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Living stones

1 Peter 2:1-10

May 17, 2015

Year A

The author of First Peter is unknown. Although the letter bears the name of Peter, scholars believe the letter was written by someone else; quite likely an early Christian leader, probably in Rome at the end of the first century. It is written to be circulated among Christians in a number of provinces in Asia Minor.

The Christians to whom First Peter addresses are suffering for their faith. This is not an empire-wide persecution of Christians for refusing to worship the emperor, the recipients of First Peter are suffering rejection and harassment from members of the society in which they live as strangers, in a strange land, because their Christian identity makes them suspect. They had once been pagans, participating in traditional religious and social practices. Now that they are Christians, they have become a new people and they no longer practice the old religion, or join in pagan celebrations.

Their community includes women and slaves, who defy custom by worshipping a God different from the one worshipped by their husbands and masters. Their neighbours, would have understood this behaviour as subversive of the very foundations of the social order, because worship of the Gods of the head of the household was thought to guarantee stability in home and society.

To the neighbours, the Christians of Asia Minor looked like a countercultural fringe group, with values that tended to undermine those of society. In some respects the neighbours were right.

In this environment of suspicion and hostility, the Christians need two things to survive and these two things stand in tension, with each other. First, since the Christians are being rejected and alienated, they need a strong sense of identity. Second, they need as much as possible to live in such a way as to reassure the society around them that they are not a threat. For reassurance, the author of First Peter urges the readers to conform to societal conventions. They should obey government officials and live in stable well-ordered households. and should maintain a good reputation among their associates. The recipients of this letter are encouraged to walk the tightrope, of being radically different from the surrounding culture, because of their Christian identity, but at the same time, affirm the best values of that culture for the sake of acceptance and witness.

At the same time, there is the wonderful image of living stones and in many ways affirmation of a people that feel abandoned. The scripture says ,
‘Come to Christ…a living stone…and like living stones, let yourself be built into a spiritual house.” The image of stones are scattered throughout the Bible: the stone Jacob used for a pillow on his journey away from home, the stones carried from the Jordan River when the homeless former slaves finally reached the Promised Land; the stone called to be a reminder of the people’s promise before God in Joshua. And, John the Baptist declared that stones could come to life.

In this text, the stones have indeed come to life. People trodden underfoot like stones are now being upheld. Without a temple, they will become a temple of living stones. This is not of their own doing, nor is it our own doing.
“Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house”: this is far different from saying, “Build a spiritual house.” If we were to build a spiritual house, we might think about many different aspects. This building however, is not something we do, instead “let yourselves be built” is the essential word. This is about being the body of Christ, it is about us being present, as a Christian people in the community and in the world.

When we let ourselves be built into a spiritual house by the presence of the living Christ, us, the living stones, the results might be unknown at first and we might struggle, but we are today invited to think about what it means to allow ourselves to be built into a spiritual house.

Two experiences stand out for me. First, the work that the church did on
Haida Gwaii. They followed three principles, they always were willing to collaborate, they worked with a model of consensus and they used a circle process. They took their time doing their work. It took a couple of years to make the decision to sell the church in Queen Charlotte and move to full time worship at the United Church in Skidegate. They are the only pastoral charge in Canada to sell the property in the “white community” and create their spiritual house and worship full time on the reserve. There spiritual house is small, but came together with a sense of willingness in the entire group, to make this work. People were sad, of course, but it was clear to all of them, they had to find a new way to go forward.

I am reminded (by my editor) that the passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians (5:22)
(“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,”) is important and it is connected to First Peter. Paul writes, that the work of the Spirit involves, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. That is a lot to keep in mind, a lot to practice. But what we are talking about this morning is the spiritual practice of how we build our spiritual place in the world. We don’t accomplish this by our own efforts alone, but we build with the presence of our spiritual gifts, offered to us through our Christian faith. Paul names them quite adequately.

My second story grows out of my work at
Meewasin Valley United Church (MVUC) in Saskatoon. I did an Interim there from 2007 – 2009. In about 2011 MVUC, after much reflection, and thoughtful consideration, decided to sell their church property and move to a worship space in St. Andrew’s College. The one comment that people make to me about MVUC because I did the Interim there, is how sad and how terrible that MVUC had to sell their building and move to the college. I reply that those who moved to the college and have made that there spiritual house, find that they are very happy at the college.

We heard
Lorne Calvert comment on the college’s relationship with Meewasin Valley being a positive one. Meewasin Valley took their grand piano to the college with them and all of their stained glass windows. The college found a place for all of the windows. I believe that different people paid to have each window installed at a particular spot in the college. Those who made that move are happy, because there main focus is the spiritual process of their lives and they have no concerns about buildings and property.

Living stones, spiritual houses, joy, kindness, love, patience and kindness are the stones, or the cornerstone, upon which we build our spiritual house, which is always in part, our spiritual life, our essence and the presence of everything we bring to it.

As an institution, the United Church has faced a lot of change and will continue to do so. In the midst of this changing church, churches have the opportunity to build a spiritual house that might not be what we are accustomed to, but will meet the spiritual needs of the people in ways we have never dreamed possible.

Neither the people on
Haida Gwaii nor the people left at Meewasin Valley United Church expected their church lives to turn out the way they did; but because they were open to the Spirit, opportunities became apparent. They worked with the gifts of the Spirit and through this openness that emerged, they have found new and exciting ways to be the church.

Perhaps we are not much different than the people in First Peter in that we are struggling to be living stones and we want to find a spiritual house for ourselves in our culture/community. Like them, we are creating an identity for ourselves. It is an identity, where we will be recognised by our work, and by our spiritual presence.

In First Peter they are invited to be living stones and this morning, I invite you to come forward and choose a stone that will be symbolic of your spiritual presence and of the spiritual work you are a part of. Come and choose your stone and as you make your way back to your seat and as you wait for everyone to get their stone, I invite you to put your energy into your living stone. I want you to think carefully about what you want in your stone. Once your stone feels full of your energy, please give it to the person on your left. They will keep your living stone and look after it for you.

I invite you this week to think about how you are a living stone in the world and how do you live that out?
Sharon Ferguson-Hood