May 14, 2017

Easter 5 Year A

Stones and rocks appear often in Scripture. God is often referred to as a rock. The patriarchs of the Old Testament set up stones wherever something important happened. The Ten Commandments were written on stone tablets. Moses struck a rock and water flowed from it. Stephen was killed by stoning. Simon had his named changed to Peter which means rock. And it was a large stone that was rolled away from the tomb at the Resurrection.

Our Scripture speaks of stones as building blocks. This passage comes from a time when buildings were most often built of stones. A construction site in Palestine would consist of piles and piles of stones to be used for the foundation and carefully placed together to build the walls.

The most important building block was the cornerstone. Today cornerstones serve a ceremonial function providing a place to record the historical data related to the building. Sometimes churches write the date the church was founded and the date the building was built on their cornerstones. But the cornerstone in Jesus’ day served a more important function.

The cornerstone really was the one piece on which the rest of the house was built. If the cornerstone were not set right then the rest of the house would not be square and would not stand the test of time. The cornerstone determined the character of the whole house.

Our Scripture today contains fluid imagery of stones. First, we are invited to come to Jesus, a living cornerstone. Though rejected by mortals, he was chosen and precious in God’s sight.

Then we are admonished to be like living stones ourselves and to be built into a spiritual house. Christ is the “living stone” which has become the cornerstone of the church.

What does he mean by this phrase “a living stone”? After all, a stone by its very nature is an inanimate object, that is, one that does not have life.

A stone is a rock which is used for a specific purpose, such as a building block, a paving block, a grindstone or a gravestone. If it is used for these specific purposes, then we must next ask why it is used for these purposes.

Obviously, a stone is known for its permanence, its imperviousness to change or to things like the weather. It is also not easily moved from one place to another, especially if it is a large stone. Once placed in a specific spot, it will stay there unless a greater force is exerted upon it. Now all of these qualities can be attributed to persons.

The following story might better illustrate this.

Perhaps you have heard the expression, “He’s a brick!”? Plutarch, in writing about the king of Sparta, tells how the phrase originated. It seems that an ambassador on a diplomatic mission visited the famous city of Sparta. Knowing that its strength was acclaimed throughout all Greece, he expected to see massive fortresses surrounding the city, but he found nothing of the kind. Surprised, the ambassador said to the king, “Sir, you have no fortifications for defense. How can this be?” “Oh, but we are well protected,” replied the king. “Come with me tomorrow and I will show you the walls of Sparta.” The next day he led the ambassador to the plains where Sparta’s army was assembled in full battle dress. Pointing proudly to his soldiers, who stood fearlessly in place, the king said, “Behold! The walls of Sparta–ten thousand men and every one a brick!”  

Although this story talks about men being bricks, nothing would change if we referred to them as rocks. In this military analogy, the soldiers are rocks because they will not be moved and will be steadfast in their loyalty to their king. Because of this, being called a rock implies bravery and courage in the face of danger.

“Coming to him, a living stone… as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house” (I Peter 2:4-5). Living stones? Spiritual houses? Peter continues to mix strange metaphors. Then you recall that there is something that can make a house a home … something can transform the bricks and mortar, the boards and nails of a house into the ‘spiritual home’ of a family.

There are houses … classrooms … offices … and churches that are interchangeable boxes, forgotten as soon as we move on. Then are the homes and rooms and sacred spaces that we never forget … the addresses etched forever in our minds. This is the kind of household that Peter would have us long to become. A peculiar congregation of people whose life appears flawed and unworthy. Yet, on closer inspection, a household whose open doors welcome the world’s outcast and prodigal children home. A royal household of ‘living stones’ that even the oldest and wisest long for.

Someone has said that God is like a great rock-collector who finds us. But somehow God saw within us something beautiful. The great Renaissance master Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a masterpiece inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” In the same way God has created a beautiful soul in each of us and in the course of our lives God desires for that soul to blossom.

As living stones God desires to build us into a living home, a new family. “Coming to him, a living stone…. You also, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Peter echoes the words spoken to Moses at Sinai: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: who in time past were no people, but now are God’s people, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”

That’s who we are, living stones built into a spiritual house so that we can be here in this place a community of grace and peace, a house of prayer for all people, a school of Christian formation, a mission outpost.

And we can be living stones as we follow Jesus, who was the stone rejected but became the chief cornerstone, the stone that is the headstone of the arch, the foundation stone of our lives and of all life.

Amen.