Our lectionary passage this morning is 1 Peter 2:2-10 and my full manuscript is after the cut.
The weather is getting warmer. We seem to have jumped straight from winter to summer this year. I was painfully aware of that this morning as I put my robe on. It’s getting close to the season where all the pastors put their robes away in a closet until mid-September. All of spring’s baby chicks are starting to look like real chickens. The blossoms and buds on the trees have given way to green. My darling children can finally go out into the yard after school to blow off some steam rather than driving me crazy in the house between snack time and dinner.
Easter feels like a fading memory in the rearview mirror and the church calendar is closing in on the time we call “ordinary time.” It’s called ordinary time because there’s not really much of anything special happening in the church calendar. It’s a bit of a break.
Ordinary time coincides with summer breaks and vacations, lazy warm afternoons and community picnics. It’s really a much needed rest or Sabbath from the manic pace of the rest of the year. The scripture passages in the lectionary for this last part of the Easter season and the beginning of ordinary time have a gentle feel to them. Today’s passage from 1 Peter offers some much needed reassurance of how Jesus supports us as a church. But it also comes with a challenge. We’re not off the hook just because Eastertide is winding down. This challenge is offered with a slightly strange speech about rocks.
My best friend Katie is a geologist, or as I describe it to my kids – she’s a rock scientist. It’s been a long time since I was in 9th grade earth science, so when I decided to preach from a passage about rocks and stones today, I asked Katie some questions about rocks. First of all, she corrected me on the way I’ve been describing it to the kids. “Geology is really the study of the Earth. Petrology is the study of rocks.” So. . . she’s a planet scientist. Sorry kids. Technically air and water and dirt and things are all included in geology because they are part of the Earth.
But she still really likes rocks and knows a lot about them because rocks are certainly part of the earth. And she told me: “I think the most important thing about rocks is what you can learn about the world we live in from them. Rocks are the foundation of the planet we live on. I like studying geology because rocks are something you can hold in your hand, climb on, or crawl through. And geology is something you can see in action when a new sinkhole forms or a cave passage opens up. There are also lots of pretty rocks.” (Hold up pretty rock.)
I love how she can look at something as ordinary as a rock and see something so amazing in it. Usually when I see a rock, I’m complaining about how much harder it’s making it to dig the hole for whatever I’m in the middle of planting. But when you look at rocks through the eyes of a geologist, you realize how interesting they are. I wonder if the author of 1 Peter was a geologist. . . excuse me. . . a PETrologist. He really seems to see something special about stones.
When I first think about rocks in the Bible, I’m taken back to the old song I learned in Sunday school as a child. You might know it too. “The wise man built his house upon the rocks. . .” In the song, the wise man builds his house . . .on a rock (the rock represents God) and the foolish man builds on the sand. “The rain came down and the floods came up. . “ The wise man’s house stands and the foolish man’s house comes tumbling down.
There are many other rocks in the Bible though. It’s really pretty interesting to think about how many rocks and stones we hear about in the pages of scripture:
Jacob’s pillow while he was traveling.
The stones the former slaves carried from the Jordan river on their way to the promised land.
The stones and rocks used to build altars and ebeneezers.
John the Baptist says that God can raise up stones.
The rock from which God sent water for Moses and the Israelites.
Stones seem to play a big role in the stories. God is even referred to as “our rock.” I used that term in my prayer just before the sermon.
What is it about rocks?
Have you ever hit one of these with your lawnmower? (Hold up big ugly yard rock.) It’s not fun. . . for you or the lawn mower. But the rock usually fares pretty well. It might crack or chip, but it’ll usually stay relatively intact. . . unlike your mower blade and anything that was in the way of the airborne rock as it flew out of the mower.
Rocks are strong. And just about every one knows what rocks are and just about everyone knows that they are strong. Rocks haven’t changed much since Peter was writing. What a great illustration. Timeless. Powerful. Clear.
In this passage from 1 Peter, we’re called living stones. We’re being compared to these strong, diverse, beautiful, tangible, important pieces of the earth.
The Church (big “C” church, as in all churches collectively) is having an identity crisis these days. There are disagreements over all sorts of things. . . even things as basic as what music to sing are splitting churches up. Our culture at large seems to have a very strange idea of what church is really about and what these “Christians” are up to. People sometimes ask, “You’re not one of those Christians, are you?” There is often some sort of barrier between the world inside the walls of the church and the world outside the walls.
But YOU ARE the walls, says 1 Peter 2. You, the congregation, the people of God are the actual walls of the church. These sanctuary walls are lovely. They do a great job of keeping out things like bugs and rain and noises from the street. But they aren’t the actual walls of the church. The Church’s real walls are built from living stones – not ordinary brick and mortar.
The walls are built out of people.
You and me.
And the church down the street.
And the church on the other side of the city.
And the church in Korea and Kenya and Mexico.
We are the walls. And we have a choice. We can wall the church off at the same place as the physical walls, requiring people to come in to see what this church community is all about. OR. . . we can extend those walls into every other part of our lives and encompass the whole community within the walls made from faithful, living stones.
Maybe that feels like a tall order to you. I know it’s a bit intimidating to me. But this passage offers the reassurance that we aren’t flimsy walls. It’s not like we’re the house the little pig built out of sticks or hay. Look out, lawnmowers! This room is full of sturdy stones! Diverse, beautiful rocks that all have a different and interesting place in the building of the walls. And not only are we all great church-building material. . . more importantly, we have a solid and sure cornerstone. Jesus brings together all these different stones and binds them together!
Our Psalm talks about how the Lord is the shelter and the protection that we all need. He keeps us from toppling over. He’s both under us, supporting us and holding us up and OVER us sheltering us from the elements.
“You are a chosen race,” Peter says, “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.” How do we take the walls of the church beyond the physical walls of the church? We tell our story. There is power in the stories of those who have been claimed by God and saved by Jesus Christ, redeemed out of the shadows and into a life full of life!
“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.” In a world where many people feel disconnected, lonely, judged, guilty, lost, those are powerful words and we are honored with the task of taking them out to others.
There is a well-known quote often associated with Francis of Assisi. “Preach the gospel at all times. And when necessary. . . use words.” It isn’t actually something Francis of Assisi was likely to have said because he was such a talker he once preached a sermon to a tree full of birds. But it’s an interesting quote anyway. Words are important, but the point of this little one-liner is that we say just as much or more through our actions and way of life.
Living stones. Entire lives that communicate the gratefulness, the freedom that come with new life built on Christ the cornerstone. Even in times of transition. . . for instance when between pastors. . . when the future seems uncertain, Christ calls us as living stones to be built into the spiritual house because our first calling together as a community is to tell the story and to draw others in.
Take heart, friends. This world is full of the unexpected. But one thing we can always take comfort in knowing is that we the Church are built on the surest cornerstone – Jesus Christ. And walls built on Christ don’t crumble. They may change in appearance as our perspective changes, as physical buildings and communities come and go, change and move – living walls implies growth and change - but the real walls of the Church built on Jesus out of the living stones of those who are willing to make him their foundation – those walls are structurally sound. . . now and forever.
“On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. . . all other ground is sinking sand.”