Living Stones

1 Peter 1:3-5, 22-23,2:1-6
Dedication Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert 22 November 2009

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and redeemer.

We have had our gratitude rocks for three weeks now. Some of us even longer. About thirty years ago there was a new fad – pet rocks. A guy named Gary Dahl invented pet rocks, with their little beady stick-on eyes, after talking to some friends about how much trouble real pets were. What made the pet rock sales soar at Christmas of 1975 was the 32 page book with instructions about how to care for your pet rock. And of course, at Christmas time, when people are looking for useless but cute gifts for people who have everything they need, they often buy the latest silly fad.

Well, the Stewardship team of Peace gave you a pet rock for Thanksgiving. This gift was for the purpose of building your gratitude. And we hope your gratitude rock is alive and well, increasing in your life a renewed sense of God’s presence and power. If the gratitude piles up, the blessings will overflow even more.
(Image of cairn)

Do you know the old hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing“? We sang it a lot when I was a kid, but it’s not so popular any more. One of the reasons is that the language is so dated. “Here I raise my Ebenezer, Hither by They help I’m come; And I hope by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.” Ebenezer is a combination of 2 Hebrew words that literally means stone of help.
The Old Testament story is that of Samuel, Hannah’s son, whom she gave in gratitude to God, to be raised by the priest Eli. Samuel, leader of Israel, who after the powerful Philistines were subdued and did not again encroach on Israel’s land, Samuel set a stone of thanksgiving and named the peaceful spot where he laid that stone, Ebenezer, because of God’s help. Cairn is the Celtic word for such a special spot, where a stack of stones is placed.

We need physical, concrete reminders of our thanksgiving for God’s help. In a visit with Gretchen and John on Friday, I noticed they have a cairn as table decoration, an ebenezer to which may serve to remind them of God’s help and strength. Read the insert today and learn about the gratitude rock that accompanied and encouraged Peter Miller at his dissertation proposal hearing. Read also about the very ordinary stone, full of meaning because of the imprints it contains, a stone which has been on Peggy Donaldson’s dresser for a long time reminding her of the things that matter......Imagine with me that each of these rocks in the cairn on the screen is a person full of gratitude. What a powerful symbol – just as any gathering of Christ’s people should be a powerful witness to God’s goodness. Rocks of all shapes and sizes, rocks from all times and places, made of different materials, each with a history, together making a statement about God’s care.

In our scripture lesson today we are invited to come to Christ, the cornerstone, the One rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious. We are instructed to let ourselves be built as living stones into a spiritual house. “Let ourselves be built” This has special meaning for us, as a recently chartered church. We do not have a church building yet. We struggle even to have a hospitable place in which to meet. But because of all this, we are forced to remember that it is our submitted lives, given over to God, built together on Christ the Cornerstone in which the living Lord dwells, not in a physical structure. We, the people of Peace are a spiritual house, a holy priesthood. We are the temple and the priest. We are the sanctuary and the minister – we, all of us.

When churches falter, it is not because of crumbling buildings but because of crumbling, weak Christian characters, who wound one another. Churches crumble when their congregational identity is built on the shifting sands of culture, not on the Rock of salvation and the blessing of mutual love. When churches falter, it is because Christians failed to grow into their salvation. They just took the cookie (Jesus loves me. This I know) and ran on to do whatever they wanted to do. That’s not Christian faith. True Christians long to grow. They engage the struggle to love one another. They make difficult choices. They sacrifice to follow in Christ’s steps. We do this, knowing it is right and that Christ is on the road with this. We know that in all things, even difficult times, God is working the divine purpose out in our life together.

So hear now about the living hope of our calling in Christ, hear that calling defined as obedience to the truth and genuine mutual love, hear how those of us who have tasted God’s goodness are encouraged to grow into our salvation by allowing ourselves to be built into a place where God’s spirit is pleased to dwell.

