As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house… 1 Peter 2:4-5
As we come to our Discerning Retreat We find ourselves in the sometimes-absurd-feeling position of taking the verse above with radical seriousness. Let me rephrase that, we are not just seriously considering being living stones; the event presumes that we are living stones being built into a spiritual house. There is a huge difference between merely aspiring to be something and seeing if it works out, and actually assuming one is something and working it out. It takes some courage to be so presumptuous.
Let me lead us in a lament on why it is hard for many of us to presume we are what Peter is talking about:
1) Some of our best potential partners “hover” over the church. Good people can’t abide denominations; they go parachurch for their mission; they can’t stand relating too long without getting to do exactly what they want. So they hover over the rest of us, dipping in periodically to abscond with what they like and leaving the rest of us to be the church. I compare them to free-radical atoms that cause organisms to deteriorate. They are like high-end shoppers who periodically hold an extravagant fair where they get their goodies; the rest of the time they cast their nets into various groups and scoop up their preferences.
2) People who were once radical enough to be a member of the “tribe,” no matter what, have a tough time maintaining that once they have children. It is hard to imagine your child’s needs being met among the living stones when they are in the process of being indoctrinated by the school and their peer group. When your child is having trouble relating or participating, it is hard not to adapt to their leadership.
3) We have quite a few ex-dating, even ex-marriage partners cordoning off sections of the fellowship. If I am upsetting you right now because I said this, I probably mean you. I feel your pain, but if we organize around you, worry about how your despair is driving you out, or are drawn to see the world in terms of being on your side or not, we are not being constructed; we’re expanding your sense of being destroyed.
4) On the same subject, we have numerous mixed marriages or mixed faux-marriages among us. I mean that people are built together with mates who don’t follow Jesus. The mates are usually open to faith (at least to their mate having some), and are likely to be nice people. But they often take their mate out of the building materials storehouse. It is hard to be a living stone if you are not really available to be built into the building.
5) Some of the partners really keep their faith in their head. That’s not all bad – there are intellectual issues to be had. But being built together is physical, emotional and mainly spiritual. We can’t just argue all day. We don’t want to live in a relationship that is like a bad marriage, in which the partners are just out for some kind of justice that matches what they are thinking or meets their demands, instead of being out to build the love of the relationship.
Don’t take this the wrong way. This piece is kind of a “lament” based on my longing to be all that Peter is talking about – a living stone built into a spiritual house. I am a living stone and I do experience life in the spiritual house. It would have been easy enough to write a psalm of praise about how people are doing the exact opposite of what I have enumerated above. And I could have written a psalm of praise for how people in the conditions enumerated above are dealing with them faithfully. I have plenty of well-founded hope. Besides, the church depends on what Jesus is building. We are being built, Peter says. We, and millions of living stones all over the world, are being built by God into his typically wild array of diverse expressions of his grace.
But I like the reality of the stark contrasts that also permeate Peter’s letter. I think Peter wrote the exhortation I’m riffing on today because he was facing the same kind of stuff we face. People in his day, like in ours, just didn’t get the facts of their new lives in Christ or they didn’t accept them or they wouldn’t/couldn’t live out of them. They had any number of good reasons to not be built together into a spiritual house. We have the reasons our world tempts us to apply, too.
The Discerning Retreat is one of our radical antidotes to all that. It gives us a chance to take Jesus and one another seriously, in hope that we won’t be something in our head, just a theory, or merely a prospect. It calls us to be a people in real time, in love with each other, with the living Lord at the center. It is far from the only thing we do, of course, to live out our lives in Christ. But it is such a good opportunity to come to the Living Stone and be built, as living stones, into a great place for him to live.