Stones have a minor, but important, recurring role in Scripture. Just to name a few of the highlights: There was the stone that Jacob used as a pillow the night he dreamed of the ladder with the angels ascending and descending into heaven, and he met God for the first time. There was the stone that Moses had on Mt. Sinai on which God had written the commandments. There were the twelve stones that Joshua had pulled out of the River Jordan when the Hebrew people moved into the Promised Land. There was the stone that Samuel raised and named Ebenezer - Stone of Help - as a monument after the people were able to fend off an attack from their enemies. There was the stone used to build the Temple, the center of religious life for the Israelite people, including Jesus, who regularly went there to pray. The temple was understood to be the dwelling place of God.
Jesus then takes that stone of the Temple and turns it into a metaphor for himself: The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. Elsewhere, he said that if you tear down these stones of the temple, in three days the temple would be raised again. This confused people who thought that he was talking about the literal temple. Instead, he was talking about himself, which was the new dwelling place of God.
The Epistle today takes that image of Jesus as the stone of the Temple, the house of God, and extends it to the early Christians. The author writes to those early Christians: "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." Christ's life and their lives were intertwined. Just as Jesus was a living stone, the members of the Body of Christ, were living stones - stone monuments of God's presence and help; stones on whose hearts were inscribed God's teachings; stones built into a dwelling place for God.
After having visited the Holy Land a few times, I understand why stones keep making an appearance in the Biblical story. The Holy Land is full of stones. First off, the terrain is rocky. As a result, there are a lot of stones, and not a lot of wood, and so buildings traditionally and into today are all made from stone. On top of that, the stones of archeological ruins are scattered throughout the land. People come from all over the world to see the stones in the Holy Land. Christians, in particular, come to see the stones that Jesus walked on, like the stones steps of the temple; and to see the stones that now mark the places where Jesus taught and healed and died and rose, like the various churches in Jerusalem and Bethlehem and Galilee.
In my pilgrimages to the Holy Land, I have found the experience of visiting these stones to be profound, enriching my faith as I walked where Jesus walked. As I saw the places mentioned in Scripture, I started to read and hear the stories of our faith more deeply as my mental image changed. The stones of a mosaic at a church in Galilee enhanced both the meaning of the feeding of the 5000 and the Eucharist for me. The stone walls of a little chapel in Jerusalem enhanced the meaning of the tomb for me. The ancient stones of the Holy Land have had a profound impact on my life. Equally, or perhaps even more so, though, has been the impact of the living stones. The local Christians, the descendants of the first Christians, are living stones. They are a people living under difficult circumstances, with no easy answers, in a situation in which many have lost any hope, but they have maintained their hope in the risen Lord, who is their Way, their Truth, their Life.
The lives and witness of these living stones have inspired my faith and continues to do so. The same is true for us here. The stones of our building, which aren't stones, of course, but brick and wood, are important. In this place, people have encountered God dwelling here. Like Jacob, many folks have had experiences here that could lead them to say 'truly this is the house of God, the gateway of heaven.' Personally, this place - these stones - mean so much to me as the place where I was ordained, the place where I was married, the place where several family members have been baptized. I have encountered the risen Lord countless times among these stones. But even more so, it is about the living stones. The Body of Christ acting as Christ's hands and heartin love and service to the sick, the hungry, the prisoner, the stranger. Living stones that not only worship Christ crucified and resurrected, but enter the pain and suffering of Good Friday that happens on a daily basis in our world to help bring about Easter's resurrection - new life, restored life, transformed life. I have seen the living stones in this community transformed into spiritual houses where God dwells.
Come to him, a living stone, and be living stones yourselves, my friends in Christ. Transform yourself into a spiritual house for God to dwell. See God dwelling not only in here in this place among the stones of a building, but in the living stones. See God dwelling in yourself. See God dwelling in your neighbor. Love and serve the God that you find there. Amen.