Saturday, May 17, 2014

Church Rocks!

1 Peter 2: 2-10
May 18, 2014
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Today’s scripture is from first Peter, one of the letters known as “general epistles.” That means it was written to churches in general, not to a specific church. In this case, the epistle, or letter, was written to churches across a vast expanse of time and geography, because the wisdom contained in it still speaks to the church today – here in Sterling, in the 21st century. The book of First Peter emphasizes the difference that Christ makes in our lives – contrasting what we once were to what we are now. This text serves as a reminder to us, the baptized, of what it means to live as Christ’s own people, both in our personal lives, and as the gathered community – the church. Listen for God’s word to us today in 1 Peter 2: 2-10

2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like 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. 6For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” 8and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9But 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. 10Once you were not a  people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

There’s a story that is often told in management textbooks about a man who was walking in the countryside one day. He happened upon a building site where three people were all working vigorously. Two were stonecutters; the third was an old woman, sweeping.
The traveler stopped and asked what they were doing.
The first stonecutter answered, “I am making a living.”
The traveler proffered his question to the second stonecutter.
He didn’t look up, but kept on hammering while he said “I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire county.”
Then our traveler turned to the old woman with her broom.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
The old woman paused, set down her broom, and looked toward the heavens.
With a visionary gleam in her eye she said,
“I am building a cathedral to the glory of almighty God.”

It’s a parable that rings true for us today, one that this extended metaphor of stones brought to mind. Of course, our text imagines us as stones, not as stonecutters.
What could it mean to be a living stone?

We know that the term “living water” referred to water that was moving, to water in brooks and rivers, rather than still water, in lakes or ponds. Living water has a current.
Living stones, apart from the odd plant form of the same name, don’t exist. One way to think about this image is to remember that by the time of this epistle, the temple t Jerusalem had been destroyed. So there was no great stone edifice in which God’s people gathered to worship. They themselves had become the structure for worship; they themselves were the temple. That is still true today.

We say it easily – the church is not a building, the church is people. It’s easy for us to say, more challenging for us to live. Especially around here, the church building often demands more attention than the church members! So maybe let’s look at those workers for a moment, as we think of ourselves as stones.

Three people, working alongside one another for the same purpose.
Three people, all with three different descriptions of their work.
The differences, of course, are apparent. The first stonecutter is doing a day’s work for a day’s pay. The purpose of his work does not matter to him. He is cutting stone. End of story. The second stonecutter is striving to be the best. He is working for his own purposes. He believes … in quality and results. He measures himself against others.

The focus of the stonecutters on their task blinds them to the larger purpose, to the interconnectedness of human kind, of societies and of economies. They both fail to see that if there were no community building a cathedral, there would be no stones to cut.[1]

The old woman, humbly sweeping, sees far beyond the simple task at hand. Her work is part of a larger undertaking. She builds a physical and a spiritual dwelling. Her work reaches to the heavens, transcending the earthbound. Her work transcends time as well, for cathedrals are built not in months or even years, but over centuries.  When it comes to cathedrals, and to churches, a lifetime of our hard work may make only a small contribution to a structure that unites past and future, connects humans across generations, and joins our efforts to purposes far beyond ourselves.

That is what makes us living stones – that purpose far beyond our selves, the purposes of God to build this temple of living, breathing stones. It is Christ who makes us the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, the gathered people of the church. 

Today as we gather at the font to baptize Derek Brall, and as we express our appreciation of the volunteers who are building THIS church, we recognize that what we are doing is for a purpose greater than this congregation, this time and this place. We acknowledge that it is God’s doing, in fact – God in Christ has called us and gathered us to be the church, gifted us to offer the work of our hands and the devotion of our hearts.

God in Christ calls us to the font, and God receives our efforts and transforms us from what we once were into what we are becoming. We acknowledge that the end results of our efforts may never be seen by us; even as we baptize Derek, knowing that we may never see him fulfill God’s claim on his life, for it may take place long after many of us have joined the church triumphant.

This seemingly simple act, with a humble pitcher of water, has implications far beyond this moment and this congregation. In the same way, our offerings to the church, whether in work or wealth, are gifts to the future, to God’s purposes, to a vision beyond our selves.  

So we are, indeed, living stones, a spiritual house for the Spirit of God to dwell. In our baptism and in our lives together, God is shaping us into a cathedral – a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.

We have a purpose that reaches far beyond this time and place, so that every job, no matter how small or menial proclaims the goodness of God; every worker, young or old, is a living stone; every prayer is the mortar that holds the church together, so that we may proclaim the mighty acts of God!

Once we were not a people, but now we are God’s people.
Our lives rest upon the firm foundation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
We are church rocks!
And because of each one of you, our church rocks!
Thanks be to God that we are living stones!

[1]  Adapted from a speech by Harvard president Drew Faust on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of Harvard Business School, quoted in Three Stonecutters, The Future of Business Education, Harvard Magazine October 15, 2008. accessed May 16, 2014.

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