Living stones

Good morning, Friends!

There’s a story about a man who was in a shipwreck and got stranded on a tiny desert island. He lived there for a few years, and then one day, another ship showed up and rescued him.

His rescuers looked at the island and they saw he’d built three tiny palm leaf huts. They asked him what they were for, and he said, “Well, I live in one hut, and I go to church in the other.”

They asked him what the third hut was for, and he said, “Oh, that’s where I used to go to church!”

Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning. It’s from the first epistle of Peter.

As you come to Christ, the living Stone—who was rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

For in Scripture it says [quoting Isaiah 28:16]:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

– 1 Peter 2:4-6

I want to talk with you this morning about what a church is. I’m sure you all know that it’s not a club for perfect people. If it was, none of us would be here!

A church isn’t a necessarily a place that’s clean and beautiful. We try to make it nice, and we try to keep it comfortable, but that’s not essential.

I told the Sunday School class last week, I’ve visited Quaker meetings in Africa where they didn’t have any building at all. They met outside, under the nearest big tree, in the shade. They were so poor that they didn’t have any building.

The early Quakers often met in homes, or if they got big, they held their meeting in barns. There was at least one Quaker meeting in the first generation, that took over a large pub, cleaned it out, and held their meetings there!

I know a few Quakers meetings that rent space, in schools or libraries. Several times, I’ve visited Quaker meetings which were held in prisons. We like our meeting place to be convenient and attractive, but the building isn’t the point.

What matters is that we’re here together to worship God. That’s why Quakers are always careful not to call the building, “the church”. The church isn’t really the building, it’s the people. That’s why you sometimes hear Quakers call the building, “the meetinghouse.”

We try to take care of our building pretty well, but I feel confident that if something ever happened to the building, worship would still happen. In fact, it was just a few years ago, they tell me, that we had a disaster here, didn’t we?

A section of the ceiling collapsed, and a bunch of machinery fell through right here. It was a mercy that no one was right underneath at the time. I wasn’t here, but maybe some of you could tell me. Did worship go on, even when you couldn’t use this room?

Where did you meet? Did you still hold worship, while the room was being re-built? I thought so. Did you still sing hymns? Did you still pray? Did they still read from the Bible? Was there still a message?

I’m sure it was an awful mess, but things still went on, because the church isn’t really the building. The building is simply the place where the church meets.

I was reading a historical pamphlet a couple of weeks ago, that Brenda Haworth gave me over at the museum. It told the story of a fire we had here, back in 1942. John Haworth and Eldora Terrell were here that day – Eldora was barely a teenager.

A couple of people arrived early for Sunday School that day – it was February 22, 1942 – and they looked up and they saw flames licking out from under the eaves of the meetinghouse.

There was no phone, so somebody ran to a nearby store and called the fire department. The fire department came, but the city of High Point was a lot smaller then, and the meetinghouse was outside the city limits, which stopped over on Model Farm Road. The fire department said they couldn’t do anything.

Byron Haworth, who was a judge, offered to pay the firemen $1,000 if they would fight the fire. But the fire department said they couldn’t do anything, unless the mayor gave permission. The story goes that Sara Haworth called the fire chief and told him that she had received permission from the mayor for the fire trucks to come to Springfield Friends.

Meanwhile, the men of the meeting had set up a bucket brigade, which didn’t do very much. A couple of other men ran over to the fire truck, and borrowed a hose, and carried it across the field and hooked it up to a hydrant.

It says that one of the oldest members, Augustine Blair, 76 years old, climbed up on a ladder with the hose, pointed it at the fire, and told them to turn on the water. The force of the water was so strong that it pushed him and the ladder away from the wall and almost knocked him over.

Meanwhile, the men of the meeting were tearing out the pews and carrying them outside, and the young people were carrying out the hymnals. The two old grandfather clocks were carried out to safely. It says they even carried out the cast iron cooking range from the kitchen.

It says that the women were taking nail files out of their purses, and using them to unscrew the brass plaques. All this, while the fire was still burning, up in the attic overhead. (Please, Friends, if this ever happens again, please don’t go into a burning building!)

Finally, the word came down and the fire chief gave the firemen permission to fight the fire. It took three hours before it was finally out. They determined that the cause of the fire was faulty electrical wiring, which ought to be a warning to us.

People brought sausage biscuits and coffee. The whole meeting joined hands in a circle. The minister, Harold Hadley, was covered with soot and wet through to the skin. But he led the whole group in prayer.

