Living Stones Build a Spiritual HOuse

When my children were little, we used to go on walks, and our walks would become treasure hunts for the best sticks and the most beautiful stones. We lived in central Asia when our children were little, and it was a mountainous country with rocks everywhere. So, sometimes we came home with a bag of beautiful rocks.

Many people in New Jersey go to Cape May to find the Cape May diamonds. Beautiful stones can be found on Sunset Beach in Cape May Point. The Cape May diamonds begin their lives truly “in the rough” in the upper reaches of the Delaware River, near the Delaware Water Gap. Pieces of quartz crystal are broken off and carried in the swift-running waters of the mountain streams that feed the river. Thus begins the journey of more than 200 miles that takes thousands of years to complete. Along the way, the sharp edges of the stones are smoothed as they are tumbles and propelled along the river bottom. Eventually, the stones come to rest on the shores of the Delaware Bay in South Jersey.

Women also love precious stones and gems to wear as jewelry. Diamonds for engagement rings are traditional, and birthstones for any occasion are welcomed.

In our scripture lesson today from 1 Peter, chapter 2, verse 4, Jesus is referred to as a “living stone.” That doesn’t make sense. A stone, boulder or rock is by definition dead. It is an inanimate object. “Living stone” is an oxymoron. Living and stone are not words normally used together like that. We need to understand the land from which Peter writes this letter. Jerusalem is a city built on a hill with valleys on every side, and mostly you see rocks and stones. The city itself is stone.

Peter, in writing this letter, looks around and sees all these stones. He is writing to encourage new Christians and followers, converted Gentiles who had been scattered by persecution in what is now modern-day Turkey. He wrote this letter to give new believers counsel on how to life in difficult times. He wanted them to follow Christ’s example, that the life of Christ might become evident in their godly response to opposition and trial. He encouraged them to focus on the eternal. Peter wanted Christians to be prepared to give an answer when their faith was attacked and when they faced trials as a result of trying to live out their Christian faith in the everyday world.

In this scripture and in other scriptures, Jesus is referred to, as we said, the “Living Stone” but also as the “cornerstone” to a solid foundation to build your house upon in life. A cornerstone is the first stone that is laid when a new building is being constructed. It not only forms the base upon which the rest of the stones will be laid, it also determines how the rest of the stones will be arranged. This one stone shapes the direction and structure of the whole building.

Psalm 118:22-23 says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and in Matthew 21:42, Jesus quotes this same Psalm 118:22-23 when he tells the parable of the wicked tenants who were caring for the vineyard and ultimately they put the owner’s sone to death, meaning Jesus in the parable will be put to death.

Peter also quotes from Isaiah 28:16, “A chief cornerstone, elect, precious and he who believes on him will be no means be put to shame.” The point is that Jesus would be rejected but that the Father would exalt him. The Jewish leaders rejected him, but God exalted him as the chief cornerstone. How did they reject him? They killed him, but God raised Jesus from the dead – our chief cornerstone – a living stone.

Peter then points to Jesus’ followers as “living stones” – becoming a spiritual house – a house not built with hands but with the Holy Spirit in us. Before we experience new birth in Christ, we are dead in our sins…we are lifeless, like a rock.

Jesus brought us from death to life through his sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection. Christ, our cornerstone, transforms us from dead rocks to living stones in his spiritual house. We are to take Peter’s words and become living stones. We are to be so filled with the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit that we are alive and strong and yearning to do Christ’s work in the world, praying for the world.

Over the last two months, secluded in our homes away from friends and family and church friends, we may be feeling more like dead stones that living stones, but Peter reminds us that God has a plan for each of us. Peter goes on to tell us that we 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. 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.”

Being living stones embraces the knowledge that we are all special and that God has a plan for our life even in the midst of suffering and trials. God wants us to live – to live out our faith, especially during days that are difficult. Peter, the disciple know as the rock, says, “Come to Christ, a living stone, and let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.”

As we come together, each of us a living stone, we are built into something greater through the power of Jesus Christ. Let yourself be built into a spiritual house and serve God in some way. Each believer is a living stone, and together we build a beautiful house of God. We are special and Christ is alive in us and waiting for us to live for him.

Only God can bring life into something that is dead and lifeless, like a seed until it is planted.

When Peter speaks of “living stones,” these aren’t simply rocks you find on the ground; they are cut stones, to precise dimensions for the construction of a building – God working in our lives. So, Jesus, being the Cornerstone of God’s Spiritual Temple, we can either take our own angle and position from the cornerstone and line ourselves up with Jesus, or we can refuse to live our lives built on him and stumble over him instead by being disobedient to God.

When people come to Christ and are incorporated into his body, the church, they begin to be formed into living stones like him. The living stones, oppressed by the world and suffering for Christ – they are the ones who are being built up by God into a “spiritual house.”

The temple of God is no longer a physical place in Jerusalem, but instead, is the corporate community of faith, the spiritual temple of God, and as a holy priesthood, has access to God through Christ. The church, empowered by Christ and the Holy Spirit, has the same close access to God as ancient Israel did.

When you build your life on the cornerstone, the true living stone Jesus, you are living stones, building a spiritual temple here on earth for others to see the love and mercy of God. The building is not done yet, and we need more living stones to make it complete. There is always more space for more precious living stones.

St. Patrick, who was from England, was kidnapped and became a slave in Ireland. While he was in Ireland, God began to transform Patrick’s heart. Patrick was convinced that the kidnapping and homesickness were actually opportunities to know Christ better. He wrote, “Anything that happens to me, whether pleasant or distasteful, I ought to accept with serenity, giving thanks to God who never disappoints.” There, he was a slave for six years until he escaped and went home to England.

Then one day, Patrick knew God was calling him back to Ireland, not as a slave but as a preacher of the Gospel. Many said, “Why does this fellow waste himself among dangerous enemies who don’t even know God?” But that was exactly why Patrick wanted to return to Ireland in AD 432. Patrick then spent the rest of his life preaching the Gospel in Ireland and seeing many people come to Christ.

Patrick never got over what God had done for him. In his confessions, he wrote, “I was a dumb stone, lying squashed in the mud; the mighty and merciful God came, dug me out and set me on top of the wall. Therefore, I praise him and ought to render him something for his wonderful benefits to me, both now and in eternity.” (John W. Cowart, People Whose Faith Got Them into Trouble. InterVarsity Press, 1990, pp. 31-42)

Like Patrick, we too were stones lying in the mud, but our mighty and merciful God came, dug us out, and put us into his magnificent holy spiritual house so that, together, we could bring him glory the rest of our lives, both on the earth and in eternity with him in our heavenly home he has prepared for us.

We are the living stones of faith. Let us be a living stone in the building of the spiritual house of God. Even though we are still separated and worshipping at home, we are still a living stone in the building of the spiritual house. As we pray for each other and learn from each other and grow in the Holy Spirit, we are built into something greater through the power of Jesus.

You can’t be a living stone alone. We are to build together on earth for eternity. Invite others to be living stones and join us in building up of the spiritual house. Find a stone this week as you walk or in your yard and write on it “living stone.” Hold it and let it be a reminder to you that you are to be a living stone for Christ every day and witness to the saving and forgiving love of the cornerstone – Jesus. Amen.

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