Saturday, February 6, 2010

Our House

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 to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2.4-5) 

Stacking Up

One summer during my early school years, our landlord bought a truckload of bricks and dumped them in our backyard. My brother and I waited to see what they’d be used for. Several weeks passed and there they sat. Unable to resist the urge to do something with them, we set out to build a brick fort by stacking them in vertical rows. We actually got further than we should have. It was nearly shoulder-high before the whole fort crashed down, sending us to our mother to tend to our scrapes and bruises. She was not pleased. “What made you think you knew how to build a brick fort?” she asked. After she patched us up, she went out to oversee the clean up and saw what we’d done wrong. She showed us how bricklayers stagger bricks atop one another to stabilize them. “If they’re not put together in a certain way,” she said, “they’ll never stand. All you were doing was stacking up piles.”

Since this is the closest I'll likely ever come to building anything of bricks, it’s always the first memory that springs to mind when I read 1 Peter 2. And it’s not a bad one, either. In Peter’s scenario, God is the bricklayer and we’re the bricks, which should be a comfort to us. We leave the construction expertise to Him by serving His purpose where and how we’re placed. It’s also a bracing reminder He’s in charge of the design and soundness of His work. Given our childlike lack of knowledge and skill, were we to build His house we’d no doubt resort to stacking up stones and end up battered by a collapsed brick pile. Paul also taps into this metaphor in Ephesians 2.22: “In [Christ] you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” In other words, our role is not in the doing. It’s in the being, availing ourselves to God’s work. When we commit to this, He’s able to use us as He sees fit and we’re able to fit snugly and securely in His plan.

A Place for Every Brick

Anyone who’s ever been made to feel unworthy or superfluous by self-appointed brick stackers will find solace in Peter and Paul’s house metaphors, because God’s acceptance is the foundation for both. Peter introduces his by comparing us to Christ, “the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him.” (2 Peter 2.4) And Paul sets the stage when he says, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” (Ephesians 2.19) Both encourage us to disregard how others identify or label us because manmade ID tags don’t apply. We identify with Christ, the living Stone, or in Paul’s case, “the chief cornerstone.” (v20) Paul’s reference directly connects to Jesus’s self-identification when He refers to Psalm 118: “Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read the Scriptures: "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes?"’” In this light, feeling or being rejected becomes a proof point that we are indeed like Christ, living stones precious to God and worthy of use.

In the construction of God’s house, there’s a place for every brick, and every brick is perfectly placed. Since the work is never completed, it’s impossible for us to discern its final design. Therefore, it’s unwise to dismiss others or allow others to dismiss us as unsuitable for God’s use. No doubt some of these lively stones are chosen and placed for more decorative purposes. But others are selected solely for their strength and usefulness in creating tension that holds the entire edifice together. Because we are all built on the living Stone and each of us in his/her own way functions as a living stone, we can’t forget that this project is an organic process that requires constant refinement and embellishment to accomplish its original plan. Where we’re placed and what we’re asked to do inevitably changes us in unexpected ways. Some of us grow less flippant and more earnest. Others of us lighten up and learn to be more accepting. But if we’re truly alive to God’s purpose, sooner or later, we all come to recognize what we must do to ensure the house He’s building will continue to rise and endure.

Carrying On

A couple years ago, Walt and I visited Barcelona, home of Antoni Gaudí’s famously unfinished cathedral, La Sagrada Familia. Walking over to the site, we weren’t sure what to expect and talked most of the way about how strange it was that hundreds of craftsmen have worked for nearly a century on a building that had no congregation. There was no place sufficiently completed to house worshippers, which made it the ultimate “build-it-and-they-will-come” plan. As we circled the interior, watching artisans carry on Gaudí’s work, Walt observed the cathedral was as much theirs as the legendary architect’s. “These people will die before it’s finished, too,” he said. “But they’ll die knowing they played their part in finishing its construction.”

Playing our part as lively stones makes God’s house our house. Each of us is one of millions upon millions of bricks jointly fitted together. We are built on generations of older bricks and placed so future bricks can build upon us. It’s not ours to be concerned with stacker mentality or opinions. These people have promoted themselves into site foremen and junior architects. They’re not essential to the process and unaware of the grand design. Their schemes and aesthetics will be lost to time, while God’s plan will reach total fruition. Look back at Ephesians 2.22. We are “being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” He lives in us, which is what makes us—the stones in His house, our house—come alive with His Spirit. At the end of the day, what anyone else thinks won’t matter. Knowing we played a part in carrying on God’s work will.

Workers in La Sagrada Familia. Just as their contribution to Gaudí's work makes it their own, playing our role as lively stones in God's house makes it our house.

(Next: Fasting)

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