200503 – The Rolling Stones

Yr A ~ Easter 4 ~ 1 Peter 2:1-10

Even though it’s true that these days I can’t always get what I want, and sometimes no satisfaction, and really just wanna pray that God might gimmie shelter, this sermon is not about what you think it is.
(And if you didn’t get that opening sentence, don’t worry, I was just using that to start me up.)
If you’re still not with me, those are a bunch of song references for a group called the Rolling Stones.

This sermon isn’t about those Rolling Stones – it’s about us – the Rolling Stones!
Well, Peter called them living stones, but it’s pretty much the same.

1 Peter 2:4 says that Jesus is a living stone. On the surface that’s an oxymoron, but I don’t think the metaphor is actually all that difficult to understand. Picture the giant stones of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. They were fixed, thought to be permanent.
But they crumbled!
Jesus taught his disciples that the temple is not the seat of God’s presence in the world – your heart is. It’s about a paradigm shift from a physical reliance on an external spiritual home to being personally built into an internal spiritual home.
Jesus didn’t start a church; he started a movement.
A movement!
Movements move, they’re alive, they ‘roll’.

For those of us who have significant experience in bricks and mortar churches the idea of church being built on fixed stones is pretty (ahem) solid.
But look where we are right now.
This pandemic, and the resultant physical distancing, and the fact that you’re at home right now and not here with me in this physical, bricks and mortar, fixed stone church, is driving home Jesus’ teaching in jarringly vivid ways.
Whether we like it or not we’re rolling!

We’re learning something right now that we’ve never really had to contend with before.
We’re learning how to be the church without the church.
We’re realizing that even though we’re not here together, we’re still here together!
I keep saying this every Sunday – we are still the church, but different. (Thank God?)

Our paradigm for generation upon generation has been about bricks and mortar – about building a physical space for worship, prayer, mutuality, and outreach. Our fixed stones matter. This is a good place. Church buildings aren’t bad – they’re vital. God’s people need a place to gather, and to serve as a launching pad for loving one another and loving the world.

The challenge is that over time our buildings have, not always but far too often, become the point. Too often all our resources – human and financial – get used up just keeping the stones from rolling. (Yes, I mean that on multiple levels.)

I’m not going to sugar coat it – this pandemic is going to result in a great number of church buildings closing. All those places just hanging on will likely be pushed over the edge. It’s sad, and it’s hard.
We keep saying that the church isn’t about the building, it’s about the people. Well, we’re going to find out if we really mean it.
And I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, or that it doesn’t sound too harsh or flippant, but all in all, I’m ok with this.
If this pandemic breaks the stranglehold that fixed stones have on our communities of faith and compels us to reimagine ourselves as living stones, as rolling stones, then, well, I’d call that a blessing.

Church is a people, not a place.
Church is the refuelling station along The Way, not the destination.
Church is who you are, not where you go.

Through this challenging season we’ve discovered that we can do and be church in all kinds of new and creative ‘non-bricks-and-mortar’ ways.
Here we are live-streaming right now and you’re attending church at home, on your couch, in your jammies.
Tomorrow morning we’ll use a platform called Zoom to do our online bible discussion (we call it The Porch).
Wednesday evening I’ll offer praise music and prayer on YouTube.
Thursday morning we’ll have coffee together online.
Our choir can’t sing together, but they still gather for connection on Thursday evenings.
Last Wednesday our Church Work in Durham group started to share ideas for how we can participate in offering compassionate care and love in our community in this season. Our social media accounts – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, plus our website – have all kinds of posts and links to materials and ideas and inspirations.

These are all ways to access religious, spiritual, faith-formative resources. It used to be you had to physically step inside a church to do all that stuff – now you have access to it on your phone 24/7 wherever you are – because, wherever you are the church is.

Our ancestors imagined that God needed a home on earth, so they built a temple for God.
But obviously, God cannot be contained in a structure.
God is alive. God is Spirit. And the only temple that could possibly be a home for God is a living temple – a living temple built of living, breathing, moving, rolling stones.

It’s such a wonderful, poetic word picture. Living stones.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but dead stones are built into dead structures: but if you want a structure that’s capable of brimming with life you need a living structure – and obviously that can only be built with living stones.

