into a spiritual house where together we proclaim God’s light?  Keep dreaming, Peter.

    Before I completely give up on this beautiful vision, however, I remind myself of a few things.  First, I remember that in this spiritual house we are building, Christ is the cornerstone.  Christ is the foundation upon which our house is built.  Yes, there is malice and insincerity and division in our world today, but with Christ as our cornerstone we dare to declare that our lives are not built on those things.  Our lives are built on the love and the grace and the hope of Jesus Christ … a love that is far stronger than any hate the world may try to send our way. 

    In those times when Peter’s seems impossible, I also remember that I do not have to bring about this vision by myself.  In fact, I can’t bring about this vision by myself.  Peter does not write to an individual.  He does not ask one person alone to be built into a spiritual house.  He writes to a community.  He urges them to be living stones together.
    When you came in this morning, you received a building block.  I’d like you to go ahead and build something really neat with your block.  Kind of hard to do, right?  There’s not much you can build with one block.  Turn to a neighbor and build something with your two blocks.  You can do something a little more interesting, right?  Now take your two blocks and combine them with two blocks from another pair.  And then combine those four blocks with four more.  Pretty soon, we are starting to get some great creations.  Creations that you could not have built on your own.  Creations that depended on others in your community.

    These bricks were rather uniform.  Sure, they were different colors and some were bigger than others, but they were all rectangular and they fit together in very obvious ways.  That’s not necessarily true with stones.  Stones come in all different shapes and sizes.  Some of you may know Stephanie Ryder, the pastor at Redwoods Presbyterian Church in Larkspur.  She has been on a trip to the Holy Land and has been posting some beautiful pictures on-line.  I have been especially drawn to the stones in these pictures.  Stones are a key part of the landscape in the Holy Land … perhaps one reason why they are such a prominent metaphor in Biblical writings.  I have really appreciated the diversity of the stones.  Unlike the blocks we used, stones can be big or small, round or jagged, tall or flat.  Yet, as you can see in these pictures, they come together to make amazing beauty.

    Too often our differences keep us apart.  But so much beauty can come when we rid ourselves of malice and guile and insincerity.  When we do not allow our differences to define our relationships.  When we, as living stones of all different shapes and sizes, let ourselves be built into a spiritual house together. 
    What does this look like out in the world?  I read with interest a Facebook post of a pastor friend of mine earlier this week, who seemed to be describing this very thing.  He wrote, “Do you know anyone whose political ideology differs sharply from yours? Are you willing to work with them (and even compromise with them) in order to build a good, just, and vibrant social order? Our form of government is designed to sustain a peaceable public and political life among people who are wildly different from one another. It requires that we cooperate with those who see the world differently than we do rather than seek to defeat or destroy them.” 

    Entering into dialogue with one another.  That is one way to start to build that spiritual house together.  Another idea would be truly embracing the fact that we are all God’s people.  That we are all a part of this dwelling that is being built.  So often it is way too easy to look right past others in our community.  Barbara Lundblad, a professor at Union Seminary in New York, shares a story about a worship service held at Union a few years ago that was planned and led by people experiencing homelessness.  She writes, “At the close of the service, each person in the congregation was invited to write the name of a person they knew who had experienced homelessness on a purple Post-it.  A large sheet had been stretched between two tall candle stands at the front of the chapel.  Scattered at random all over the sheet were anonymous names:  John Doe, Jane Doe, Baby Doe.  People were encouraged to place their purple squares over those anonymous names.  Once all the Post-its had been placed, we discovered that the anonymous names had not been printed at random on the sheet.  The purple Post-its spelled out the words:  WE ARE HERE.  We are here, and we have names.  We are here, even though you may not meet our eyes on the street.  We are God’s people.”
    These are both very important examples, but being living stones is about more than just politics or just homelessness or any one specific issue.  It is about what it means to live as a community where Christ is our cornerstone.  It is about what it means to give and receive mercy and to live as God’s people.  It is about proclaiming the mighty acts of God.  It is about being called out of darkness and into God’s marvelous light. 

    Sound difficult? It is. But it is not impossible because we will do it together – each of us a living stone, filled with the steady, solid, constant strength of God, and the living, loving, light of Jesus Christ.  May it be so.