Living Stones, God’s Temple

The Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A.

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like 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. For it stands in scripture:

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner”,


“A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you 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.

1 Peter 2:2-10

What is the Church? If you ask most people that, they’ll start describing something like this: “oh a building with a steeple, lots of stained glass, an organ, and candles where people go to worship and have pimento cheese sandwiches after funerals.” Overall, a pretty accurate description I’d say, the building is after all the most obvious representation of the Church in many communities. But this description leaves out just one crucial thing: we do deviled eggs at funerals too.

In all seriousness, there is something missing in our casual descriptions of the Church. Often, we describe it as a building, or, if we are a bit more accurate, we describe it as an institution. But neither of these common ways of thinking of the Church are complete, they are missing the most important piece: the community.

If you check the catechism in the back of the the BCP and look at the question “What is the church?” the answer it will give you is “The Church is the community of the New Covenant”. In other words, we are the Church.

But if we are the Church, why is the first thing we think of is the building, or the institution? Well, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of serving on the Vestry, the building & grounds committee, altar guild, that special class of saints that are Jr. Wardens, or really just been around the building a while, you will be all too aware of how much time, energy, and money it takes to maintain a church building. They used to tell us in seminary: “if you’re not unclogging toilets and plugging leaks within your first six months of parish ministry, you’re not doing it right”.

Beyond the building itself, there is so much that goes on to maintain the institution itself: budgets, committee meetings, making bylaws and organizational procedures, communicating & coordinating with all the ministries so they don’t accidentally get in each others way, accounting, auditing, on and on. It takes a lot of faithful people, with lots of different skills working together to maintain a Church community. And because the building and the institution require so much maintenance, and have such a physical presence, they are often the first things we think of when defining “the Church”.

To be fair, this conflation of the building with the community isn’t a new problem, or an indication that we have “lost our way”. Looking at our readings today, it turns out it is a very old conflation. Actually, as a whole, there’s something of a theme around stones and buildings in the readings. Jesus talks about His Father’s house having dwelling places for the faithful, I Peter calls us to be to be living stones and spiritual houses, the Psalm describes God as a strong rock, and St. Stephen in Acts… You know, I don’t think we want to take the metaphor that far.

Going back to the I Peter reading, it is a rather remarkable comparison he makes when describing his community as the chief cornerstone of a new world. Taking the old line from Isaiah about the stone that was rejected becoming the chief cornerstone, he describes his community as something the world rejects, and even stumbles over, because the Church lays the foundation for a totally new world. For those who may not be familiar ancient architecture, the cornerstone was chosen by it having near perfect 90 degree angles. It was absolutely essential that it be as square as possible, because it was the stone from which the rest of the building began. If the angle was off, the lines would diverge and the whole project would be skewed. The world rejects the Church because the Church sets things at a different angle than their current orientation. The world seeks to build the most profitable house, the Church builds a house of God for all people.

While that may be all well and good that we have our buildings, our high-minded metaphors about spiritual houses, and our Gospel Mission, what about all that maintenance? For all our talk about the Church having this noble goal, and its members being “a chosen people” and a “royal priesthood”, why does it feel like all we ever do is plug leaks, unstop toilets, and try our best to maintain an institution that seems to be constantly crumbling in the modern world?

It’s a fair question. It’s no secret that the church as an institution has not always lived up to its mission. And many people have had their faith in God tested by serving on a church committee. How can all this institutional baggage, all these people and their baggage, be God’s Church?

That really is the transformative power of the Gospel; that all us rabble, all of us with our baggage, our squabbles, and confusion are God’s temple on earth. We are the Church. It is truly a remarkable thing that all of us are gathered here from all walks of life, different backgrounds, income, and education; that we come together to experience God’s love and prepare to go out and share it in the world. Where else can someone wander in and find a group of people who will take them as they are, be genuinely glad to see them, and love them for the rest of their life?

That’s the remarkable thing about living in community, living as the Church. Community, like any building, takes a lot of faithful people to maintain. And all that maintenance can be frustrating if we forget why we’re doing it. But God is always there if you seek Him. While the building may not be the church, it is our home where we celebrate, play, learn, worship, and take refuge together. While the institution may feel slow, and committee meetings feel frustrating, they are God’s people coming together to solve problems, ensure accountability, and making sure that the community has everything it needs to fulfill our mission. You will see God in the church budget meeting, or plugging the latest roof leak, because all these mundane things are people working together for the sake of the Gospel.

For as simple as it sounds, living in community, living as the Church takes a lot of work. For one, it means we really have to love each other, and that also takes a lot of work. We are told by society that we should be wholly independent, “rugged individuals”, self-sufficient, and belonging to no one but ourselves. Well-meaning preachers in this line of thinking will even say you are the Church. But neither of these things are true. We do not live alone and only for ourselves. No individual has all the skills, time, and energy to do this work alone. We do not belong merely to ourselves, but to each other, and to God. You are not the Church, we are the Church. We do the work of proclaiming the Gospel together, and each of us is a minister of the Church. Together, we are living stones, spiritual houses, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that we may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Amen.

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