“Not Just Another Brick in the Wall” 1Peter 2:2-10 and Psalm 31:1-5
Apart from your textbooks and your facebook accounts, what do you read? Some of us may keep up on the news from a website, or from a newspaper. Some of us may read special interest magazines about our hobbies or our dreams. There was a period of about 10 years in my life when I read a lot about cars. Every month I’d buy the new magazines about them. Then life moved on, and I no longer bought those magazines. Decades later, recalling the thrill that reading about cars had given me, I bought a magazine at an airport news stand. Within an hour I discovered that I had lost interest in cars. I no longer cared about driving fast. A few years later, finding myself in another airport magazine store, I bought a couple of magazines intended for professional writers. After an hour I decided that I wasn’t that desperate.
Across the past few weeks I’ve been reading the novel, “The Lotus Eaters”, first published in 2010. Part of the story involves the culture clash between a very “individualistic” Californian and a South-east Asian man who believes that he belongs to his family and culture as if he were just another brick in the wall.
In 1979 the British rock band Pink Floyd released a double album entitled “The Wall” which included the song, “Another Brick in the Wall” It was very anti-schooling, and rather adolescent. The MTV video that was eventually made to go with that song characterized British education as mainly existing to turn children into industrial products with no individuality to them, to make them just “another brick in the wall.” Do you feel like that sometimes? Like “just another brick in the wall?”
I: LIVING STONES 1 Peter 2:5-7
From the bit of the New Testament we read today, 1 Peter 2:2-10, we got quite a different vision of what it means to be built into something. In verses 5-7 We are invited not to be “bricks in the wall” but to be “living stones, used in building a spiritual temple.” But, what could that mean?
Stones can be used as symbols for many things in human life. After the Indian Ocean tidal wave of December 2004, the photographs of places in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia showed absolute devastation and everything not built of concrete or stone as having been washed away. Stones symbolized what endures.
Stones are symbols of death when there’s a landslide, as there was here in Taiwan in August of 2009 when a mountain washed down on a town in Kaohsiung County and 465 people died.
Stones symbolize resistance in the Middle East where, from time to time, young Palestinians find their only way of resisting Israeli soldiers is by throwing rocks.
Stones are symbols of past glories, gone but never to return, in places like Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Pyramids in Egypt.
In these verses we are encouraged to come to Christ, who is described as a living stone, and, like him, to also be living stones who will be built into a spiritual temple.
A “Living Stone?” OK, Christ is certainly life, but US?
So, for the time being, let’s read it this way, “Give yourselves to Christ, for God’s purposes. Don’t throw yourself onto a fire or throw your life away. God wants you alive. God wants you to be part of what God is doing, and that “something” is connected to Christ, who is the most valuable living one of all, and you’re with him.”
People have built up stone walls around the world, and have used stone to make monuments that remain in many places long after the people have gone. The cities in the high mountains of Peru are testimony to great civilizations that built them, but now, except for tourists, they’re empty, and many of the walls have fallen down. Stonehenge in England sits there, mysterious and un-functioning for whatever it was originally designed to do, some pillars standing, others lying flat on the ground. The great stone heads on Easter Island in the Pacific remain a mystery. The civilization that built them left that place centuries ago. Many of the heads were toppled by those who believed they might have some power. (The “tipping them over” began to happen LONG before the gospel of Christ arrived, so we can’t blame the missionaries.)
II REFUGE (Psalm 31:2)
Many stone walls, intended for one purpose or another, have fallen. Stones that were piled up to protect people from enemies have become useless in these days of war by cruise missiles and drones anyway. Even brick walls of fortresses, like the one down by the harbor, made of bricks brought to Tainan from Indonesia about 400 years ago. Though it’s still standing, it protects nothing.
There’s another image we found in our readings today. It’s in Psalm 31:2, where we read NOT of a stone building (living OR dead), but of God as a refuge, a place where persons who are threatened can be safe. “Refuge” is the word from which we get the term “refugee”, which doesn’t mean (as some in Europe and America would have us believe), “an enemy who is sneaking in to attack us”, but “someone who has come away from danger to find safety.”
