The readings for today were 1 Peter 2:2-10 (stones and building ourselves into temples for God) and Acts 7:55-60
There are many different kinds of stones, and there are different things we can do with them.
If a group of children was given stones like this, they could do different things. They might use one stone to smash another stone to see what was inside the stone. This is a bit dangerous – sometimes a small piece of stone will shoot out and cut someone or hurt an eye. They could paint the stones like children did at our How Does Your Garden Grow evening.. They might put their stones together to make a wall or a circle like some people use for campfires. They might use them for decorations or markers in a flower bed or along a lawn. And some might use them to break things or hurt other people.
When bad things happen to us, they can feel like stones being thrown at us. And we can do different things with these stones. An older girl started calling girls in her school bad names that hurt. Some girls called her bad names back to get even. Some girls cried. Some girls called other girls bad names. One girl started a group to try to stop name-calling. And another girl, Agatha, said this to that girl: “That name hurts. Why did you say that to me?” The girl doing the name-calling was surprised by her question, and said, “Just because.” Agatha said, “That’s not enough of an answer. If something is bothering you enough for you to call me names, I need to know what it is so I can help you.” And she did. Instead of letting the stones of bad names hurt her or make her throw those stones, Agatha used those stones to build connections. Prayer:
Message: Stones on the Road / Rolling Stones
Joshua told his friend that he had just gotten a great deal. He got a Gaul stone for just $20,000, and it only cost $8,000 for shipping. His friend replied, “You bought a gallstone and paid that much for shipping? That’s crazy!”
Joshua answered, “No, it was a really good deal. I am putting it by my front step for a yard decoration.”
Now his friend was really puzzled. “What kind of gall stone is it?”
Joshua replied, “It was the marker set up by the Gauls east of present day Paris when they won an important battle against the Romans. You should see it when it arrives.”
There are many kinds of stones in our lives, some beautiful like diamonds and rubies, and some that are a real pain, even more so than some of my jokes. We need to recognize them and choose helpful responses or uses for them. I begin with our two readings. Our reading from the first letter ascribed to Peter refers to the task of building ourselves up as temples for God. The stones we use for building ourselves include food, activity, knowledge, attitudes, and relationships, among others. The quality of stones we use to build ourselves is crucial to the quality of the temple we are. I will refer to this at times as I work from the story of the stoning of Stephen, beginning with a review.
All of the apostles were Jews, and they seemed to control all the money that was given to the community. Being generally ordinary people, the people they cared about most were other Jews in the community. As a result, there were Greeks and others in the community, such as widows, whose needs were neglected. They were wise enough to raise the issue of their needs.
The apostles were humble enough and wise enough to agree that something needed to be done, and Stephen and 6 other men were given the job. Along with serving as a diaconal minister, Stephen also evangelized and performed mighty works which upset the synagogue of Freedmen. They had him brought in for interrogation and he proceeded to chastise them using their own history. This made them so angry, they stoned him. Watching them was Saul of Tarsus.
As long as Stephen was just looking after widows, he was ignored. Once he started making things happen, that was the beginning of the end for him.
Our reading from the first letter of Peter was about using stones for building; our reading from Acts was about stones for destroying. On our sign board, I named the theme for today as rolling stones. Many of you have probably seen pictures or videos of large stones that rolled onto highways, sometimes flattening vehicles in the way. There are some large rolling stones in the world flattening churches including about one United Church a week.
Churches in the past used the promise of heaven and the threat of hell to get people to go to church. Science and philosophy have obliterated the promise and the threat in the minds of most people: rolling stone #1.
Information about the actions of churches combined with better education for most people exposed contradictions between the gospel and the conduct of churches leading to rolling stones 2 and 3: loss of credibility for churches and anger at churches for past and present injustices.
Rolling stone #4 is the increasing materialism of society blended with self-centeredness. This rolling stone includes people working harder to buy stuff and people taking an Ayn Rand attitude of looking after #1 only.
Rolling stone #5 is reduced willingness to make long term commitments and this is seen in the decline of most insititutions.
Rolling stone # 6 is the perception of churches as being preoccupied with themselves, especially the people in leadership, and as unwilling to share decision making power. Most people today want to pursue actions that fit their agenda, whether it be the environment, justice, care for particular groups of people or whatever, not the agenda of others.
One rolling stone that can work in the favour of churches is increasing isolation of people and loss of opportunities for intimacy, for establishing personal relationships that matter. And churches can provide this opportunity.
Churches able to resist the six rolling stones I named build themselves with a mix of the following stones.
They make biblical literacy important: all members know the Bible well-enough to recognize when the actions of the church do not fit its primary mission as witness to the good news offered by Jesus. This includes the hard passages as well as the comfortable ones. They see the Bible as a mirror for reflecting their strengths and weaknesses as followers of Jesus, not as a weapon to use against other people.
They make spiritual nurture and development an ongoing priority for most members. This includes teaching and using a variety of prayer disciplines, worship that matters and embraces the sacred, and encouraging the use of prayer in different situations.
They provide people with opportunities to develop meaningful relationships through small groups and in other ways.
They use reality, not superstition, in communication. Science is embraced as a way to knowing God better through Creation instead of using pre-scientific doctrine and beliefs to make claims about Creation that are not supported by science. Church is not a place to park our brains for an hour or so on Sundays.
An important stone for construction is confession and repentance for mistakes made in the past including discerning why those mistakes were made. Most of the ones I recognize are related to claiming cultural beliefs and attitudes as religious beliefs. The place for women in society, attitudes about homosexuality, actions taken about First Nations people are all rooted in culture, not in the teachings of Jesus.
An important stone is striving to see the truth as much as possible. A stewardship letter will be going out soon to everyone on our church mailing list. It is asking for supporters to increase their support by 5%. We realize this may be a stretch for some people. The reality is that, if nothing else changes, this increase will leave us with a deficit on the year of between $20,000 and $30,000.
Having more people become part of our congregation could help, but it would take a great work of the Spirit to increase our numbers in our Sunday morning congregation enough to balance our budget. The best hope for St. Matthew’s is to successfully identify the ministries needed by the community and successfully develop those new ministries into new congregations.
You will be entering into a new ministry soon. It will be an opportunity for St. Matthew’s to start one or more new congregations within the congregation, congregations quite different from the people who are here, but carrying on in their own way the mission of St. Matthew’s to make a difference in this community.
There are a few things that are essential to the success of those ministries. From reading dozens of stories about other churches, the first thing you need to do is to pray often: offer thanks for what God is doing, even if you cannot see what it is; offer thanks for opening your hearts and minds to seeing and embracing what God will be doing; offer thanks for the humility needed to support decisions made prayerfully by the congregation even when you do not agree; offer thanks for the courage to speak up when you do not perceive decisions made prayerfully. The other essential action is to talk to each other often and openly, and to others.
God rolled the stone away from the tomb. Life with God can roll away any stone that threatens to crush us. Let us pray.