Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Text: 1 Peter 2:4-6
Come to the Lord, the living stone rejected by people as worthless but chosen by God as valuable. Come as living stones, and let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple, where you will serve as holy priests to offer spiritual and acceptable sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ.

Living Stones

As a lad who grew up mostly in the town, it was always a delight to stay for a weekend out in the country with a friend on his father's farm. We had fun but not all the time. This South Australian farm was in an area that had so many stones. Looking across a paddock there was nothing but stones. And you can guess what we did on those weekends. Picked up stones.

Hour after hour we walked around those paddocks picking up stones. There never seemed an end to those blessed stones. This was not my idea of fun. Not only did we have to pick them up and throw them on to the truck, but then unload them on a heap on the boundary of the paddock.

Stones - there was nothing more useless and annoying. As we sat in the shade of the truck having a break, the comment was made that if God really wanted to have stones in his world why did he have to make so many.

Do you remember when pet rocks were the craze? People found a nice looking rock, painted it, put eyes on it, dressed it up and carried it around like a real pet. However, unlike a real pet it didnít matter if you never looked at it again. The pet rock would still just lie around and not be a problem.

When Peter talks about Christians being stones he is not talking about us being Godís "pet rocks". The apostle Peter says that God sees us as "living stones".

It strikes me as somewhat unusual for Peter to talk about stones in such a positive way. "Living stones". A stone can hardly be called living. It is quite the opposite. There is nothing more lifeless than a stone. It doesn't breathe or have a heart beat, it can't move itself, it doesn't have a brain, it can't communicate. "Living" is not the way we usually describe stones.
Stones are described as smooth or sharp, flat, round and jagged.
We can define and describe them with geological names.
They are cold, hard inanimate objects. Some of them are pretty. But no one would consider saying that a rock was living.

As contradictory as it may sound to describe a stone as living, Peter explains that we are "living stones".
We are living stones because and only because of the relationship our living Lord Jesus has with us. We were once dead because of our sin, but now we are alive in Christ (Rom 6:11)..
We are living stones because of what Jesus has done for us Ė he has rescued us from being dead like a rock and made us fresh, new, and alive again through the forgiveness he has won for us.
We are living stones because he has given us eternal life now and beyond the grave, a glorious life with him in heaven forever. We have been given the kind of life and future that only Jesus can give.

Without Jesus we would just be stones, without life, jagged, with sharp edges, useless, without much of a future.
Without Jesus we would be stones that are inanimate, without life, "dead", without hope. But with the power, presence, and warmth of Jesus our Saviour we become "living" stones.

A young man took his own life. He was unemployed, had accumulated considerable debts, drank too much and when drunk was not a nice person to know. He was married with 3 small children. The house showed evidence of violence. Frequently he would beat up his wife, slamming her against the walls. All kinds of explanations were given why he committed suicide - stories about how he had been turned away from one job after another, the lack of money, his drinking, the violence to his wife, the possibility of divorce, but in the end this is a story about a young man who was alone, desperate, powerless, with no one to turn to. He was a man who had come to believe that no one cared, no one loved him, he didn't even like himself, and that he was beyond help.

As I said he was alone, desperate, powerless, with no one to turn to.
If only he had come to know the power, the presence and the warmth of Jesus.
If only he could see himself as someone loved dearly by his heavenly Father.
If only he had heeded Peter's invitation, "Come to the Lord, the living stone..." then he too would have been filled with hope and become a
living stone.

There are times when we find the situations in life overwhelming. We too can easily be caught in a sea of worry and fear,
tortured by the hopelessness of the situation,
feeling as if no one can help us,
desperate to be rid of our troubles,
desperate for someone to understand us,
to guide us and point us to the light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
We can be so preoccupied with our worry and hopelessness that we are distracted from looking at the one who has demonstrated his love for us on the cross, has called us to follow him, and to trust him in the midst of the storms of life. We forget that he is in charge, that he is the one who gives life its meaning and purpose.

The people to whom Peter was writing had been rejected, they were persecuted, they were despised by the people who were their neighbours. But their teacher reminds them in his letter that they are chosen and precious in God's sight. What the world has rejected, God has chosen. It might seem that they are alone, desperate, and without hope but God has chosen them in their baptism and promises to always be their God through thick and thin.

