Living Stones

Published: Monday, 15 May 2017

living stonesThis sermon was delivered by Geoff Pound to the Ashburton Baptist Church on 14 May 2017 (Mother’s Day) and is part of a series in 1st Peter. The sermon manuscript is followed by some questions for personal and group study.

Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 2:1 - 10

A man went to his regular hairdresser and the barber asked the usual question, “How do you want your hair cut this time?”

The man said, “Would you cut my hair a little longer on this side and shorter on this side?”

“And would you be so kind as to cut three holes, here, here and there?”

“And don’t worry about grading it here, just let the long strands fall over the ear.”

“And at the back, just do a zig zag.”

And the hairdresser said, “You know, I can’t do that.”

And the man said to the barber, “You did last time!”

It’s good to have people who regularly take a look at us and speak honestly into our lives.

Peter, our letter writer, gives it to his readers straight.

He says (v1):

“Chop out all malice from your lives.”

“Trim away all guile.”

“Cut your insincerity.”

“Thin out your envy and snip the slander from your lips.”

That’s cutting language!

I wonder what Peter might say to us as a church today?

What are the activities that should be pruned?

What attitudes among us need to be axed?

What qualities are needing to be grown and trained?

Thinking individually, do we have a Peter or a Petra who we’ve invited to track with us?

Someone who coffees with us and checks in on us?

Someone who monitors our progress?

Someone who speaks into our lives with honesty and love?

Peter moves in verse 2 from images of cutting and trimming to images of feeding and growing new babies:[1]

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.

From his negative injunction to ‘Cut it out’, Peter positively encourages steady growth and, in particular, he casts this wonderful vision, “That you may grow into salvation.” So the question we need to ask ourselves is not, “Are you saved?” but, “Are we growing into salvation?” and “How are we growing into salvation?”

Even if we experienced the new spiritual birth 10, 20, 30, 50 years ago, are we still growing into salvation or has our spiritual growth plateaued?

Have we gone off the boil?

Have we become complacent about our spiritual development?

Even smug?

Peter adds, that to keep growing like babies do, into healthy, responsible believers, the vital factor is the intake of ‘spiritual milk’. How appropriate is this nurturing image on Mother’s Day! If Peter is meaning the spiritual milk of the word of God,[2] how regularly, how consistently are we getting the spiritual nourishment?

Peter puts the onus on us to ‘long for the pure, spiritual milk’ and to keep tasting if we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. (Hear the echo of Psalm 34?)

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a new-born baby walk across the kitchen, open the fridge, select some pure, pasteurized, homogenized, full cream milk and pour themselves a glass to quench their thirst. Have you?

It might be timely to think of how exactly at ABC do we mother new believers?

How do we nurse those new to faith?

We have a nursery down beyond the Café but where is our spiritual nursery?

Who among us are the nurses, trained to feed and care for those newly born into the faith?

Perhaps if we haven’t prepared and sorted these questions out, we won’t be entrusted with new spiritual babes. Or to put it positively, our preparation of the nursery, our training as spiritual midwives and nurses and doctors is a statement of faith. It’s the sign that we are expecting babies to be delivered into our arms as new believers, those who will then grow into their salvation.

From baby-nurturing milk, Peter moves in v4 to the solids. Not solid food but to the constructive image of stones:

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 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.

When Paul Minear wrote his classic book on the Images of the Church in the New Testament,[3] he identified 96 different Biblical images for the church. I reckon if we did a brain storm right now, we might come up with most of them:

Jesus the vine, the church as the branches.

Jesus the Good Shepherd, the church as the flock, is still one of the most dearly loved images.

In today’s Scripture, there are three images of the church in v9:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation..

The three major images of the church in the New Testament are the three ‘Bs’:

The church as the body of Christ, the bride of Christ and today’s image, the building.

Come to him, a living stone….and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…

Christ the living stone, believers the living stones and together we are a spiritual house.

Why ever did Peter select this image for these people?

Did Peter choose this image because it was his favourite? Because his name, ‘Petros’ in the Greek meant a stone as in the phrase, ‘petrified wood’.

