‘Living Stones’ – 10th May 2020 – 5th Sunday of Easter

1 Peter 2.2-10

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:
‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’
To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner’,
‘A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.’
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.


Acts 7.55-60

But filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.

John 14.1-14

Jesus said, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

The Sermon
By Catherine, a Lay Reader at St Marys.

One of my prayer aids is a little bowl of pebbles.  I can’t remember where they came from, but their smooth roundedness suggests that it was a beach somewhere.  Sometimes I fill the bowl with water - a small reminder of how they appeared when the sea had just washed over them.  They help to create an atmosphere of calm stillness conducive to prayer.

They are very different from most stones we encounter in every day life.  In my garden are plenty of rough, jagged stones of all shapes and sizes.  Unlike the clean rounded pebbles in my bowl, they are dusty, or covered in moss or bird droppings.  Lift one up and the underside might be teeming with woodlice or other creepy crawlies.

Stones like this can be very useful.  One of the nature columns in the paper this week described a drystone wall that the author passed on his daily walk.  The wall was built around 25 years ago using stones of all shapes and sizes.  Each stone had its own special place somewhere in the wall, contributing to its overall strength, stability and durability.  Walls like this are places of safety – they keep livestock from straying and predators out.  They provide shelter in the rain and wind, or shade in the heat of the sun.

The writer noted the changes that had appeared in the wall over the years.  Gradually dirt built up on the surfaces and in the cracks, rain fell on it, and moss and lichen appeared.  Birds dropped seeds, which took root in the wall. Very soon the wall was teeming with plant life, sustained by moisture in the crevices and minerals in the stone itself.  These in turn became shelter and food for insects, birds and small mammals.  Over the years, the wall has become a wall of life.  Its stones have become living stones.

Living stones.  I wonder if the writer of 1 Peter was thinking of something like this drystone wall when he was writing his letter to one of the early churches?  Perhaps he had taken notice of what happens to a wall over time, its stones gradually becoming full of life.  We don’t know.

We do know that the Jerusalem temple was made from stone and that it had been the focal point for worship for the Hebrew people for centuries.  Jesus had been highly critical of this particular temple and its authorities and had warned that it would be destroyed (Matthew 24:1-2).  And by the time 1 Peter was written, it had indeed been destroyed by the Romans.

But Jesus also challenged the authorities.  In John 2.19 he says “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”.  A couple of verses later John explains that he is referring to the temple of his body.  And I think it might be this that the writer of 1 Peter had in mind.  He quotes Psalm 118:22 – “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.  Jesus is the cornerstone, and his followers are to become living stones, together building a living temple through which to glorify God.

During the Easter season we have been reading about the early church in the book of Acts.  As the church grew, different people took on different roles in order to form a strong community together.  Stephen was initially appointed to help practically with distributing aid to the needy.  But his prophetic gifts soon became apparent and his words greatly angered the religious authorities.  In today’s reading we heard the account of how he was stoned to death, the first Christian martyr.

Our readings from Acts and 1 Peter both talk of stones.  Stones which build up, and stones which cause stumbling.  Stones of death, and stones of life.  Let’s focus on the stones which build up and the stones of life.

Our gospel reading from John is often read at funerals.  The idea that heaven is a large house with many, many rooms ready to welcome each and everyone of us when we die is a powerful and comforting image.  And one which may be sustaining many different people right now as they mourn the loss of loved ones in this current crisis.  But this image is not confined to the hereafter.  God’s kingdom never was solely about what happens when we die.  It’s about the here and now too.  The Father’s house is here on Earth, right now.  We are all part of it and each one of us has a place in it.

It’s a place built of living stones.  Living stones such as doctors, nurses, care-assistants, and other health workers.  Living stones such as bus and lorry drivers, bin-collectors and shop assistants.  Living stones such as writers and broadcasters.  Living stones such as neighbours looking out for each other.  Living stones on the end of a phone or wobbly internet connection offering support to a friend, relative or stranger in need.  Living stones such as teachers, social workers, internet support workers.  Living stones such as parents and carers.  Living stones such as children and young people.  Living stones such as you or I.

So I encourage you to look more closely at the stones you see.  Look at a garden wall as you pass it on your walk, or sit next to it in your own garden.  Look for all its life – its mosses, lichens, plants. Watch in wonder at the insects crawling around it.  Or you might like to look at a single stone, brick or tile.  Observe its shape, its nooks and crannies, its different colours, its texture.

And ponder – what life can result from a wall built of living stones?  Give thanks that you, as a living stone yourself, have a special place in God’s wall – you are part of the wall, together with others giving it strength and structure.  And that you have your very own dwelling place there too – a place you can call home.



The Prayers
Written by Joe.

The bidding for our prayers this morning is “Lord, in your mercy”. The response is ‘Hear our prayer’'.

With thankful hearts we bring our prayers to our heavenly Father.
We pray for the Church of Christ, for Bishop Pete and Canon Sophie, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary's to create a place of worship here in Walkley.
We pray for the wider Church, and all followers of Christ throughout the world, that we can be salt and light to those around us, and be living examples of Christ-like behaviour in our communities at this difficult time.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We remember all those who lost their lives in the Second World War as the world remembers the end of that conflict in Europe.
We pray that we will eventually learn to settle our disputes justly and peacefully by bringing the Kingdom of Heaven in to being.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all those in authority, and those who have influence in the world, that their power and influence be used compassionately for the good of all.
At this time of great uncertainty, we pray that decisions are made for the good of all people.
We pray that our political leaders and opinion formers follow the guidance of scientists and experts in finding a way forward for the world.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends.
We pray for all those involved in protecting us against Covid-19; our health and care workers, delivery people, post office staff, communications engineers.
We pray for all those finding themselves being teachers to their children.
May we all do our best to keep our families and communities safe by acting selflessly and with care and consideration for others at this time.
We pray for those fearful of not having jobs to go back to, and those who are in poverty and facing hardship at this time.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for those we know who are worried and troubled especially at this time of great uncertainty.
We pray for those affected by Covid-19, and those who have health or emotional problems that are made worse during the lockdown and cessation of some health and wellbeing services.
We pray for the aged and infirm, and those sick in mind, body or spirit, those that need your grace and blessing.
Be with them at this time, Lord, and give them peace and strength.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for those close to death at this time, and those accompanying them on this final part of their Earthly journey.
We pray for those who have died, recently and in the past, and those who mourn, at this time when mourning and saying our farewells to the dead is made complicated by the lockdown.
We especially pray for those who have died without the comfort of their family around them, and those who felt fear and felt alone in their last moments.
We pray that they were comforted by your presence, Lord, and that you give strength and love to all those close to death and caring for the dying at this time.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Finally, Lord, we silently bring before you those special to us.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Rejoicing in the communion of Mary and of all the Saints,
let us commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life, to God.
Merciful Father:
accept these prayers for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ.