Sermons

Megan Holding

Easter 5A

May 14, 2017

1 Peter 2:2-10

St. Paul’s, Brookline

“. . . [L]ike living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” - 1 Peter 2:5

Earlier this week,

workmen arrived at our neighbors’ house and began building a stone wall.  

It’s not one of those stone walls for which New England is famous

-- the walls of rather large, round boulders

gathered from fields and randomly placed along the edge of a field or a farm.

Neither is this wall is like a brick wall

-- rows of evenly shaped and formed clay bricks all the same size and shape stacked neatly atop each other.

Rather, this wall that they’re making

is one of those stone walls made from smaller, thinner, chunks of rocks

-- rows and rows of bluestone, perhaps

-- rows and rows of stones roughly the same thickness,

but not at all the same size or shape.

The workmen sift through a mound of stone,

sorting and stacking them one by one

to created a dense, relatively even,

orderly but not at all straightforward line.

Their work is methodical,

With a rhythm of carefully selecting their next stone,

looking at each,

noting the unique features of each,

considering how each fits into the wall

as it slowly rises along the edge of the lawn.  

The work progresses in a puzzle-like way

as the workmen consider how the stones will each nestle in to the other:

the bump of one supported by the bulge of another;

the jagged angle of the edge of one propping up the curve of another.

And their work is slow as they place a stone,

test it, take it off, reposition it,

replacing it with another

and then placing the former in an entirely different spot.  

Each stone has a unique shape.

Each stone has unique contours.

Each stone has a place.

Each stone plays are role.

Each chosen, one by one, to take its place in this evolving structure.

Removing one or a few,

Would weaken the whole structure.

****

“Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house,”

the author of 1 Peter wrote to members of the early Christian movement

in the second reading that we heard this morning.

Words written at a time when the place of worship mattered so deeply,

and the early Christian church was trying to find its place

in a world not always willing to allow it to establish itself.

Let yourselves be formed into the church,

the author encourages his readers.

Gather around the cornerstone of Christ,

with Christ as your foundation

with Christ as the guiding stone,

gather around,

let the spirit form you into the sacred place,

the sacred home,

the sacred structure,

the sacred body of your faith.  

“Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house,”

the words echo to us today,

-- a faith community in a time and place

in which we have a structure, have a home, have a physical form.

But in which we still experience being formed

and re-formed

as our stones shift, our context changes, our call continues to evolve.

In which we still experience the spirit

pointing us toward Christ the cornerstone,

Christ the guiding stone,

drawing us round

gathering us round

forming us as living stones into this iteration of a spiritual house

this iteration of the body of Christ

this iteration of the ever-evolving structure of Christ’s church in the world.

****

It is a two-part invitation,

a two-part instruction.

The first part: to gather,

to come together, each of us our own unique living stone,

gathered together to form a structure.

The second part, to make sure that structure is a spiritual structure,

a “spiritual house,” as the scripture passage calls it.

***

The first part is pretty straight-forward and easy to see in the metaphor of building a wall.

As I would pause each day this week

To watch the workmen’s progress at my neighbors’ house,

I noted the workmen appreciating each stone,

noticing each stone’s unique characteristics,

considering each stone’s unique place in the structure.

Those stones are each as wonderfully unique as each person in this room,

Each person who has ever been in this room,

Each with our own gifts and needs,

Each offering just the angle another needs to lean on for rest,

Each having the funny gap on the side that requires being propped up by another.

The intricacy of how each stone, each of us,

has its place in the wall,

how each brings gifts and home and needs and desires,

individual attribute complementing each other,

which, when gathered together

can miraculously form a strong and stable structure

I thought of how Jeff often describes his love of our taking communion in a circle

as a sign of how we never stand alone in our faith,

Of how we always have someone on either side

Of how we are able to lean on each other in our journeys with and toward God.

I thought of the give and take of ministry, of service, in this community

of how so often we rest on one another

of how we work to recognize how our gifts complement each other

how they are stronger and more complete when placed together.

I thought of the spirit working in and within us,

a collection of individual living stones

gathered and formed into a structure stable and strong.

****

The second part of the reading’s instruction to let ourselves be formed into a spiritual structure

Is a bit more amorphous.

Once gathered together, how to we make sure we are gathered in the form God calls us to be?

Not as any structure, or house, or faith community,

but as particular one,

A spiritual house, a spiritual community,

a structure, a gathering, a community formed by the Spirit,

filled with the Spirit,

responsive to the Spirit.

 

Like the workmen on my block methodically placing and replacing the stones atop the wall,

We have our own methodical work to do

as we constantly form and re-form the spiritual house we are called to be,

Adding stones,

Reshaping ourselves,

Responding to new needs and new contexts.  

Our work is the work needed to make sure that this structure is and remains a spiritual structure

as we change,

as the world changes.

It is our response to, our acceptance of, the Spirit’s constant invitation to reflection and consideration.

It’s the reminder to continue always in the work of discerning,

of letting ourselves be guided and formed into the structure God calls us to be,

the structure God needs us to be.

It’s our own methodical work of looking at each other,

Seeing each other,

Recognizing in and calling out from each other new gifts for new ministries

New seasons for rest.

It’s the practice of holding our ideas and insights in our head

and at the same opening our hearts to hear and hold the whispered guidance of the Spirit.

It’s the reminder that this is God’s structure, and not our own,

a spiritual structure formed through and with and for the work of the Spirit.

***

And why is the kind of structure we gather into important?

It too has to do with my neighbors’ new wall.

My interest in the workmen’s artistry, my appreciation of their craft

Are what first caught my eye.

But after a few days, my constant interest in the project shifted from appreciation of a job well-done

To wondering about what the job actually was.

I couldn’t for the the life of me figure out why they needed a new wall.

Before the work had begun, there existed in that spot a perfectly fine hedge of bushes.

Why all the bother and effort?

By the end of the week, though, as the wall took shape,

I realized the the wall was a sort of a retaining wall,

Creating higher and wider space for a new garden,

One raised out from the shadows of the porch, held in the sun

The new wall was literally the foundation for new life.

Once I saw this, I noticed in my daily stop by the neighbors’ yard

That my observations shifted from the intellectual curiosity about craftsmanship

to heart curiosity,

anticipating the beauty that the wall would embrace and support.

Recognizing again that structures themselves are important

But that the kind of structure they are,

their use, purpose

is even more important.

Recognizing the importance of paying attention to our own formation, of

being gathered in community

and

being formed as a spiritual community

Recognizing the importance of paying attention to the purpose, the call, of our gathering together

Because it is through that work,

the work of listening for and hearing and responding to the Spirit

that we will be formed into the spiritual house to which God calls us,

a spiritual structure that offers foundation to,

embraces,

supports

the new life our world needs.

Amen.

 

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