Scripture

(image) Impressive rocks. Hard, cold, huge, imposing. But not living stones. A rock of refuge, of safety, yes. Living stones? No. But there were in Meteora, Greece, monasteries and nunneries on built on these rocks. (image of monastery) Emily and I were impressed with the living of these people who dedicated their lives to prayer and service for the sake of the world. The wise man, the wise woman builds her house upon the rock. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock.” These word of mine, he says. Those words from this sermon to which he is referring are challenging words – words about bearing good fruit or being thrown into the fire, words about the danger of hypocrisy – judging the speck in someone else’s eye while you have a log in yours. Words about the gate being narrow. Words about loving your enemies, turning the other cheek, doing good to those who are mean to you. We thought you were just talking about being sensible, but that kind of house on the rock makes no sense, Lord.

The rock is living a different life, a life set apart by God. And what makes the rock come alive? Hope in the love of God. Commitment to that life of obedience to the truth. Knowing that this calling is to something so valuable, so imperishable, that all the voices of the world are put in their proper place. (Image of Acrocorinth)

In Luke 19 we read about Palm Sunday, when the Pharisees demanded that Jesus silence his followers who were praising him, singing, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” Jesus replies, “If my people were silent, then the stones would shout out.” The truth will come out when Christ is revealed.

When Emily and I walked up to the top of Corinth, where Paul shared the gospel, we were struck by the way the sun caught these rocks and made them glisten as if alive. By comparison to the rocks, the tree appears dead.

You are living stones, my friends, when your hearts are full of gratitude for the new life we have in Christ. (Image of Christ) You are living stones when your gratitude is translated into an obedience to the truth, a sincere commitment to grow toward salvation, disciplining yourself to live in accordance with God’s word.

That means loving one another deeply from the heart, and ridding ourselves of all those negative thoughts and gossiping or hurtful words and bad intentions toward others. This is a high call. A call to holiness and generosity. A call to sacrifice for the sake of others.

These sacrifices are required to “let ourselves” be built into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood. We are called to offer spiritual sacrifices – to give up things for the sake of pleasing God and growing into our salvation.

That, my friends, is what you do when you make promises today to give in 2010 and when you follow through, as much as you are able, on those promises. You are making spiritual sacrifices. When you give of your resources – your money, your time and talent, then you are breathing life into stones, filling them with the heartbeat of gratitude.

You are living into this inheritance that is not perishable and you will never be put to shame for these sacrifices, for no one who puts faith in Christ will never be ashamed. Quite the opposite, you will make difficult sacrifices, giving generously, loving deeply, and will find your lives enriched, fulfilled as you grow into the salvation that God intends, the salvation that makes us together a saving place, a sanctuary of grace and challenge.

So don’t be a dead rock – scared to risk life and breath, scared to trust the One who created this earth and is in the process of saving you. Don’t be a rolling stone – too busy to notice the things that matter. Don’t be a rough hewn rock running roughshod on all who dare to cross your path. Don’t be a silent stone, unable to speak truthfully about what God’s doing in your life. Don’t be a lone pebble along the road, keeping what you think is a safe distance, but easily tossed around by anything that rolls along. Be a living stone – breathing with the love of Christ. Be a gratitude rock – one who gives back to God. Be an ebenezer (stone of help) – one that others can lean upon. And let yourselves be built together into a cairn of hope for this hurting world. Be the generous and loving people of God you are intended to be, built on Christ the head and cornerstone, our secure foundation.

O God, our rock of refuge, we re-commit ourselves to your service today with one of our most precious gifts, the gift of money. Speak to us now regarding these promises we intend to make. You know our particular situations, so speak gently to reassure us or offer us the challenge we need to grow in faith....Bless us with a firm resolve to live the new life to which you call us.... Take us and built of us a spiritual house, a holy people who minister to one another, who care for others with generosity of heart. Remove all fear in us, breathe life into us and make us your living stones, people who make spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to you through Jesus Christ, our cornerstone, we pray. Amen.