"Brick by Brick" Sermon on 1 Peter 2:4-12 by Joe Ellis - June 6, 2021.
Brick by brick. We rebuild and are rebuilt brick by brick. In today’s passage, Peter invites each of us to think of ourselves as a stone, a brick within the house of God. He says, “Each of us are like living stones, and are being built into a spiritual house…”
Throughout my time at Telkwa Community Church, I’ve grown to really enjoy each of us living stones who make up who we are. When Michelle and I first came, we initially got to know the foundational stones. You know — the stones that are close to the ground, some of which had been laid there for a long, long time, close to when the church was founded. Some of you more foundational stones came later on and persevered through the hard times of when this congregation has gone through some pretty significant quakes. Yes, this church has been through some great earthquakes — if you don’t know the history, talk to some of the bricks that were in this church when the spit happened thirty years ago — when a previous pastor shook the church so violently that we were literally split in half, less than half of us bricks remained. That was a hard time to be a brick in this church. When the dust cleared, those of who remained must have looked up and asked, “What’s left? What’s left?” But the Master Bricklayer did not walk away. He was not discouraged. He took the bricks that were left in this church and began rearranging them. He began to lay a new foundation. He began to rebuild this church brick by brick, slowly but faithfully.
There have been hard times, and there have been joyful, exciting times, like when it seemed the Master Bricklayer was working overtime. When I first came, people loved telling stories about Coffeebreak in the 1980s — when every classroom that we had in the basement was filled to the brim with women coming together to learn about Jesus and be in community with each other. The church grew in that time, and a few of us bricks here today became a part of us through Coffeebreak. One story I heard came from a mom who was feeling very alone with her kids, and she heard about the Coffeebreak at Telkwa Christian Reformed Church. She came and has been a part of us ever since — she found life here in these walls.
We’ve had times when the Master Bricklayer seemed to be working overtime, and times when His attention seemed elsewhere, and the bricks that build us up seem to fall away. That’s one of the challenges of our house being made with living stoned or bricks. Unlike normal bricks, living bricks don’t always stay put. Our church has had seasons where its seemed like brick after brick would just sprout legs and walk away. Some of us remaining bricks would look at the wall and wonder, “Hey, where’d all those bricks go?” We’d look through the door and see a bunch of bricks with legs running away and we’d feel like yelling, “Hey, you bricks! You get back in here!” It’s not always fun to be part of a spiritual house when you’re watching bricks sprout legs, jump off the wall and run away. But maybe God wanted a window there instead, so we could see our neighbour in a different way. Because the Master Bricklayer is faithful. He’s not worried. Most of those bricks with legs who walked became part of the structure of other spiritual homes — and they became a great blessing in other churches. And when the Master Bricklayer turns his eyes on what was left of us in Telkwa, He begins rearranging us bricks. He starts giving different shape to our walls. New bricks come in and start giving shape to a new sort of house. That’s when it is fun to be a part of a church — because these new, living bricks don’t just start building on the work already done. The Master Bricklayer sometimes uses these new bricks to lay a whole new foundation, giving an entirely different shape to our home. Before COVID struck, I think that was the sort of season we were in — a season where living stones were coming and we were working together and with God, to see what sort of home He was shaping us to be.
It was an exciting time to be part of this church — at least until a massive COVID-shaped wrecking ball came and crashed into our house at full force and we all went flying. As church leaders, we’re like bricks who are calmly speaking direction, encouragement and hope as we also find ourselves flying through the air having no idea where we are going to land. As we hit the ground, we struggle to catch our breath. As the dust settles and we find ourselves in the dirt, we say to each other “Hey, you OK?” “Yeah, I’m OK”. Or sometimes it’s, “No, I think I’m broken.” Then, after the first wave of COVID hit, we raised our head from the dirt, we looked around and said, “Oh, good, most of our house is still standing, that wasn’t so bad.” But then the COVID wrecking ball came again, and again: “BOOM!” And more bricks go flying. And it comes again, “Boom” and more and more bricks go flying. “Oof!” Now we look around and ask each other: “You still here?” “Hello?” “You OK?” “Need any help?”
And now, we are in a season where it appears that the COVID wrecking ball is getting smaller and smaller in BC. We’re having hope again. But as we raise our head up from the dirt, we look to see what’s left of our spiritual house, the house that just fourteen months ago seemed to be a strong, intact, and beautiful — now we look at it and wonder what’s still there.