Did Peter love this image because Jesus played on his name when he said to him:

You are Peter [the Rock, ‘Rocky’] and on this rock I will build my church… (Matthew 16: 18)

Did Peter select this image because an apt image advances our self-understanding and heightens our identity?

Did Peter select this image because his readers felt isolated, because they were scattered and because they had little worth?

We’ve noted in our series that these Christians didn’t enjoy full citizenship rights. They were called ‘aliens’ and ‘exiles’[4] and maybe this meant that they couldn’t buy land or build their own home.

They were hounded. They felt temporary. They had little sense of belonging. To these people who suffered and were called ‘rejects’ because of their faith, think of how encouraging this sounds:

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood [there’s another image], to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Every visitor to Florence (including our own Keren McClelland this week) is likely to see Michelangelo’s great statue of David. It’s a great work of stone not only because it stands 17 feet tall, three times the size of the average person, but it’s great because it’s inspired by the biblical David, the unlikely shepherd boy who faced down the giant. The unlikely runt—the son of Jesse who was chosen for royalty.

The original 16th century David, commissioned by the city of Florence, stands now in the museum but there’s more than one David and Florence has another full-sized replica in its original place in the Piazza for everyone to admire.

The fascinating thing about this masterpiece is not only that it was created from a single block of marble but that it was carved from the stone that two other sculptors had discarded.

Agostino gave up on his project using this block after which it sat in the pile untouched for ten years. Then Antonio took a crack at this stone but he couldn’t make anything of it. So after sitting in the reject shop for 40 years, Michelangelo took it and made it world famous and this majestic masterpiece cemented his supreme reputation.

What an encouragement to remember that Christ the living stone was himself rejected by all, yet He was chosen and considered precious in the sight of God. No wonder Peter recalls Psalm 118:

7b

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner.”

These believers might be mourning their isolation, their worthlessness, their distance from a vibrant church community but Peter is saying, “You are not rolling stones. You are living stones. Your suffering might make you feel temporary and insecure but let yourselves be built into something that’s going to be lasting and beautiful.”

Our faith starts when we accept this invitation and ‘Come to Jesus, the living stone’.

Our faith grows when we keep lining ourselves up to Christ who is the cornerstone (v7) in this amazing construction.

But Christians are never meant to be isolated stones scattered in some quarry.

We can’t have Christ without the church.

That’s as dumb as saying that my home is piles of disconnected building materials at Bunnings Warehouse.

So if we have accepted the invitation: “Come to him a living stone” then how do we “let ourselves be built into a spiritual house?”

This subject of ‘Vital Connections’ is the theme of our ABC Church Camp coming up at Anglesea on the last weekend of July. Put it in your diaries. We’re going to be considering some vital questions from this passage. For example:

When did we first come and connect with Christ the living stone?

How do we connect in life-giving ways with other believers—other ‘living stones’?

Where are we connecting? How would we love to connect more firmly?

What’s keeping us apart? What is isolating you?

How might we connect in such a vital way that we feel supported and strengthened, that we no longer feel like an isolated block, discarded on some rubbish heap?

What is the mortar that is being used to bind us together?

What do we do at this mortar meeting point that will enable us to bind, despite the rising damp, the salinity or the quakes in life that threaten to shake our connections and our very foundations?

High up on the New York Times Best Sellers list[5] at the moment is a book by Sheryl Sandburg (Chief Operating Officer at Facebook) and Adam Grant (the author and psychologist).

The book is entitled, ‘Option B’ and sub-titled, ‘Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.’[6] It starts with the very harrowing story of how, unexpectedly and suddenly, Sheryl lost her husband Dave. It happened only a couple of years ago and the pain is still so raw. The book plots her journey with her young children and their lessons in the long winding road of grief.

Two weeks after losing Dave, Sheryl was needing to prepare for a parent-child activity. She was talking to her friend, Phil and they came up with a plan for someone to fill in for Dave. At one stage, Sheryl cried out to Phil, “But I want Dave.”

Phil put his arm around her and he said, “Sheryl, Option A is not available. We’ve got to make the most of Option B.”[7]

Sheryl goes on to say that life is never perfect for all of us. Her experience of unexpected loss and grief might be extreme but we all have to live some form of Option B. This involves finding someone to fill in or being that someone to fill in.

