Becoming an Ancestor: The Life of a Living Stone
“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.”
The image is a fascinating contradiction that immediately draws us in: living stones.
Stones are associated with many images and ideas but rarely are they called living.
We think of them as permanent and lasting, but as dead and inanimate, void of spirit and life.
Peter, the one who was named “The Rock” by Jesus himself, asks us to rethink our assumptions about cold, dead stone.
And really he is carrying forward Jesus’ own teaching.
In the Gospel of Matthew, when Simon Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus did not say, “On this river I will build my church,” or “On this tree I will build my church,” or “On this metaphysical theory will I build my church.”
Jesus said, “On this rock I build my church, and even the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
Jesus built the Church of the Living God on living rock.
And Simon’s name being changed to Peter, the Rock, was not even the center of the church.
Jesus proclaimed himself the Rock of our Salvation, the heir to Isaiah’s prophecy that Peter would later cite in our lesson today:
“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner.”
As Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem in the Gospel of Luke, the Pharisees rebuked him for all the noise the crowds in the streets were making to welcome him.
They ordered Jesus to tell them to be quiet.
Jesus says that even if he commands the people to be silent, the rocks and stones themselves will cry out with joy to welcome him.
And so we see in the scriptures laid out for us like stepping stones, that in God’s kingdom, stones are anything but cold, dead rock.
In this Easter season, we rebuke the common understanding that Jesus would be dead and stay dead after being crucified.
We proclaim the Rock of Our Salvation, the Head and Chief Cornerstone, to be alive, and through him, we the little stones are newly alive as well.
But in our life as living stones, we are not scattered far apart across the wide landscape of life.
Instead, we have been called together to form a structure, a rock-solid temple of holiness to God called the Church.
Here we see another remarkable expectation of us as stones: Peter calls us to come to God as living stones.
Normally we think of stones of staying put wherever they are, but we as living stones have the power to respond to God’s call and come together to form something far more remarkable than we could ever be alone.
Peter characterizes the living stones as being rejected by mortals and yet chosen and precious in God’s sight.
Each of us knows what rejection feels like, how it can make us feel like there’s a rock in the pit of our stomach, when we wish the earth would open up and swallow us, so we could just be an ugly old rock hiding in the weeds somewhere.
But God looks at each and every one of us and does not see a “chip off the old block,” a mixed-up and often sinful person making the same mistakes our parents did and feeling cracked and broken up by the blows of life.
God looks at each one of us and sees a precious stone.
If I ever thought of myself as a stone, I certainly never thought of myself as a precious stone.
But God looks at one person’s kindness and sees the fresh green glint of an emerald, or sees another person’s humor and sees the bright sparkle of a ruby, or even the steadfast faithfulness of our loved ones who have died that glowed like a pure blue sapphire in this life and now shines with joy in the heavenly realm.
We are precious and beautiful in God’s sight, living gemstones that God wants glowing with the love of Christ.
But on any given day, whether we’re feeling as bright and sparkly as a gemstone or downtrodden and small as a piece of gravel, the amazing thing is that we the living stones are given a choice.
Peter asks us to let ourselves be built into a spiritual house.
We have a choice.
We don’t have a choice about who we are.
We are precious in God’s sight and have the potential to be a part of something wonderful whether we want to be or not.
But we do have a choice about what we do.
We can isolate ourselves and give in to our own worst impulses of selfishness and greed, or we can let ourselves be molded and crafted by God into the temple.
We have another lesson about stones in our scriptures today, the martyrdom of Stephen in the book of Acts.
These stones, far from being built into a house of God, are instead used as instruments of destruction.
They are thrown as projectiles of hate and function only to cause someone’s death.
How many times have the stones of the church committed this sin?
It is up to us to be living stones that speak a message of hope and grace and possibility rather than passive, inanimate, dead stones that are only used to cause harm to others.
Each living stone has its own special place in the House of the Lord that cannot be filled by anyone else.
Where do you fit in?
Are you a square foundation stone, quietly working behind the scenes to help the ministry of the church go on?
Or are you a tile stone in the entryway, showing hospitality and evangelism to all who come to our door?
Are you a pillar stone, the first to contribute time and treasure?
Are you a decorative inlaid stone, beautifying worship with music and art?
Are you a stone on the outdoor pathway, with one foot in the church and one foot in the world, the better to serve all in need?
You may be all the above at different times in your life as God calls you into different ministries.
Why does all of this matter?
It matters because we are the ancestors.
We often think of the word ancestors to refer only to the past, to some remote and far off group of people whom we honor and revere, but regard as somehow unreal, removed from the everyday struggles of life.
We think of the ancestors of the faith as people who were on fire with passion for God, people like Stephen who stood bravely for the values of integrity and courage and love.
They were all of those things.
But along with being on fire with passion for God, they also stubbed their toes and got runny noses and fought with their spouses and were depressed and rude and cranky sometimes.
They were regular people.
They were regular people who allowed themselves to be living stones built into something lasting.
They let God reach into their souls and mold them into people who overflowed with love and grace and courage right along with the stubbed toes and chronic lateness and bad money management or whatever else they struggled with.
That is why we revere them.
That is how they created a lasting legacy that inspires us today.
They were living stones, alive to God’s call to them and willing to be built into something larger than themselves.
And we are those people right now, to the people who follow us, a hundred years from now, five hundred years from now, a thousand years from now.
It is all too easy for us to get stuck on the level of paying bills and keeping the lawn mowed and watching American Idol.
Or the circumstances of life may draw us one level deeper, to bearing the struggle of cancer or trying to decide whether to divorce our partner.
But like our ancestors, we have to let ourselves be drawn even deeper than that, to the level where we are changed by God, the level where we encounter the deep questions of life and meet them with honesty and creativity, where we confront and engage the hunger and need and loneliness of the world and hurl ourselves out to meet it with courage and faith.
Those are the struggles and the joys that will make us ancestors in the faith, not just people who lived a long time ago.
There is a difference.
We are creating our legacy every single day, with every choice we make.
We have the choice whether our memory will strengthen and encourage our descendants, because they will see that we tried and failed and tried again, over and over, to be faithful to God’s call to us, or whether we will fade into obscurity, the call of comfort and convenience keeping us on the shallow surface of life, never making the sacrifices and embracing the joys of the deeper life that is the adventure of faith.
It doesn’t take any membership papers or special status to be an ancestor.
There are no boxes to check or labels to wear.
It only takes the courage to open ourselves to God moving in our lives.
As we draw nourishment from the saints of the past, from Stephen on down, we have the opportunity to cherish the grace for our own and then set it free to bless others by how we live every day.
And so I invite you to begin today to be an ancestor, a living stone whose life and legacy will strengthen and inspire the hungry souls of the future.
This family of living stones is never complete, but is always made stronger and more beautiful by calling others in. We are the ancestors of the future saints, living stones whom God is calling forth into new life.
Let’s build something together.