Saturday, 17 May 2014

Living Stones - change and stability

1 Peter 2:2-10,  John 14:1-14
“Come to him, a living stone,, and like living stones let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.”.
I’ve spent quite a lot of this week wondering about what a ‘living stone’ really is. You might have come across a house plant called ‘living stone’ or lithops: it looks like a couple of greenish pebbles and just sits there for the most part, but if you’re lucky it will suddenly produce a flower, like a yellow or white daisy, from between the stone-like plant parts.
Is that what the writer of the letter is imagining? We are meant to be people of long periods of inactivity followed by a short burst of life? I don’t think so. I think Peter is wanting us to think about a life of faith, a life of following Jesus, that is both sure and firm but also involving growth and change.
The first letter of Peter was probably written to early Christians who were experiencing persecution.
About 40 years after Jesus’ death & resurrection the Roman army had finally destroyed the Jewish temple, and both the Jewish authorities and the Roman rulers had started to try to stamp out the followers of Jesus. It was a hard time to be a follower of Jesus, and this letter is written to try to encourage them. At this point in the history of the church there are no buildings, no real order or structure, nothing we might recognise as a church really, just groups of people who have heard one of the disciples talk about Jesus and all that he did and said and was. These people are trying to follow Jesus, and to help them they have this letter written by someone calling himself Peter.

First of all, the letter says, be built on Jesus Christ, and recognize that he is not like a dead piece of stone – firm and solid but unchanging and inactive.
Jesus is the living stone – he has been raised from death and through the Holy Spirit he is with us always.
The letter then invites those who seek to follow Christ to be built up, like living stones themselves; to proclaim the mighty acts of God; and to answer the call out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.
It’s all go, this life of faith, it’s growth and change and movement and activity.

If that all sounds a bit exhausting, then take heart in what Jesus says, in John’s gospel about the relationship between him and the Father. “Whoever has seen me has seen the father”. There is in Jesus something of the unchanging, everlasting, ever-flowing grace of God.

That is why the first letter of Peter describes Jesus as the cornerstone: the most stable part of the structure, the part that holds everything else together. This is the part that will withstand everything the weather can throw at it, all the passage of time, every change that happens around it.
The Psalms tell us God is our Rock – and Jesus shows us that same stability of God’s presence in our lives. Jesus is the cornerstone.

Think of the last ruined building that you saw, perhaps a tumble-down barn or deserted cottage. The roof was almost certainly caved in, the windows long gone, the walls beginning to crumble.
But the last thing standing is often the corners of the building. The cornerstone is the most reliable part of the whole thing, so build all that you do on Jesus Christ, who will hold you firm and sure.

Being firm isn’t the same as refusing to change, though. Jesus promises “In my father’s house are many dwelling places”, or in some versions there’s an even grander promise “many mansions”.

But the word that Jesus actually uses is not the word for a grand mansion or for what they call on the property programmes on TV a “forever home”.
It is the word for a resting place – a stopping off point – a layby, if you like. God has prepared many places for you to rest and stay awhile, promises Jesus. And he promises God’s presence with us wherever we rest and  stay.

But Jesus hints at the fact that our journey is not yet over – this is only a stopping off point. And then to make it even clearer, he says to his followers “I am the way”. Not the destination or the end-point or the goal…

If we have given our lives to following Jesus we are committed to the journey, the following, the way. So whatever stage we are at in life it is not the end of wondering and waiting but the beginning of the next part of the adventure.

People following Jesus are people on the way; moving, changing and growing into the people God made us to be – closer followers of Jesus. We are called to be people of the light, signs of God’s grace, those who show what God has done, who reflect God’s love and mercy and grace.

For the people to whom Peter was first writing, his words are meant to encourage them that although they face danger and violence as followers of Jesus, their lives have purpose and God’s love will be with them.

We are not living in times of danger and persecution. But that doesn’t mean life is always easy.
Personally, we might be facing health issues, financial worries, family or relationship tensions.
As a church, as the whole Christian church in the UK and as a local church, we may feel we are dwindling, struggling. Sometimes we might feel mocked or misunderstood.
So what does it mean for us to hear these readings speak of people on the way, moving and growing and following Jesus -  yet stable and sure: “living stones”?

I think first of all our need to be rooted in and built on Jesus is the same.
We are still in the weeks after Easter – hopefully we still have something of the Easter joy in our hearts – as well as the beautiful Spring sunshine to lighten our lives.

Jesus is risen. Whatever we face, our Father God shows us that the power of his love is greater than anything – it has brought Jesus through death. Even the things in life that look final and life-crushing can be transformed by God’s grace. We are made for life eternal, and that’s what God promises us in Jesus – life in all its fullness.

And we are made to be God’s own people: a living sign for the world of what God’s grace can do.
The love, mercy and grace of God we have known in our lives needs to be shown in how we treat others.
So as we gather around God’s word today I hope we have been reminded of what God’s kingdom of love and grace, peace and justice looks like and we have heard God calling us to part of what God is doing in the world.

We need to be rooted in Christ, and built up to God’s glory – we are called to be living stones, growing in God’s grace and following Jesus more and more closely. May we know both the life and the stability of the presence of love in our lives, so that we can be built together by God, through the power of the Spirit, into something holy and good.

To the praise and glory of God – Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

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