We stand back and look at the bricks lying, scattered far and wide and wonder what’s left. We look at the bricks scattered far and wide and wonder, is it worth rebuilding? We look at the bricks scattered far and wide and wonder, “Geesh, where do I start?” Let’s begin by not despairing. What I’ve found encouraging about reflecting on the history of our church, but also of God’s church throughout history, is that the Master Bricklayer never walks away from His house. This isn’t the first time our church has been reduced to its foundations, and it won’t be the last. The Master Bricklayer is faithful with us bricks. He’s faithful. And as He rebuilds, we won’t be the same. Or maybe I should say, we’ll be the same but different. Some of us who were in the foundation, might find ourselves by a window, looking outward. Some of us who tucked ourselves away in a closet might find ourselves in the foundation. As we rebuild and are rebuilt, we’ll look the same, but different.
So, how do we start? After all, we’re not inanimate bricks — we’re living bricks with legs, biceps and brains. We’re not just fat bricks lying around saying, “I wish somebody would pick me up and put me where I’m supposed to go.” We’re alive. Together with God, we actively shape the sort of house He’s designing us to be. So, where do we start? We are a bunch of bricks scattered far and wide — where do we start? We start by seeking out Christ Jesus, our Cornerstone.
I’m no builder, and so the language of Christ as our Cornerstone has never made a lot of sense to me. But a Wikipedia article helped me out a ton. Listen to their definition of cornerstone: “The cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. All other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.” For me, this definition snapped into place and what it means for Jesus to be our cornerstone. The placement of that one stone determines the position of the rest of the house. Every other stone is placed in reference to that one stone. And so as we rebuild, our primary posture is not an anxious one — we don’t anxiously ask: “How do we rebuild our church?” “Will it be as good as it was before?” “How do we get that load bearing wall back up?” “Oh no! We need more bricks!” “Hey, you’re not doing what you were doing before, come on, get back in the wall!” Our posture is not to focus on the rest of the building and what it should be. Our first and primary focus us to orient ourselves to our holy and precious Cornerstone. To draw close to him. To keep our eyes on Him. To position ourselves wholly in reference to Him — and as we do so the Master Bricklayer will place us where we need to be, always with reference to His Son. Don’t worry about the Church, keep your eyes on Jesus and we’ll be where we need to be.
With the Cornerstone in place, I believe that Peter goes on to give us three other construction principles to keep in mind as we enter this rebuilding phase. First, Peter underscores the fact that a brick is no use on its own. Think of the difference between a single brick alone in a field and a beautiful stone building carefully and lovingly crafted. Nobody notices the single brick, unless it hits them in the head. But a beautifully crafted brick home is breathtaking — this is probably the only time I’ll say this, but it would be so much better to give this sermon in Ontario, which is home to so many beautiful brick homes. Walking through old neighbourhoods in Ontario is so lovely with all its brick homes.
Listen to the way Peter describes the way God fits us together. “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Here Peter weaves together passages from Exodus, Isaiah, Hosea to remind the people of God who they are — we are a people, called out of darkness, brought together to be a new nation, a new priesthood, a new community. We are not meant to be alone. So, as we orient ourselves around our Jesus, our Cornerstone, He builds us up together. And so as we rebuild and are rebuilt, let’s be intentional about being a community together.
A second construction principle that Peter outlines as essential to the people of God revolves around praise. One of our main duties as priests is to declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness and into His wonderful light. We are to voice God’s praise. Rebuilding means that we build up ways for us to come together and give voice to God’s goodness, His beauty, His justice, His holiness. Rebuilding means we build space to come together in numbers large and small to give praise to our God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We need to help each other in this — we need help in creating the physical space to make this happen, but also we need each other’s physical presence so we can praise God together.
Finally, the third building principle comes through when Peter encourages us to “Live such good lives among the pagans (i.e. people who don’t know Jesus), that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glory God on the day He visits us.” Peter was writing in the time when the Emperor Nero was blaming the Christians for starting the fire that decimated Rome. Now, in fact it was Nero himself who started the fire, but he simply pinned the blame on Christians — so Peter was writing in a time when Christians were black listed and scorned, a time when people were hostile and suspicious of Christians. Peter says, “Don’t worry about that.” Orient yourselves around your Cornerstone and keep doing your good deeds. The beautiful result of these good deeds,” says Peter, “is that others will see them and glory God on the day He returns.” When people outside the church witness these deeds, they become a powerful witness — God works through these deeds so that those looking on find themselves mysteriously transformed into a living stone and find themselves mysteriously desiring to become a part of this beautiful spiritual house that God is building. This has been a season of inspiring conversations, where we are imagining new ways of witnessing to the community around us through our actions. Let’s keep imagining and doing together.
So, let’s rebuild. Let’s rebuilt around the Son, the Living Cornerstone. Let’s rebuild and be rebuilt into community, let’s rebuild and be rebuilt into a community of praise. Let’s rebuild and rebuilt around good deeds so that those looking on might see and glorify God.