Remember that Jesus went through this same kind of thing. He too was alone, desperate and powerless and rejected by people. He went to his death with people ignoring him, laughing at him, and when he cried out to God the Father, he heard no answer. Peter sums this up saying, "Come to the Lord, the living stone rejected by people as worthless but chosen by God as valuable."

Josephus, an early Jewish historian had quite a bit to say about the building of the temple in Jerusalem. He tells us that the stones that were used to build the temple were shaped some distance away and were brought to the building site by oxen that pulled and strained to move those huge stones. This was done so that no hammer or chisel would be heard on the sacred site. Josephus said that the stones were laid together so harmoniously and smoothly that there appeared to the spectators no need for hammer or chisel or other instruments of architecture.

There is another story that tells us about one stone that was brought to the temple site that would not fit into any of the rising walls, so the builders rejected it, placed it aside and forgot about it. The building went on and the weeds grew over the stone. And then, as the walls began to rise, it was discovered that a stone of a special shape was required to knit the walls together. And you guessed it, the only stone that would fill the bill was the one that had been cast aside as useless, and had been lying nearby all the time. Peter tells us, "The stone which the builders rejected as worthless, turned out to be the most important stone of all." That stone that had been cast aside as useless became the cornerstone - the point of unity between one section of the building and another.

Then Peter goes on and talks about these stones being made into a building. He says, "Come as living stones, and let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple, where you will serve as holy priests to offer spiritual and acceptable sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ." Note that Peter isnít talking about just one stone, he is providing us with a picture of stones being joined together into a building.

Thereís a story that comes from ancient Greece. A Spartan king was boasting to a visiting monarch about the walls of Sparta. But there were no walls. "Where are the walls you are boasting about?" the visiting monarch wanted to know. And the Spartan king pointed to his magnificent troops. "These are the walls of Sparta, he said, "and every man is a brick." Each soldier was a brick, a living brick that made up the walls that protected Sparta. And every Christian is a stone, a living stone that serves the Lord.

When Peter talks about living stones, he is talking about stones that together make a wall.  He is talking about unity, harmony, being built together.  Every stone is different Ė some are smooth, others jagged, others round, others square Ė the shape doesnít matter. Jesus builds the stones Ė thatís us Ė into the one single wall.  Jesus builds his church with stones of all shapes and sizes.  He is building St Paulís to be a solid wall in this community.  When trouble and disunity happen, you can be sure that this is not God's will.  Satan loves to tell us that smooth stones and round stones donít make a good wall, and that some stones arenít any good at all for wall building.

Peter is talking about Christians being ties together with the concrete of Christ. One stone by itself doesnít make a wall.  It is only when it is joined with a whole lot of other stones that it then becomes part of something worthwhile.  At the beginning I spoke about all those useless stones lying out in the paddocks that just got in the way when it came to plowing and harvesting a crop.  But when those stones were cemented together they became part of a house wall or shearing shed.  Those stones werenít useless any more; they became part of something useful and valuable. 

Peter is saying that because of our relationship with Jesus we are bound together as brothers and sisters. A Christian isnít a Christian all by him/herself. When we were baptised we were joined together in the one family, the family of God. We share a mutual faith, a mutual love and hope, and a mutual purpose. All of us are Godís very own, our life has been changed and we have become "living stones, who will serve as holy priests to offer spiritual and acceptable sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ."

We are living stones, part of that living community that we call the church.
We are part of that community of people who seek to follow in the steps of Jesus, seeking to continue looking for new ways to serve, to love, to care for people, and tell others about the Good News about Jesus.
We are living stones who worship together, pray together, learn together, support Godís work together with our time, our energy and money.
We are living stones built into the church of God who witness together about why Jesus is so important to us.
We are living stones "chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness into his own marvellous light" (1Peter 2:9).

We donít do any of this by ourselves, we do it together. You and I together, pastors and people together, we are "living stones, who serve as holy priests." We are all living stones who together serve the Lord with lives dedicated to him.

Come as living stones, and let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple, where you will serve as holy priests to offer spiritual and acceptable sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
24th April, 2005

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