Whoever the poet of psalm 31 was (lots of people like to imagine it was King David, but I find starting down that path runs us towards fantasy), he or she felt their safety was threatened, and turned to God for protection. In OUR lives we experience threats, too. Though Taiwan is generally friendly towards everyone, foreign people included, from time to time over the past decades there have been seasons during which different groups or ALL people here have felt threatened. Because of highly publicized kidnapping and ransom situations, rich people sometimes felt threatened. At one time, when the persons kidnapped were the children of the rich people, all parents, even those with not enough property to attract a kidnapper’s attention, have felt that their childrens safety was in question, so even people who lived next door to or across the street from a school would escort their kids back and forth every day. A couple years ago all riders on the Taipei MRT felt that they could be attacked by someone with a knife at any time. About 20 years ago when a prominent woman politician disappeared after getting into a taxi in Kaohsiung. The result was that all women feared all taxi drivers for quite a while.
Those are physical threats. We were invited in the New Testament to consider spiritual things. Are there threats to our spiritual safety, too? Yes, but they’re probably NOT from the places we would suspect (from false religions spread by other preachers or from ‘scientific’ professors, from the internet, or from ‘demons’ that come out of the folk religion temples). The threats to our spiritual safety more likely come from the things that are already in us, our anger, our incompleteness, our selfishness, our wanting to hold onto what we have rather than share it.
It’s because of the threats to our spiritual safety that we seek refuge in God. For those of us who don’t regularly evaluate our lives, that’s why we have that little bit at the beginning of worship here every week “Telling God about our Lives….” It’s there to give us a chance to do on Sunday what we likely forget (or not feel a need) to do any other time during the week, which is to admit that we are far from complete.
In Psalm 31:4 the writer asks God to “keep me safe from the trap that has been set for me…” No doubt whatever trap he or she was writing about was real. In my own life, however, if I were to honestly use these words in a prayer, they would have to be more like, “Keep me safe from the traps that I have set for myself.” I wonder if that might be true for others here, too.
III REDEEMED AND REBUILT (Psalm 31:5)
Refugee lives need more than a safe place away from the conflict. There are whole cities in Gaza, in Jordan and in Lebanon, created in the late 1940s, where Palestinian people who were pushed out of their homes in the territory that is now part of the modern and sovereign state of Israel, were given temporary refuge. The places were named “camps” because they were intended to be temporary. In 2017, almost 70 years later, they are still there and still called camps, but the houses streets, wiring and water systems are solidly installed.
One of the largest cities in Kenya is a camp that was created for refugees from Somalia. Some young people now of age to begin university studies were born in that camp and will become adults there.
After an earthquake that devastated large parts of Haiti in 2010 there are people still living in tents provided through the United Nations. Living “under canvas, they are safe from another earthquake making a roof fall on them, but they are still refugees.
When we say that God is our refuge and our defense, our savior (in Psalm 31:2), and reiterate the bit about our refuge (in Psalm 31:3), we are saying more than that God has taken us into a safe place. It has not been God’s intention that we live long in a camp. We have a greater role, a greater future. We are called and equipped to be built into a spiritual temple, as LIVING stones. Our life hasn’t ended, our mission has begun.
The cornerstone of that temple gives us an idea of its design and purpose. It brings us back to what we read from 1 Peter. The cornerstone is Christ, whose purpose was not just to give people a safe place to wait until eternity comes. His purpose was to redeem us (buy us out of our sorry state) and to rebuild us (to make us new creatures) so that we might do some of the same kinds of things that he has done.
In America and a few countries trapped in American culture around the world (Taiwan among them), today is marked as Mother’s Day. We’ve used a lot of pictures of mothers on the screen today, and we’ve used songs with “motherly” themes as our hymns. One thing that will probably be said over and over today in churches that center on Mother’s Day goes something like, “because God couldn’t do it all, so he created Mothers to carry the rest of the load.” I don’t agree with that kind of crap. Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, Brothers, Friends, Enemies…, ALL of us carry the load, and God promises us all refuge, redemption and rebuilding. We are ALL invited to be part of the spiritual temple. We are all commissioned as priests in it.
In Christ, we’re more than redeemed and rebuilt. We’re made into a spiritual temple, in which, because we have been chosen to be God’s own people, to be the ones who have received God’s mercy, we serve as priests to and for each other. All people are God’s creation and God’s possession.
Today when we get to the part of the service where we “say a little bit of what we believe,” we’ll hear ourselves saying, and hopefully believing, that being part of that spiritual temple, being numbered among those priests, means we “go beyond legal requirements in serving and helping our neighbor, treat our neighbor’s needs as our own,and care passionately for the other’s good.”
In this way, we fulfill our calling to be living stones, built into a spiritual temple, in which people find refuge, redemption and rebuilding. AMEN