We reflected on Good Friday on the famous last words from the cross.[8]

We heard the dying son say to his mother:

“Woman, here is your son.” 27 Disciple, “Here is your Mum.” And [John says] from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19: 25-27).

This is Christ’s commendation of Option B. And when we think of the work we do in mentoring and Sunday Club and pastoral care and small groups and Prayers and Squares and Community Care, so much of the work of the church is about Option B—being there for others, making vital connections of care, support and friendship.

Let’s give ourselves to this vision of all that we’re becoming together. To the scattered nobodies and to us, Peter says:

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 him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

I wonder if through your travels, you’ve got a favourite building? It might be St Paul’s in London, India’s Taj Mahal, the Notre Dame in Paris, the Duomo in Milan, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona?

Can you remember an edifice that you’ve visited where you have looked up and marveled?

Can you recall a building where you have been absolutely stunned by its beauty?

A structure that has simply filled you with awe? Even the presence of God.

With such memories and influences in mind, we say ‘Yes’ today to our divine architect,

We ask: “What is it that you have in mind for us to be—living stones here in Ashburton?”

We say: “We want to be a part of it. We want to share in your Grand Design.

Prayer

Loving God, we thank you for all the strength, the support and encouragement we’ve received from being part of a church community.

We thank you for all the opportunities to share in service as members of a church both within the fellowship of believers and throughout communities where we’ve lived and worked.

Please forgive us when we have harboured malice towards others and acted with guile, when we’ve been insincere, when our envious hearts and slanderous lips have marred relationships, isolated people and caused cracks to appear in our community.

Mothering God, we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good but today we long for the pure, spiritual milk and meat that will nourish us. We yearn to see people in our families and circles of service born again into your family and growing up into salvation.

Save us from stagnation. Give to us a fresh vision of how we might grow individually and as a church that we might crack the spiritual ceiling.

Surprising God, even when we feel worthless and are rejected, you choose us, you consider us precious, you see our potential, you want to build with us, you can see exactly where we can fit.

So we keep coming to you, the Living Stone.

We want to keep in line with your purposes and as living stones, knock off our rough edges.

Prepare and place us where you will.

Enable us to be built, to connect with others, to depend on their support and to strengthen others.

Let us surrender our lives even when we cannot see or read your overall plan.

Inspire us with a sense of the spiritual building that we are becoming that it might captivate others and cause people to marvel and share in the miracle of your church.

We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, the cornerstone,

Amen.

Questions for Personal Study and Group Discussion

Most of these questions are posed in the sermon or tweaked for our discussion. There are far too many questions for one study so you will have to be selective.

Cut it Out!

Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.

I wonder what Peter might say to us as a church [a small group or me personally] today?

+ What are the activities that should be pruned?

+ What attitudes among us need to be axed?

+ What qualities are needing to be grown and trained?

Have a Peter or a Petra?

Thinking individually, do we have a Peter or a Petra who we’ve invited to track with us?

+ Someone who coffees with us and checks in on us?

+ Someone who monitors our progress?

+ Someone who we have invited to speak into our lives with honesty and love?

Growing Into Salvation

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.

Peter casts this wonderful vision, “That you may grow into salvation.”

So the question we need to ask ourselves is not, “Are you saved?” but,

“Are we growing into salvation?” and

How are we growing into salvation?”

When did we first experience the new spiritual birth?

Are we still growing into salvation or has our spiritual growth plateaued?

Have we gone off the boil?

Have we become complacent about our spiritual development?

Even smug?

The Pure, Spiritual Milk

If Peter is meaning the spiritual milk of the word of God,[9] how regularly and how consistently are we getting the spiritual nourishment?

+ It might be timely to think of how exactly at ABC do we mother new believers?

+ How do we nurse those new to faith?

+ We have a nursery down beyond the Café but where is our spiritual nursery?

+ Who among us are the nurses, trained to feed and care for those newly born into the faith?

