1 Peter 2:1-10
They hadn’t heard from him in six years. This brave man – who was born into poverty, yet worked and studied so as to earn a degree in medicine, and who had captured the admiration of the whole western world through his brave medical missions to Africa – was lost somewhere in that vast, unknown continent. In 1869 the New York Herald sent one of its reporters to try and find him. Henry Morton Stanley searched for two years with no success. And then one day, on the shores of a lake in Western Tanzania, there he was. “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” As if it could be anyone else. The celebrated doctor and missionary had been found.
Two years later, still working in Africa, the good doctor died of fever and dysentery, which he had battled for years. And yet his work carried on, for David Livingstone became a national hero and a symbol for all that was good and right about Christian missions. His life and service inspired great missionary societies, the abolition of slavery, many towns and monuments among African people who respected this generous man, and even an African American college in North Carolina which still bears his name today.
I was reminded of Dr. Livingstone because of his name. Our stewardship theme this year is based on St. Peter’s description of Christians as “living stones.” Turns out that the name Livingstone comes from Leving Town, named after the Leving family which established this town in Scotland more than 800 years ago – so not a direct connection to Peter’s words. Still, Dr. Livingstone is a connection to these words in another way, for he was a great man of faith working to the glory of God by the sharing of his gifts, just as Peter calls us to do in his message to the church.
When Peter describes us, the church, as a collection of living stones, we might think that the metaphor is simply used to show our connection to one another. “All in all you’re just another brick in the wall,” cried a famous rock song from the late 1970’s. We get it. We’re built together, whether brick or stone.
And yet, Peter makes clear that the image is about more than togetherness. It is also about holiness. It is about a holy togetherness – a true living – brought about by God.
In the Old Testament scriptures the Rock is God. He is the One who is solid and powerful. “The Lord lives – blessed be the Rock, the God of my salvation,” says Psalm 18, one of many references like this.
Other verses of the Old Testament then extend this metaphor to describe God’s activity. Three of these are quoted by Peter in today’s text. Peter and the writers of the Gospels all understand these verses to refer to God’s greatest and most profound activity—His sending of Himself as the Christ.
Jesus, then, is the cornerstone of Isaiah 28, chosen and precious in Zion. Jesus is the stone of Psalm 118—the stone the builders rejected. And Jesus is the stone of Isaiah 8, the One who is a stumbling and a rock of offense.
When Peter, then, calls us living stones, he is showing our connection not only to each other but to the Almighty God. We are no ordinary stones. We are the ones God is using to accomplish his chosen activity. We are the ones who bear the image of the living God.
Yes, Jesus is the One who is truly chosen and precious, and yet his followers too are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” These are powerful words, showing a unity and togetherness based on the strength of God.
Today in the church, besides beginning our three-week Stewardship emphasis, we are also celebrating “All Saints’ Day.” This day in the church allows us to remember those particularly holy people who may not be canonized by a church or have their own day on the calendar but still bear remembering – people like David Livingstone, and those who are very important to our own faith life. I encourage you to remember those folks in your thoughts and prayers today.
All Saints’ Day is also a time to remember that each of us who bears the mark of Christ through our Baptism into his name is made holy and thus is considered a saint. This teaching is illustrated for us by our first lesson today, from Revelation 7, which pictures all who have been made clean by the blood of Christ as gathered together and dressed in white robes.
We are chosen and precious, yes. And, we are being built up as a spiritual house. God does the building. He’s the one who breaks down barriers between people by filling them with faith and love. He’s the one who allows us to be stacked together as a useful and purposeful building.
The Rock musician may decry the individual being used for the institutions of the world—and rightfully so if that institution is only a barrier. But the spiritual house of God is not to be a barrier, but rather a shelter, a home—someplace nurturing and caring for the equipping of saints.
A Stewardship emphasis on these things reminds us that as much as God is the builder, we too have a responsibility to do our part. We are to allow our gifts to be used by Him. We are to bring our gifts as a sacrifice to Him, trusting Him to use these gifts according to His wisdom.
