The scripture stories from both the Gospels and the book of Acts about people taking up stones to kill another human being is always so difficult for me to read. I always hope I would be the first one to put down my stone. I always hope I would be the one who would hear the words of grace and forgiveness and realize I have nothing good enough in me to justify hating another person so much that I would be willing to kill them.
And I always consider what it must be like to become part of a crowd of people intent on harming another human being. What makes a group of people suddenly turn violent?
We have been seeing pictures on the news of people gathering in loud groups, yelling in police officers’ faces and on the streets of our cities, demanding and vocal about their own needs and wants. This herd mentality that incites riots and demonstrations…what makes people do that sort of thing?
I read a story about a young man who pushed a park officer into a lake because the officer was urging a group of people to practice safer distancing. The officer was being respectful and the group of people didn’t feel threatened. Yet, a young man just up and pushed the officer off the dock into the lake.
After he was arrested the young man was embarrassed. Why did I do that he wondered? He respects law enforcement officers. What would lead him to do something so stupid? I suspect that the heat of the moment got to him and he reacted violently. Fortunately, no one was hurt. This is herd mentality. And we all hope we wouldn’t succumb to such crazy behavior. And in this pandemic we wonder if we might, don’t we? Will we become those who hoard and scrabble, or worse, for want we think might be limited resources? Will we be the ones who are in people’s faces because we feel the urge to show force? Will we be the ones who metaphorically, take up stones to destroy something or someone?
How can we be grounded enough that we can be sure we won’t be that person? And believe me, I am pretty sure most of us have felt ourselves pretty angry at some point during this isolation.
I truly believe that one of the ways we can make sure we stay out of trouble from this rock throwing, violence filled hatred of the other is to recognize who we really are, according to God.
In 1 Peter we are called living stones. Now isn’t that a contrast to killing stones. Living stones. People who are being built up by God into a temple!
Not stones that are destructive, but stones that are living and growing into something solid and beautiful and worshipful of God. Something precious like a temple.
Hear the words from St Peter and relish them:
You yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple. You are being made into a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
This is about you! You are being made into a temple for God. Whose works of love and grace are acceptable to God. You! You are acceptable to God. You are not some germ laden being that is a threat to human kind. Don’t you feel sometimes that you are a threat to the human race. That as you hand over your money to the cashier you might as well be handing them a vial of germs. Or when you breathe you might be infecting your neighbor. It is so difficult being human right now.
But God says, even now, in this most difficult of times, God is still at work building you up into something permanent and holy. Strong and beautiful. Worthy of being a dwelling place of God. For that is what a temple is, a dwelling place for God.
That is certainly how I feel about the church, right now. We are being built up, not torn down, and definitely not shut down. As a matter of fact, we are growing into something much bigger than we ever imagined. We are growing right into your living rooms or dens, or backyards. Wherever it is you worship and listen to the word of God sung and preached and the work of God that is going on through this church.
Now I don’t want to sound creepy about this, the church growing into your houses like some kind of fungus. But think about this, the church is organically moving out of the building and right into your living spaces, and while it was weird at first, it almost seems natural in a way.
Of course, church should be here. Right where you are, because you are part of the church. Continually being built more and more, stone by stone into God’s temple wherever you might be.
As much as this has been difficult for all of us, I am seeing this as a gift. It used to be that if you missed a Sunday worship service it was hard to imagine that you were part of the church.
You weren’t inside the stones, the walls of the building. So you weren’t there. And if you missed a number of Sundays, it started to feel as if you didn’t belong anymore. At least not in a tangible way.
Now, it doesn’t matter where you are. Or what time of day or even what day you come to the church to worship. Because we are there, for you whenever you need the word of God preached, the hymns sung and the prayers of the community prayed.
And because we are having to do this together apart, it seems to me as if the church is getting built up in all sorts of places around our community, stone by stone.
Did you know that this video is watched in Arizona? In the care center? In New Mexico? In Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. Besides just Chatfield and Rochester. And, truly, I don’t even quite know exactly where or who worships with us. Some people try to track and build models for who is watching them where, I am just glad to get this video out for anyone to watch. I don’t have the know how to do much else.
And I don’t frankly care, because I believe what God cares about is that through our work and our worship wherever and how ever it is happening, living stones are being built together into something beautiful in the midst of something so scary and uncertain.
The scriptures are coming true, “all things work together for those who love God who are called according to God’s purposes” (Romans 8:28) We can claim this even in the midst of this horrible virus. That is how reliable our God is. That even in the midst of a horrible virus that is sickening so many people worldwide. God is working for good. And we are a part of it.
For the scriptures in 1 Peter also tell us: We are God’s people. Hear again these stunning words from 1 Peter:
You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of the One who called you out of the darkness into the wonderful, divine light. Once you were “not a people,” but now you are the people of God; once there was “no mercy for you,” but now you have found mercy.
I think if we keep this in mind, if we start believing this. That we are being built into something beautiful in which God can dwell, we can trust ourselves to be people whose stones are living beautiful stones that will be used for only good and not evil.