“Perhaps if we haven’t prepared and sorted these questions out, we won’t be entrusted with new spiritual babes. Or to put it positively, our preparation of the nursery, our training as spiritual midwives and nurses and doctors is a statement of faith. It’s the sign that we are expecting babies to be delivered into our arms as new believers, those who will then grow into their salvation.”

Living Stones

[this is the image and the following are many of the questions we will be discussing at the ABC Church Family Camp on the theme, ‘Vital Connections’ on the last weekend of July 2017. Get into them now but remember they’ll also be asked and discussed at the camp]

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 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.

When Paul Minear wrote his classic book on the Images of the Church in the New Testament,[10] he identified 96 different Biblical images for the church.

Do a brain storm right now, and see how many images of the church you might come up with.

Do you have a favourite image of the church?

Why do you think Peter chose the image of the church as a building or spiritual house?

How would this image have helped Peter’s scattered readers?

How would the notion of the One rejected by all mortals but chosen by God to be the cornerstone have encouraged these readers and how might it encourage us?

How does the image of the church as a building being built speak into your life at the moment?

When did we first come and connect with Christ the living stone?

How do we connect in life-giving ways with other believers—other ‘living stones’?

Where are we connecting?

How would we love to connect more firmly?

What’s keeping us apart? What is isolating you?

How might we connect in such a vital way that we feel supported and strengthened, that we no longer feel like an isolated block, discarded on some rubbish heap?

What is the mortar that is being used to bind us together?

What do we do at this mortar, meeting, point that will enable us to bind, despite the rising damp, the salinity or the quakes in life that threaten to shake our connections and our very foundations?

Option B

Two weeks after losing Dave, Sheryl was needing to prepare for a parent-child activity. She was talking to her friend, Phil and they came up with a plan for someone to fill in for Dave. At one stage, Sheryl cried out to Phil, “But I want Dave.”

Phil put his arm around her and he said, “Sheryl, Option A is not available. We’ve got to make the most of Option B.”[11]

Sheryl goes on to say that life is never perfect for all of us. Her experience of unexpected loss and grief might be extreme but we all have to live some form of Option B. This involves finding someone to fill in or being that someone to fill in.

In what sense are you needing to live Option B?

Where are you needing to have someone to fill in to help you?

Where are you seeking to fill in for others?

More Images of the Church

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 him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Which of these images of the church grabs you at the moment? Why?

Got a Favourite Building

“I wonder if through your travels, you’ve got a favourite building? It might be St Paul’s in London, India’s Taj Mahal, the Notre Dame in Paris, the Duomo in Milan, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona?”

+ Can you remember an edifice that you’ve visited where you have looked up and marveled?

+ Can you recall a building where you have been absolutely stunned by its beauty?

+ A structure that has simply filled you with awe? Even the presence of God.

Share your favourite building and what the experience meant for you.

How Might the Divine Architect be Building us?

What is it that we are becoming as a building?

Prayer Starter

With such memories and influences in mind, we say ‘Yes’ today to our divine architect,

We ask: “What is it that you have in mind for us to be—living stones here in Ashburton?”

We say: “We want to be a part of it. We want to share in your Grand Design.

 

[1] The imagery of birth met us back in 1:3 and it is repeated in 1:23.

[2] The picture of ‘spiritual milk’ is also used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3: 1-12 and the writer to the Hebrews 5:12-13.

[3] Paul Minear, Images of the Church in the New Testament, Amazon.

[4] Literally the word is people living ‘outside the house’.

[5] The New York Times Best Sellers, checked on May 21 2017.

[6] Option B at Amazon.

[7] Sheryl Sandberg, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy (p. 13). Ebury Publishing. Kindle Edition. Sheryl recounts this story several times and Phil’s most direct response is “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of Option B.”

[8] The Seven Last Words from the Cross, ABC, 14 April 2017.

[9] The picture of ‘spiritual milk’ is also used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3: 1-12 and the writer to the Hebrews 5:12-13.

[10] Paul Minear, Images of the Church in the New Testament, Amazon.

[11] Sheryl Sandberg, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy (p. 13). Ebury Publishing. Kindle Edition. Sheryl recounts this story several times and Phil’s most direct response is “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of Option B.”