First Reading Acts 7:55-60
Psalm Reading Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
Second Reading 1 Peter 2:2-10
Gospel Reading John 14:1-14
Sermon “A Building Project”
Did you notice the picture at the top of the Order of Worship today? It was taken a few months ago as the Beautiful stone work was being added to the back of our Fellowship Hall. The picture shows pallets of rough cut stone, some of the tools used to prepare them to be used on the building and of course a view of the unfinished work of adding them to the edifice. It turned out to be a long and painstaking process. Each stone had to be specially prepared – trimmed and shaped to fit in the whole. Special fasteners were added to the walls and extended out between the stones to bind them tightly to the structure. Only a few layers could be added at a time to allow the bonds to develop and the mortar to become firm enough to bear the weight. It is a useful metaphor for us as we look at the text today from 1st Peter. You see, from Peter’s point of view, we the congregation of this fellowship called the 1st Presbyterian Church of Newkirk are very like those stones.
I like the way Eugene Peterson’s message paraphrase states Peter’s premise: “Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God.” Some of these “Living Stones” as most translations put it are gathered here virtually this morning. No, its not a slur about age either, In spite of the fact that one of my brother-in-laws often quips when asked how old he is – “Older that most trees and some rocks” Rather – the metaphor here refers to believers in Jesus Christ and the deep, abiding security and Divine satisfaction to be found there. A rock solid hope if you would like. Interestingly, this is a verse that the Palestinian Christians take as their identity. They tell visitors that they are living stones – still surviving and faithful in that land after all the ages and difficulties that have transpired there.
So let’s reflect for a few minutes about what it might mean to be “living stones”, built together into a spiritual house as the NIV puts it or a Sanctuary, “vibrant with life”, as its paraphrased in the message. Well… the first thing that comes to mind is that we belong to a thing far greater than ourselves, a union that God has planned and constructed. That alone is precious indeed. We belong. You belong. You are not alone and vulnerable and isolated. You belong to the whole and are a vital part of it. God has chosen you to have your part in his plan and to be in and of his house where his very spirit dwells. A fantastic thought is that the construction is never done! God is always adding on, always adding beauty and structure, always incorporating new souls into the whole.
You have been chosen by a master mason – carefully chosen for just the right spot – rough edges smoothed and shaped for his purpose. You have been fit and bound to the whole with everlasting purpose. Each and every one is needed, in a major difference from our construction project, there are no extras laying around! We are are invited to take refuge and hope in that reality. In a world that seems to endlessly divide and isolate, this is good news indeed. Because it is God who has chosen us (not the other way around) this whole structure and every part of it belongs to God. We are not independent, solitary pieces of stone – We Are A Church! A Temple in which the very Spirit of God has chosen to abide. I can’t think of a better identity than that.
So what part do you play? Where do you find yourself fitting in? There are an enormous number of roles and places you know. Let’s think about a few together. Its fitting that this Building where we meet is made of Stones. It provides a good visual metaphor of Peter’s message. Some stones form the foundation. They are not very visible. Their role is to provide a firm support to the portions above them. Together with Christ, the chief foundation stone, they define the direction that the rest of the building runs. Direction and support are essential things to have aren’t they.
This building has many other parts as well. Perhaps we might consider the walls. They too provide support for the structure but they are more visible. They protect what is inside from the violence of wind and hail and rain. When we think of the fortress that the Psalmist’s mentions: Psalm 31:1-3 NIV “ In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.  Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.  Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.” Stephan quotes this psalm even as he is being stoned to death, for he finds that every day of his life is in God’s hands – even that one! Now that is indeed rock solid faith.
God is indeed our refuge and strength, “A Mighty Fortress”, and we too can participate in the support and protection of the community of Faith.
Now walls are great, roofs are comforting, but the building is dark and musty without windows and doors. We use special stones and construction for windows. The stones around the window let in the light of the world – which is of course Jesus, our Lord. They spread the load of the structure above around the sides so that the fragile glass can stand in the center. By the light that comes through them, we can see and learn and move about in safety and security. That’s a good thought for Mother’s Day too. Those who nurture, support and teach us. Truly they are vital stones in this place. Other stones form steps and doorways and ramps to allow people to come in and join the fellowship. It is not a closed in compound that we form, no, rather its is a place to come a learn and grow. And so step by step we are raised into this this place of fellowship and pass through those walls into the place within and become part of it.
Not to push a wonderful metaphor too far, but notice also that not all the stones here are the same size, shape or wholeness. Some are carefully dressed and carved. Some others were previously broken and even crushed, but are now bound together – literally by the cement and mortar of the structure – spiritually by the grace of God. We are all needed and useful. Our present construction may be mostly finished (well, not the basement) but God’s temple is never finished. Some of the great cathedrals in Europe were under construction for sometimes hundreds of years. God’s building project is far, far longer yet. To each and every person is offered the invitation to come and be made a part of God’s great house.
The spiritual house that we are part of is not limited to this time and place either. Jesus told his disciples that he himself was going to prepare a place for them – not only for their ministry here on earth, but also in heaven for all of eternity. Do you recall the words? We use them often in Funeral services to remind us of the never ending love of God for his children: John 14:2-4 NIV Jesus said: “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.” Now, I think we should be grateful to Thomas for voicing the question that was and is likely in everyone’s mind when hearing those words. He said “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Now a word of grace here is appropriate. This is an invitation and a promise from Jesus, that he will return and bring us to the Father himself. We don’t need to look anywhere else, or to anyone else. Jesus Christ is not only the pattern and foundation for everything we are here and now, but also for an eternity that we will spend with God in Heaven. Everything we need is represented in the person Jesus. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. They are best used as they were given – as a blessed hope and rock solid basis for life both now and forever. To use them as a club on those who do not yet know him is to hide the grace they represent. Stones are for building, not for crushing or throwing!
So let me sum it up this way. We are members of the greatest rock fan club ever. No not The Rolling Stones – rather The Rock of Ages; The chief cornerstone, chosen and precious; our rock and our Fortress and our sure defense.