“Living Stones”

1 Peter 2:4-10:  Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves 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: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

To you therefore who believe, he is precious, but for those who do not believe, “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner,” and “A stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall”; for 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, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.

My sermon today is based on the first two verses of this passage from Peter:  “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

A few weeks ago, the “Sprocket Rockets” – the Langmeil cycling group –- were out riding and decided to go to Nuriootpa where a new house was being built for one of our group.  When we got there, we saw that the brick layer was busy at work building up a wall.  When I see a master craftsman at work, I stand in awe – the skill, precision, and speed at which he put down the bricks was amazing.  I went back a couple of days ago, and now there is this perfect wall – every brick in the right place, perfectly straight.  Only the combining of the bricks perfectly is creating this great building.

This is the picture that Peter in the Bible is envisaging as he uses the imagery of the stones that are joined together to make a building.  He is saying that is where stones ‘come alive.’  I am holding in my hand a dead stone.  It is not even a particularly useful stone.  It’s been lying around our back yard for years and not particularly good for much at all.  For it to be of any value, someone should do something with it.  A disjointed stone can be really useful.  When Peter talks about ‘building blocks that are alive’ his picture is of the congregation – Christians together, built together – and how important it is we are joined together.

I have always liked the picture of the six sides of a building stone.  First of all, there is the underside.  Each brick has a flat surface underneath, to rest on.  For each stone it is important for it to be as firmly fixed on a foundation as possible.  Every builder knows how important that is.  The stability of a building comes from the stability of the foundation.  It is the foundation that will carry the stones.  It is the foundation that prevents the structure from cracking.  The foundation keeps the stones together.

That is already a great reminder – this is the starting point – that every one of us, and then every gathering, every congregation needs to be set on the right foundation.  Our foundation has to be Jesus.  A spiritual building is not a club of individual stones.  We don’t get together because of a common interest.  The only source of unity is Jesus – “Christ is our cornerstone”.  This is not a get together to exchange pious ideas, but a gathering of individuals bound together – and living by whom he has declared us to be – because of what he has done for us.  Like stones that need to be firmly cemented on the unchanging foundation, we need to be firmly embedded in the knowledge that Jesus is our Lord, if the building of our congregation wants to stand.

Then next, there are two side on each stone.  They are the sides of contact – contact with each other.  It is common sense for builders that you have to place one stone immediately next to each other.  Any builder will tell you that there is strength in closeness.  You can’t have too great a gap between the stones, otherwise you use too much mortar – you compromise on strength.

I am always really impressed by ancient buildings, for example the Acropolis in Athens built by the ancient Greeks without any mortar at all.  Or the ancient Egyptians – there is no mortar in the Pyramids – and those blocks are so tight, that you cannot fit a 50-cent coin in them.

I have seen houses where the foundation has sunk, and there has been cracking through the wall, daylight coming through, and even wind blowing through, where bricks are no longer joined together.  The integrity of the whole building is compromised – the whole house can be in danger of falling apart.

As God’s building we are called to be joined to each other.  In the New Testament, the writers used the phrase “one another” over one hundred times.  Encourage – be devoted to – accept – admonish – forgive – be patient with – and love, love, love!  Love is the mortar that joins us together.

Then every stone has an upper side.  This is the side that carries others.  There is something that happens with stones in a wall: The more stones are placed on top of it, the closer it is pressed to the foundation.  It is the foundation that carries the pressure – that is a law of physics – the pressure passes through to the foundation.

That is the mystery of the Christian life – that your strength, health and life are gained through giving to others.  That in the act of giving we are given much, in the act of pardoning, we are pardoned, in dying to ourselves, we are given life.  The upper side of the brick reminds us that in carrying others, we are carried ourselves.

The next side of the brick is the outside.  This is the side that others see.  Some buildings are covered in graffiti, others have a façade.  So, what do others see when they look at you?  What is your outside?  What is the outside of our Christian community?  Historians tell us that the Christians of the early church really stood out.  It is reported of them, that outsiders would look at the congregations, and say, “See, how they love each other.”

I’ll never forget my vicar father’s first rule when he was teaching confirmation.  He said to the students – no put down, no digs or making fun of each other – there are no wrong answers.  Some years ago, I was at a further education course, and the first rule the leader said was, “No back-stabbing of your fellow Christians.”  We’re not to make fun of other denominations.  It should surprise us, that we would have to make such a rule.  But I think it is necessary – too often non-Christians look at us and say: “Just look how they quarrel, slander, avoid each other, put each other down.”  This is why Jesus said, “I want you to be one, so that the world may believe.”  What do others see when they look at you?  The outside is your work, your family, your school, wherever you are seen by others.  Remember, your actions will speak louder than your words.

Finally, there is the inside of the brick.  That is your spiritual life, that is the inside of the house that no-one sees.  That is the time you take personally to be restored, and built up again – your time with God, your prayer-life, your quiet time with his word.  Maybe the last few days, and the next few days of imposed lockdown are the opportunity you need to restore some quiet reflection.  Read your favourite Bible passage and reflect for a while – listen to a podcast or read a spiritual devotion.

In many ways, this is the most important side of the brick.  It is the different reality that you live by – the reality that the world cannot give, and barely understand.  This is where you receive strength, comfort, forgiveness and encouragement and hope.  This is where you hear the heartbeat of your Lord – when you receive rest, acceptance and restoration.

So, Peter says that we are living stones – part of a spiritual building.  We need to be built together.  Single stones are vulnerable – they fall away, they can be carried away, they can end up on the scrap heap.  You cannot be a Christian on your own.  Together we can make a strong building.

You are a living stone with six sides that equally need attention.  The underside – that needs to have a close grip onto the foundation.  The sides that bond us in closeness to fellow-Christians.  The top – the serving and carrying of others.  The outside – the side with which others see and gauge us by.  The inside, our quiet-time, and times of rest with our Lord, and each other.  In any case, remember that you cannot survive as a solo-Christian.  We live as living stones, who are being built into a living house, through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The audio of this sermon is available on the web site.