Summary: In a world where "sticks and stones" can hurt and tear people down, we are called to be "living stones," builting up one another with Chtist’s own love.
The Church…Built on a Rock
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” This refrain has been used by many a generation of children to ward off the attacks of teasing peers. The image of children throwing rocks at one another has taken on new meaning of late, as our news is filled with images of Israeli and Palestinian children hurling objects at each other, miniature soldiers fighting a very real war. It seems as though the hatred and mistrust has become something that is learned at the earliest of ages, as though these nations come out of the womb hating one another. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Today’s scripture readings come to us, breaking into the midst of this image of violence and chaos.
Stones take up a curious role in our readings today. There are stones and there are stones. Stephen experiences stones hurled against him, bringing an end to his earthly life. In order to find out why Stephen is being put to death, we need to back up a bit in Acts. Chapter 6 records, “Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)…stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.” (Acts 6:8-10). Accusations were brought against Stephen, saying,"We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God… for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy [the temple] and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us." (vs.11, 14)
In response, Stephen recounted for them in a sermon the story of God’s saving activity, and how time and time again God fulfilled the divine promises. The people in Moses’ day turned their backs on God, Stephen recounts, but God did not turn against them. Stephen called the people to repentance again, to accept God’s salvation for their own. But instead of embracing God’s grace, they embraced the hatred that grew within them. In their anger, their ears were shut to Stephen’s message, and the stones flew to take away Stephen’s life.
But even while being murdered, Stephen’s eyes were fixed on God. Rather than shouting curses and revenge against his killers, instead of hurling stones in return, or at least hurling insults, Stephen offered forgiveness. "Lord, do not hold this sin against them [he prayed.] When he had said this, he died.” (vs. 60) In the midst of death, Stephen was living life to its fullest, offering life in God to his accusers and his murderers.
Our second reading also speaks about stones. The author references Christ Jesus as the cornerstone of our faith. The stone that had been rejected by the world has become the vital foundation of our faith. In the same way, Jesus was rejected by the world, and has now become the cornerstone, upon which our faith is based. And through our faith in this living stone, we are invited to become living stones ourselves. 1Peter 2:4-5 says, “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.”
We are called living stones, but the image is hard for us to grasp. After all, stones don’t “grow.” You don’t plant a pebble on a plot of land, and come back a few years later to find that a house has sprung up in its place. Houses are built through much effort and labor. Some houses are indeed made out of stone, but they didn’t grow that way. Think about the great castles in Europe. Did they just grow there? No. It took years of hard work to put each stone in place, cutting it to size, using mortar to hold it in so that the wall could be strong and secure. We don’t simply grow houses or castles. Or do we?
Think about the history of this congregation. How was it built? Who were the key figures who have shaped this worshipping community into what we are today? Because Christ was alive in each of the founding individuals, the families, Sunday School classes… this congregation is where it is today. Each person’s life was shaped by God’s designing hand, placed into the framework of the congregation, and held in place by the power of the Holy Spirit, to build this family of God into a spiritual house, to serve as a witness to God’s love and faithfulness to this community. As each brick comes together to build a house, so too each life comes together, built on Christ our cornerstone, to be the Church of God in this place.