May 14, 2017

“Living Stones”

1 Peter 2:2-10

[This sermon is adapted from: “A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series” WJK Press]



While getting ready for today, this Sunday after music appreciation Sunday, I thought immediately of a hymn. “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.” I don’t know why it came to me, except that it did as I was reading this text from 1 Peter.


Is that hymn playing in your ear yet? Do you remember the words?


Immortal, invisible, God only wise,

in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,

most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,

almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.


I suspect that my memory served up this hymn because it portrays God as something like a rock. Immovable. Unchanging. Static. There are times, of course, when having such an image of God is helpful. In the quickly shifting tides of this life many seek out a god who is static, unmoving and unmovable. Like a stone.


Stones are a reoccurring theme in Scripture. From the very beginning there are stone pillars to mark the acts of God: stone for building homes and fortresses; stones as the sites of wells; stones for altars; water bearing stones; tomb-sealing stones; and stones thrown to mark the judgment of a community. One of Jesus’ most devoted disciples, Peter, is called the rock on whom Jesus will build his church. In the familiar hymn, “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing” we sing about raising an Ebenezer. This word, in the context of the hymn, means “stone of help.”


In the first letter of Peter, Jesus is presented as a rejected stone, implying a flaw or lack of something that would have made him not good enough to occupy the most important, strategic, foundational role – and yet he does. Peter continues with this imagery saying that we are ‘living stones.’


I have a friend who is in Germany right now, as a guest of the EKHN, the ‘Protestant Church of Hesse and Nassau.’ He is sending pictures of churches there. Massive stone structures whose birthdays make our own two hundred and eighty two seem like recent history. Katharinenkirche, St. Catherine’s Church, in Frankfurt was destroyed in the bombings during World War II, but the stone walls remained standing, ready to frame a new day. Between 1950 and 1954 the church was rebuilt. The pictures of it today are beautiful.


If you climb up the rickety staircase above our back balcony and peer into the passageway above the ceiling here in the nave you will see large timbers and limestone. Stones that were stacked a a decade before the first shot was fired at Lexington and Concord in 1775. What is still visible is a marker from the original building just outside these eastern doors that proudly proclaims, “This is the High German Reformed Church in Heidelberg Township, all who here go in and out should be subject to God and King.”


Even in places less historic than St. John’s (Hain’s) United Church of Christ, every church with a building has to regularly discern whether these stones, or bricks in our case, will be an idol or a tribute to the work of God through the ages. For as Peter reminded us, we the people of the church are “living stones,” building a “spiritual house.” As stones working together, we must discern how we can frame a well of living water and not become a wall keeping people out.


One of the aspects of God we most treasure is that God is always there. God is the one thing in our life we can count on not to change. We rely on God to remain the same no matter how we, or the world, might be altered. The difficulty with this theology is that it creates a faith that can easily become resistant to new concepts, renewed passions, unexpected directions, or “bold decisions.”[1] It’s never occurred to us before that God might call our church to a new and different life, that God might want us in a new space or a new place, or that God might be done calling us to a particular ministry.[2]


We have to come to terms with the fact that the ministry, and even the gospel, is a living thing and while it’s motivation may remain steady it’s application is dynamic. One very essential way to do this is to re-frame our discussion in committees and particularly in our Consistory. I have sat through several meetings lately where not once was the question raised, “What is God calling us to do?” Or, “What does faithful ministry look like in these circumstances?” It was never said, “What would Jesus have us do now, under these circumstances?”


Jesus, the unlikely stone, is our chief cornerstone. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Our cornerstone is not the best business model. It is not security of our building. It is not the maintenance of the grounds. It is not preservation of the principle of the endowment. There are many places that have done these things. They are called museums. We are different. Our chief cornerstone, if we are a church and not a friendly fraternity of local folks, is Jesus. And not the ‘I believe in Jesus,’ but the ‘I am a follower of Jesus.’


So, as unlikely as we may feel being dubbed “Living Stones” for Jesus, we are simply that. At our best, we are following in his footsteps. Different days may demand different paths, but he goes before us urging us on. We are charged the same imperative he was because, The Spirit of the Lord is upon us through our baptism (and confirmation), because He has anointed us to go and proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent us to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18; Matt. 11:5, Isaiah 61:1).


If we are in Jesus and Jesus is in us, new life can indeed spring forth from these old stones.



[1] Crossroads Massachusetts, a program of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, 2012, http:// crossroads

[2] Edited by Norman B. Bendroth (2014-12-05). Transitional Ministry Today: Successful Strategies for Churches and Pastors (Kindle Locations 3396-3400). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.