When we talk about gifts we are reminded of the diversity of gifts God has given. We see diversity in people—their personalities, backgrounds and ideas. But God would have us celebrate diversity by focusing on gifts—the diverse gifts He has given us. And so some have an ability to communicate, and others have an ability to show love. Some have an ability to work with their hands, others more with their minds. Some have an ability to teach, others have an ability to heal. And they’re all equally important gifts.
Our Stewardship effort asks us to think through our gifts once again and imagine how they might be used for the building up of the spiritual house, the church. Please think and pray on this, each of you, and be prepared to indicate how you’d like to share your gifts with the church. We are thrilled at St. Paul’s because of how we were able to build a beautiful addition on to the church, but even more beautiful would be the building of our membership, programs and ministries. These are the true components of a spiritual house.
Note too how Peter in our text describes our giving. He calls it the offering of “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.” These sacrifices certainly start with the giving of our heart in prayer and worship. But they also include the ways in which we offer our gifts. The fact that such giving is called a “sacrifice” reminds us that our giving is not just to be done with what is leftover on our plates, but is actually to be from the first fruits of what we receive. Such giving might be a bit painful to us, but we know that a sacrifice to God is pleasing to Him and beneficial to all.
So far, the gifts I have mentioned have been our talents and abilities. We are indeed to use these in our work at the church. But we must also think about the gift of money that we earn. Yes, even though we earn it, we still call it a gift—for God is the one who allowed us to earn it.
Our gifts of money are to also be given back to the Lord—especially so that we might engage in one particularly important activity of the church. As Peter put it in our text, we are to especially be concerned about “proclaiming the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
To do this, the church calls pastors to proclaim the Word in sermons and administer the sacraments, which witness to the excellence of our Lord Jesus Christ. The pastor also oversees the ministry of the word in a congregation, equipping and encouraging others to proclaim Christ’s excellence in word and deed. The excellence of Christ is the forgiveness of our sins and all the messages that come from knowing Christ crucified and Christ risen from the dead.
I like that word “excellencies” because, in addition to describing the work of Christ, it also pushes us to do things in a way that reflects God’s glory. We are to seek excellence in our service. Yes, we need to be careful about using this criterion. Excellence is just as much about heart and effort as it is about beauty and effectiveness. Still, it encourages us to build on our talents and give our best.
Last Sunday, Pastor Lehrer placed a large bucket of stones in our narthex. If you didn’t get one last week, please do so today. His instruction to us was to take a stone and use it to remind ourselves of our calling to be a living stone—a child of God who is chosen and precious to Him, and who has been enlisted in God’s work of building a spiritual house.
Pastor Lehrer said we could use the rock in any way we’d like, and that we could use our imagination. (By the way I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean to throw it!)
However, I’m going to suggest a very specific way for you to use that rock. I suggest that you put it in your pocket and leave it there, at all times, putting it in your new pocket if you change clothes, until you take the time to fill out a Stewardship form pledging your time, talents and treasure. Think of it as a reminder. And a sacrifice. I’m guessing you’ll get to that form rather quickly.
And, if you do this, then also think about that rock in your pocket as a little extra weight. When you fill out your form and are released from carrying that extra weight, you can be reminded that your giving is not only helping to lighten your own load, but also others whom you will benefit through the sharing of your gifts.
Regardless of how you use your rock, I pray that you will take your stewardship, or managing, of God’s gifts to you very seriously. See it as both a way to give thanks and as an opportunity to help others. Offer yourselves sacrificially and with great faith, for the continued building of this and every spiritual house.
And, as a member of a spiritual house, I hope you truly appreciate what you are a part of. God has built us on the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ, so that our work will produce love, shelter and a place of mission for the sake of the world. When we build on Him we know that we will truly be blessed. In the name of Jesus our Savior, amen.