Crowds of sightseers were driving by, and the treasurer of the meeting took advantage of the situation and stood by the side of the road with a basket, taking donations.

Archdale Friends and High Point Friends offered to let us use their space while the rebuilding was going on, but we decided to meet at the Allen Jay school building instead. It took three months, but we were back here worshiping in this very room, on May 31st.

My point is, once again, that the church is really not the building. The church is always the people. It’s the people who are praying, who are working, who are giving thanks, who are helping, who are supporting. We love our meetinghouse, and I don’t want any more disasters here. But the church is the people, not the building.

In today’s Scripture, the writer says that Christ is the cornerstone. That’s the foundation, the rock that the rest of the church is built on. We’re so used to praising our Lord, that it’s easy for us to forget that Jesus was rejected by many people at the time.

They said he was too merciful, too easy on people. Jesus said that God loved everybody. A lot of people didn’t like that. They said his dad was only a carpenter. People said Jesus didn’t respect the sabbath carefully enough. They had all kinds of reasons for rejecting him.

But sometimes – and Jesus is the best example we have of this – God takes the stone that’s rejected, and uses that stone as the foundation. Our church is built on the stone that everyone rejected.

And today’s reading says that the church is built, not out of bricks and boards, but out of people. It says that we are all living stones. And even though I’ve only been here a few weeks, I can tell you that’s true.

It says on the front of your bulletin that “Every member is a minister.” Everyone here expects to take part in the work of the meeting. Everyone is asked to pray. Everyone is asked to help. Everyone is asked to give. Everyone is asked to support the meeting, in whatever way we can.

The roof over our heads isn’t held up just by brick walls. It’s held up by the prayers and contributions of everyone here. We are living stones, living walls, living windows.

I remember reading once that when other people see Christ, that we are the windows that people see Christ through.

If we let our lives get smudged and dirty, if we let our temper or our busyness get in the way, if we block the light of Christ from shining through us, then other people may not see Jesus. Or if they do, they may see Jesus through another window, and not us. We want our lives to be open and clear, so that other people can see Christ through us.

The part of the country where I grew up, in northern Vermont, has a lot of old stone walls. Some of them have been standing for hundreds of years. Sometimes you can be out walking in the woods, and you’ll come across an old stone wall.

You wonder, “Why would anybody build a stone wall through a forest?” Then you realize, once upon a time, that piece of land was a farm. Somebody built that wall, and then, over time, the forest grew up again.

I once asked an old-timer how they built those walls to stand there so solid for hundreds of years.

He said, “First, you’ve got to dig deep. You have to go below the weather, below the frost line,” which in that area is at least four feet down. “You dig, down, and you lay a foundation, with the biggest rocks you can find.”

“Then, when you get to the surface,” he said, “a stone wall is really two walls, one on either face, leaning in, towards each other. The walls support each other that way, and if you do that, it’ll never fall down.”

I asked him how he figured out how to place the rocks in the wall, and he said, “I try to make each rock touch as many other rocks as possible. I can’t explain it,” he said. “But that’s the way it’s done.”

I want you all to remember that, when we think about what the church is. Remember that idea of living stones. That’s what we are. Christ wants us to be builders. Every one of us is an example. Every one of us is a minister. Each of us is a servant, a supporter, a learner, a peacemaker.

Jesus once called us the light of the world. Each one of us is called to shine forth. Each of us is called to do our best, even if our best doesn’t seem like very much. Living stones come in all shapes and sizes.

We are called, not just to believe, but to show God’s love, mercy, justice and truth. The fact that we’re all a little different, doesn’t matter. We’re not bricks squeezed out in a factory. We’re living stones!

Each one of us fills a special place. Each one of us fills a gap. Each one of us supports someone else. If you’re not there, someone who needs you may fall down.

This is a place where we pray for each other. This is a place where we laugh together. This is a place where we’re fed, and where we feed each other when we need it.

You may not take this seriously, but God speaks through you. Be careful what you say! If other people are going to hear about the love of God, they’re going to hear about it through us. If other people are going to hear about God’s mercy, we are the messengers.

We are the living stones. And this is a living church. During our time of open worship, please think about these things. If you have something to share, please share it. If you have questions about these things, please ask them.

We are the church that Jesus has, here in this place. We are the ministers. We are the living stones.

Copyright © 2015 by Joshua Brown

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