I find myself thinking of stones a lot these days…
And no, not the random ones one might come across in an untilled field or on the water’s edge.
I am thinking of the stones which make up the building where I lead worship week after week. Not actual stones, of course, but rather red bricks made more than a century ago which faithful Swedes carted in with wheelbarrows to erect this beautiful building where not only Swedes gather now.
I am thinking of these stones, in part, because I just approved a tuckpointing bill for this more than one hundred year old structure and I am struck by how these are not ‘living stones’ at all, unable to heal themselves or to regenerate, but are subject to the constant battering of wind and rain and snow and temperatures which dip well below zero and also climb towards the century mark year after year.
Indeed, I am thinking of these stones, in part, because I well remember that through the pandemic when the building was hardly used at all, our expenses remained pretty much the same, for the cost of maintaining a structure of this size and age did not change whether it was used to foster ‘living stones’ or not.
And it is always the dilemma, isn’t it, that for much of our collective memory, at least, we have always relied on buildings in which to gather and to nurture and to send out ‘living stones,’ they too much do become the focus instead of just a gift to be received along the way. Meant for good yes, but not for the ultimate good.
And it is hard to tease out, I know it is, for space becomes holy by what happens there and by how we carry those precious gifts with us always: the weddings and the funerals, the baptisms and the confirmations, and on and on. These are is holy spaces, yes, but only truly made holy by the ‘living stones,’ which have received and shared God’s gifts in these cherished places which have nourished us in life and in faith.
And so it is I wonder now as I often do how it is that we might turn our attention away from the space itself to the One who moves within it.
Indeed, how is it that we might begin to recognize anew that all these spaces made holy by all the ways in which God has made ‘living stones’ of those within them, are not really alive at all and not worthy of the time and attention and worry and yes, I’ll say it, even the resources we feel compelled to give to them year after year. At least not when we find ourselves valuing that which is and will be worn down by wind and rain and snow and all the rest more than God’s precious ones who gather there and more than that, those who have not yet known the power of God’s love extended to them because we have been too much concerned with those old ‘stones’ which do not live.
And oh, it’s easy to say, I know, and perhaps we are a long way from realizing the vision offered to us now by Peter where he reminds us that the stones which matter are those which are alive. Those which can feel the splash of water on their heads in baptism, who cup their hands to receive the bread of communion, who come together with hearts full of hope and hearts full of sorrow and everything in-between. And yes, even more than these, those in the world who know too much death, but who have not yet heard our invitation to a life where ‘stones lives.’
Still, I wonder if we would be helped along in embracing more fully what God intends for us if we paused to consider other ‘stones’ in the Biblical witness which are ours to be receive. For instance:
- The one that Jacob used for a pillow in Genesis 28, and how when he slept, he experienced the nearness of heaven to earth, and of how when he awoke he turned that stone into a signpost for something extraordinary had happened to him in those hours when he slept. To be sure, that stone could not be found today, but we know it once was by the witness that Jacob offered and by the certainty of God keeping God’s promises in him and through him.
- Or the twelve stones which Joshua had the Israelites gather from the riverbed and place at Gilgal as a sign of God’s love and mercy over forty long years to God’s people. (Joshua 4) Again, those stones are no longer, but the promise received and celebrated then still lives.
- Or the one where Jesus says that ‘on this rock’ he would build his church: Peter? Or his faith? Or his testimony? Whatever else may be true, Jesus was not speaking of an actual rock when he made this promise. (Matthew 16)
- Or this. Most of all this. Jesus’ prophecy that the temple would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days. That temple was more glorious than any structure built by human hands which any one of us have entered and indeed, that temple was destroyed, subject not to time and weather in this case, but to war which would always take away the symbols we cherish most. We remember though, that as it was for those first ‘living stones’ who followed Jesus, the only ‘temple’ that mattered then or now was Jesus. (John 2:19-21)
And yes, I am aware that in my pondering now, I have not given nearly enough attention to that which actually makes ‘stones live.’ On the other hand, I cannot help but wonder if we began to chip away at that which is not alive, then maybe we might see and hear more clearly that which is. For it is already there, already right here, the One who calls to us, inviting us to see and hear what we already know:
That buildings don’t live and they are not the object of God’s great love.
Rather, people are. Those who have already experienced the gift of being ‘living stones’ and certainly those who are yearning still to know the life that is intended for every single one.
- I have offered above just a handful of examples of ‘stones’ in the Bible. There are dozens more. Which ones come to mind for you? How might spending time in those stories help to shift our focus from stones which do not live to those which do?
- I expect you share my lament at how buildings take so much energy and attention that more pressing matters (‘living stones’) are too much neglected. How might we further important conversations about what matters most, particularly in a time when we recognize our buildings were built for another time and place?
- I traveled just today to be part of a congregational anniversary celebration of the church where I grew up. I was struck that the stories told were about people, about ‘living stones,’ both those still living and those who have passed their legacies on in the faith that is shared. The building was and is beautiful, of course, but it is only that, a building, put there in the first place to reach people who live in a world where heartache and loss too much threaten to carry the day. Where and how have you experienced such as this? What such stories have shaped your own story in your walk of faith?
- Finally, I am wondering today how the certainty that ‘living stones’ are the primary object of God’s great love is first and foremost freeing for us. What do you think?