Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Peter 2:1-10.
This is my tenth year under pastoral appointment. This means - to date - I have written somewhere in the realm of 520 Sunday sermons.
Woah!? That does not seem possible.
But it is.
While I continue to find Scripture passages I have yet to explore for preaching, I am also now to a place in my preaching where I have already preached particular texts on one or more occasions. I like to return to these sermons as a way to reflect and remember...and to also rejoice because some of my earlier sermons...
And not “Woah! That was great.” More “Woah...that was a nice effort...?”
My congregation’s were (are!) super gracious.
The last time I preached this text from I Peter I was appointed to a congregation in downtown Orlando. With this text I encouraged and exhorted. I impressed upon them the significance of their presence in and participation with the Body of Christ.
I affirmed them as living stones!!!
And two years later - almost to the day - the church closed.
Learning of that closing caused me to experience a scattering silence.
Luke 19 describes Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The faithful and hopeful surround him; joyfully they “praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Lk 19:37b-38). Some of the Pharisees admonished the crowds’ praise of Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “‘I tell you,’ [Jesus] replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’” (Lk 19:39-40).
Jesus said the stoneswould cry out - in hope and praise and assurance - of him as King and Messiah. In I Peter the Apostle also called the church - God’s holy nation and royal priesthood - stones. The same Greek word - lithos- is used in both places. While Jesus anthropomorphizes stones by giving them human qualities in praising and crying, Peter likens humans to stones hewn together for strength and stability as God’s kingdom is built with us and before our eyes.
With Reeves Memorial UMC closing...I felt the stones had been scattered and silenced. I experienced a scattering silence. And the effect was sobering.
I went into a time of mourning and grief. I questioned what I had done. I questioned what I left undone. I hoped the good I offered far outweighed any harm I committed.
Ultimately, I felt like I let them down.
In time God met me in the scattered silence and reminded me that the church did not close. The building closed but not the church. Yes, indeed, the stones were scattered from that locale...and they were still speaking testimonies of God’s goodness and grace.
I know there were also words of grief and grimace peppered among the words of goodness and grace. In fact, I heard some of them personally! And that is okay. They are human. We are human. That behavior is human. Telling that story - of goodness and grace alongside, speaking louder, and/or resulting from grief and grimace - is one way God does what God does in transforming scattered stones into seeds.
Seeds that root and sprout.
Spouts that rise and bloom.
Blooms that bring beauty and joy.
The timing of this transforming is something God alone can see. The testimony of that transformation is a gift for all the world to see.
I do not think I will ever read this text from I Peter and not think of my time with the Reeves congregation. I am grateful for the opportunity to have shepherded them and to have been shepherded by them. I am hopeful for the ways God continues to use the faithful stones of that congregation to cry out in prayer and praise. I pray those stones have found their way into new congregations so that their faith is strengthened through proximity relationship to Christ and neighbor.
I trust God is making seeds of those stones - that with God’s help they are rooting and sprouting, rising and blooming, bringing beauty and joy as they testify to God’s enduring faithfulness.
God knows the timing of their transformation. God gifts these transformations to us as testimonies of lives lived in faith.
Prayer: “There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody; there’s a dawn in every darkness bringing hope to you and me. From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”*
*“Hymn of Promise,” The United Methodist Hymnal 707.