May 25, 2014 1 Peter 2:2-10
The author or 1 Peter is writing to one of the new Christian communities in Asia Minor, which today is Turkey. They are predominately Gentile Christians, and they’re struggling to establish their sense of identity in the largely pagan culture from which they came, and into which they are still living. As Peter tells them here, they are infants in the faith, in need of a careful diet of spiritual milk.
Newly baptized Christians, in this early tradition, were served not only the bread and wine of the Eucharist, but a cup of milk mixed with honey, symbolizing the newborn status of the believer.
1 Peter 2:2-10
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. For 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.’
To 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’,
‘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.
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.
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.
Do you notice a metaphor repeated over and over again in this passage? - six times to be exact. What is it? - “stone.” Webster’s Dictionary defines a stone as a rock which is used for a purpose. Stones and rocks appear throughout Scripture. In another lectionary reading for today from Acts, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is stoned to death.
But stones and rocks are used in ways more constructive than throwing:
God is often referred to as a rock.
The ten commandments were written on ____ (stone tablets).
What did Moses strike and water flowed out from it in the desert? (a rock)
What was rolled away from the tomb on Easter morning? (a rock)
The patriarchs of the Old Testament set up stones wherever something important happened - as altars, or in some cases what we call cairns. I’ve built one today on the altar. Simply put, a cairn is a man made pile of stones. They are found all over the world. They vary in size from small stone markers to entire artificial hills.
They mark the place where someone is buried, or a battle took place, or to show a direction on a trail; or, as the early patriarchs did, to designate a place where something important or memorable happened - a sacred place.
Nancy Jones told me about a field of cairns next to a highway in Maine where a man buried and built a memorial to his beloved dog who had died. He started with a small stone pile used as a marker and added to it over time, creating a field of cairns - that is, until a local man thought it was dangerous because cars were stopping to look, and destroyed it all. The man who built it was devastated, and his neighbors were so upset they went out and rebuilt it.
In an article by S. Brent Plate in a recent issue of the Christian Century, he says “Stone is used globally as a medium for remembering what has come before.” Have any of you collected stones from places that were meaningful to you to serve as a souvenir? I have several stones on my home altar.
He says that “Humans feel connections with stones; they fondle them, touch them, kiss them, and tell stories by them.”
One of my most vivid memories of visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is the large stone slab just inside its entrance. It’s called the “Stone of the Anointing” and it marks the place for pilgrims where Joseph of Arimathea prepared Jesus’ body for burial.
Each time I visited, there were people kneeling, kissing the stone, touching it, rubbing oils into it, praying over it. Even though the current stone dates from 1810, there is a spiritual energy that draws people to it, reminding them of Jesus’ death, entombment, and resurrection. It’s a sacred space, memorialized by a stone.
In our scripture today Peter calls Jesus a “living stone.” It’s a metaphor taken from Isaiah that Jesus uses to describe himself in the gospel of Matthew. Then the writer invites those early Christians to become living stones to be built into a spiritual house.
It’s a rather strange metaphor when you think about it. “Living Stone?” Stones aren’t alive. They’re inanimate objects. What attributes do you associate with a stone? (hard, solid, cold, unbending, inflexible). Transfer those to a human being and it’s hardly complimentary.
Peter was writing to people who had once worshipped idols made of inanimate stone - dead, lifeless structures which had no power to help them. Here he is offering them the opposite - a living stone - in Christ, who has given them new life - who rolled the stone away and sent the Spirit to animate them.
It’s through our relationship to Christ that we become “living stones,” those building blocks who come together to form the church. Think about it: What makes a house a home? - those who live in it, in loving relationship with each other. What makes a church more than a collection of stones carefully crafted into a building? - the people - the living stones who come together inside (and outside) these walls to love God and care for each other.
Christ is the cornerstone. Today cornerstones are mostly decorative, designating the date the building was founded, or built. If you go out our front doors and look at the corner of the building on your left, you will see our cornerstone inscribed with “1957”, the year it was built.
In Jesus’ time, buildings were made out of stones, and the most important piece was the cornerstone upon which the rest of the house was built. It had to be set just right for the building to survive over time. With Jesus as our cornerstone, look at how long the church has survived. It’s pretty amazing. Next week we will be celebrating Pentecost, the birthday of the church. But it would not have survived without all of the living stones who kept it alive.
I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this passage in The Message. Listen to part of it and imagine the writer is addressing you.
“Welcome to the living Stone, the source of life. The workmen took one look and threw it out; God set it in the place of honor. Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God….
…you are the holy ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people. God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you - from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.”
Someone once described God as a great rock collector who finds us, and I would add, leads us through these doors, searching for a home - not just a house, but a home. Kate Huey, in her commentary on this text observes, “Our beliefs, stories, sufferings and joys are sunk deep into the foundations of our church’s shared experience.” These hallowed walls hold all of it.
As living stones we have a purpose. What is the still speaking God calling us to do? How can we be more welcoming to those walking through our doors? How is each one of us called to be a “living stone?” What gifts and talents do we have to build up this church?
Our Stewardship drive began the week before Lent. (That seems like a long time ago!) It hasn’t ended, but we hope that by the time of our annual meeting next Sunday that we will have received enough monetary pledges to meet our budget. We need your help to make that happen. If you don’t have a pledge card and would like one, contact the office or Elizabeth Baker.
We also hope that each one of our members and friends will have thoughtfully and prayerfully considered ways that you can serve the church by signing up to participate on one of our ministry teams. They are listed on a bulletin board in the hallway outside this sanctuary. There are plenty of spaces left. We all have gifts and talents to share.
During the next couple of minutes, as Charles plays, I invite you to come up to the altar and take one of the stones. There are sharpies to write with. Write on a stone a word or phrase that describes a gift or talent that you possess as a living stone. Leave the sharpie there, but take the stone with you.
After worship we will build a cairn with them outside the front doors of the chapel on the left. We will plant flowers around it, and over time you are invited to add rocks or stones to our cairn. Write on them, paint them. Let’s build a cairn of our living stones, a monument to who we are as the Eliot Church of Newton.