Humans have been building things with stone for thousands of years. When Jean and I traveled to Italy we saw walls and buildings constructed of stone that were over a thousand years old. In Egypt the pyramids are over five thousand years old, are made of stone, and are still standing. This makes a very strong case that if you build something with stone instead of wood or straw as in the story of the three little pigs, you will have something that will stand the test of time.
The negative side of stone construction is that you can build a wall that divides you from others. China built its great wall to keep out the Mongol hordes. Many other nations have erected walls at their borders to keep out people they fear or people they perceive to be a threat to their way of life. As we look at the history of China and at the border walls of today we find they don’t work. The Mongols found ways to breech the great wall of China and they could not be held at bay. Today borders continue to be penetrated in myriad ways in spite of all efforts to seal them from outsiders.
This makes me think of the apostle Peter and his words about living stones. A couple of weeks ago, Peter’s words were the epistle lesson for the day. He said that we are living stones built up to be a spiritual house. The image of a living stone makes me think about how being a stone and being a living stone have similarities and yet also differ from each other in significant ways. A stone that is not living cannot change its shape or its innate qualities. It is the size that it is and it can’t change its size because you are trying to move by it. “Sorry,” it says, “You can’t come in here. There is no room for you here.” It cannot change its character. It has always been immovable and unchangeable and it isn’t about to become something different now. But a living stone is different in that it can change and grow and become more than what it was. Peter is living proof of this. Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter in the Gospel of John because the word Peter means rock. Jesus wanted Peter to be strong and tough. He wanted him to bear witness to Jesus. And Peter did until he denied Jesus the night before His crucifixion. Peter was strong in bearing witness to Jesus after the resurrection until he caved in to pressure from the early Jewish Christians and didn’t think the Gospel should be shared with the Gentiles. That was when Peter found out he was a living stone. Crushed by his denial of Jesus he didn’t think he could ever be a disciple again until he was forgiven and restored by Jesus and told that he was supposed to feed Jesus’s sheep. Peter didn’t see that he was racist in his views that Jews deserved God’s grace but Gentiles didn’t qualify until God opened his eyes and showed Peter that He loved all human beings. This was when Peter realized that he could be a strong rock but he could also learn from his mistakes and he could change his prejudices and thus he could be flexible and changeable as well as strong and firm. This was when Peter became a living stone.
It makes me think of the expression, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I am among the generation of people who have become old dogs. My parents and grandparents had no time for Elvis Presley when I was young. They disliked him and dismissed him out of hand. There was no way I could make them understand why I thought he was cool and why I liked and listened to his music. Now I find myself not able to listen or understand the music young people listen to today. I have become a rock in a sense. I don’t want to listen. I don’t want to understand. I don’t want to take the time to understand my grandson and how his mind works and how he sees the world we live in.
What a challenge for me and for many of you who are reading this blog to try to be a living stone. I want to have strength of character and I want to model that life has not broken me or left me an embittered old man, but I also want to show those around me that I can still learn. I can still admit to mistakes. I can still come to understand that I am not as understanding and open minded and openhearted as I thought I was. Peter saw that Jesus was his corner stone that called him back when he strayed and restored him when he fell. In these days when I feel myself wanting to build a wall to keep myself apart from voices I don’t like or want to hear I need to stand again on Jesus my corner stone so I can listen and understand and bring new stones into God’s house.