And that’s what 1 Peter 2:5 says we are.
We are living stones! Just like Jesus!
So, even though we might look like everyone else on the outside, on the inside we’re different. We are living stones. We’re not dead, we’re alive and because of that the world looks different to us.
It’s not that we see different things; we see things differently!
And we act differently.

1 Peter 2:5 Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Let yourselves be built. Not “build yourself into a spiritual house” but let yourself be built!

Christ is the rock – the living stone – the cornerstone – the foundation– and we are to be built on that foundation. Not our buildings – us.

But living stones don’t build themselves into spiritual houses – into temples of God’s presence – they let themselves be built – by the Spirit.
What’s our role? Not passive, but not in control either. To ‘let yourself’ means to get out of the way more than trying to achieve something.

A French mystic named Francis de Sales compared our relationship with God to a mother nursing her baby. The baby (us) can use all its strength and resources and efforts to try to get what it wants but it can’t hold itself in the right place to nurse. The mother has to snuggle the child in and hold it tight. Often the baby’s efforts are actually counter-productive – but the mother is patient and loving and helps the child to nurse.
The child yearns for the closeness but cannot achieve it on its own.
The child must yield to the mother and receive what she gives and be held in her love.

1 Peter 2:2-3 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Like the nursing baby we sense what we want but we can’t put it into words so we flail around desperately trying every spiritual trick in the book trying to find what we need – not realizing that what we need is to get out of our own way – to stop trying to control everything – to let ourselves be transformed.

Ok, so I’m being built into a spiritual house – what for? What difference does it make? What do I do with that? Listen to verse 5 again:

Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, (why?) to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Let me unpack that a bit.

If you’re a living spiritual house then you have quite a calling to fulfill. Martin Luther called this the “priesthood of all believers”.
What does that mean for you? I guess it means that you shouldn’t solely rely on the formal priesthood to do the spiritual stuff for you.
You are being built into a spiritual house, and you are the ‘priest’ in your spiritual house. So you do all the priest stuff.
You interpret scripture.
You study. You pray.
You evangelize!
You figure out how to translate a feeling into a Way of Life.
You offer support to those you’re in relationship with as best you can.
Today you get to serve communion.
You are a holy priesthood.

And how about the last part of v.5, the spiritual sacrifices question? What does a spiritual sacrifice do?
Sacrifice means to selflessly offer – so do that – selflessly, spiritually, offer yourself (your time, your attention, your awareness, your intellect, your talent, your passion, your conviction, your heart, your caring) offer it all to God.

There’s quite a difference between going to ‘the temple’ and having ‘the priests’ perform religious observances for you, and being a living spiritual house and being your own priest, and offering your own spiritual sacrifices to God.
It’s the difference between dead stones and living stones connected to and built upon the foundation of THE living stone, Jesus.

No, I’m not trying to talk myself out of a job. I’m saying that this place and my role exist to help build your temple and resource your priesthood and ministry through it – but it’s not just you alone.

The passage finishes with a pep talk about togetherness.

1 Peter 2:9-10 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of God who called you out of darkness into God’s marvellous light.

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

v.9 God’s own people – literally, it translates as ‘a peculiar people’.
Friends, you are a peculiar people.
You are God’s people.
You’re different. You are living stones.
Somewhere along the way you experienced something very special; new life – resurrection – a new way to be.
And that got you rolling…

We are part of this dynamic, spiritual movement that Jesus started, and we’re striving to figure out what that looks like today.
So we gather together, in curious motion, because together these living stones grow in faith – together these living stones celebrate God’s presence – together these living stones rejoice in renewed life.
Whether we do these things surrounded by bricks and mortar is irrelevant.
What matters is how we roll – together, as God’s peculiar people.

Being a living stone and letting yourself be built into a spiritual house is not always a smooth and easy ride, but we are meant to be in motion, in ministry, even when the path seems bumpy and full of pot holes and obstacles.
Like now.
We are not meant to be fixed like bricks and mortar; we are called to keep journeying in Jesus’ way, as part of his holy movement of love, love, love. Like a rolling stone.

At least that’s how I see it. If for some reason you disagree with this theological interpretation, I just have one thing to say. Get off my cloud! 🙂