In the book “Loving God” Chuck Colson tells the story of a Presbyterian Church in Kansas. In the mid 1970’s the church was growing so quickly that the sanctuary was filled with worshippers twice each Sunday and there was no room for more. The church was actively equipping its members for outreach as well as regularly inviting outsider speakers to challenge them to grow in discipleship. Because of their need for space, they raised 1 million dollars for a new worship centre. Just before the groundbreaking, they held a mission conference. A missionary from Guatemala spoke the last night, and showed slides from a recent earthquake. When they saw the damage to the impoverished but growing church, the congregation sat in stunned silence. Finally, one man seemed to speak for all when he said, “It just doesn’t seem right for us to have a Cadillac when our brothers and sisters in Guatemala don’t even have a beat up VW Bug.” Immediately someone else chimed in, “I don’t see how we can go ahead with the worship centre when the Guatemalan church is in desperate need of houses and meeting places.”
A business meeting of the church was called. Plans for the worship centre were scrapped and replaced with a modest $500,000 multi-purpose building. The rest of the funds were earmarked for the church in Guatemala with an additional gift of $500,000 in guaranteed, interest -free loans. Further, they sent their pastor and 2 leading elders to Guatemala to assist with the construction of scores of meeting places and parsonages.
This story illustrates the power and possibility of being “Living Stones.” The church is not a place but a people – whose spirit is life – and whose cornerstone is that One Life whose power was so great that we still call him “that living stone.”
As people of faith, we are called to be the vibrant, alive, ever living church. In other words, if we are living stones, we will build our church and ministries by the example of Jesus – his loving, caring, and compassion. And we will point others to Jesus, the “Living Stone,” It is a call for us to realize that we too are filled with new life. As living stones infused with the Holy Spirit, we can, as Jesus states in the gospel of John, “do even greater things than these.” We can do things that are beyond our wildest expectations.
What are we going to do with such possibilities? Are we going to pick up stones and attack people, or are we going to “build” something for God? Are we going to be passionate lovers? Are we building the way of justice and peace? Are we standing alongside the hurting and lonely?
At a choir practice one night, a stone came flying through one of the stained-glass windows in the church. The minister ran out the side door in time to see Tom, one of the neighbourhood children, running away.
After choir practice, the Minister went to talk to Tom’s mom. He knew that the family had few financial resources, and suggested that Tom do some odd jobs around the church and manse in order to work off the cost of the damages.
Tom did the required work, but continued to hang around with the minister. At Christmas, Tom’s grandfather came to the manse with a cheque to cover the cost of the repairs to the window. “The day Tom threw that stone was the best day of his life,” he told the minister. “Knowing you has changed his attitude.
It has been said the at the difference between a stumbling block and a stepping stone is your attitude. In the same way, the difference between a cornerstone and a rock in your path is one’s attitude. For young Tom, his attitude changed when he got to know the ever-living Christ that dwelt within the minister. The corner stone of faith took life and a human form. The stone that Tom threw was transformed into a life-giving relationship.
In the Epistle of Peter God’s people are described as “living stones” within God’s temple and Christ is described as the cornerstone that brings us all together. In this passage, “living stones” is the author’s image for a dynamic, strong people – learning, growing and changing through relationship with the Living God, Rock of our salvation.
To be “living Stones” and not become rigid or immovable in our beliefs is a challenge. We and the church universal, must live and breathe with the vitality of God’s Spirit or we will become destroyers of the very life we claim to promote. Ours is a living tradition that is always calling itself to grow and explore the fullness of relationship with the great “I Am” – Source of all our living and being.
As the farmer ploughed his field in order to plant potatoes, his plough struck a large stone. Coming around to move it, he had an idea. The part of Manitoba in which he lives is full of stones. Everyone has stones in their fields. If everyone brought their stones to church, he thought, they could be used to complete the wall behind the alter in the new sanctuary.
That is exactly what happened. Now, every Sunday, the congregation faces the wall constructed of unwanted stones from their fields. The stones have taken on a new life, a new function, and a new purpose. This has me thinking of the multiple uses of rocks. They are hard, sometimes like my heart when I am unwilling to be receptive to new insights, experiences and situations. They are of varied shapes. So too are we, God’s people. They can be split and reshaped. I like to believe that we too are constantly being reshaped into disciples of God’s way.
Stones can give us comfort. We make cairns as a way of saying that a person was here. The northern native people have been building inuksuk’s for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. They are piles of stones, often in a human form. They are often built to mark the way. In the middle of the barrens, it says “I was here.” The tee pee rings on the prairies also serve as markers identifying that our First Nations people were here on this piece of land. Our outreach is a tangible sign of our presence among those whom God loves.
In the Gospel of John, we experience Jesus’ farewell address to the disciples at the Last Supper. Jesus reassures and comforts his followers, with words so powerful and loving, that they are used in many funeral services. Jesus promises an abiding place with God, not one made of bricks and stone, but rather an eternal acceptance and welcome.
As we explore what it means for us to be “living stones” and followers of Jesus Christ, we do so assured that God embraces us into that perpetual home or mansion as the King James Version describes it. Let us pick up stones – not in anger, but with the intent of remembering that together we can build a strong community of faith. Amen.