“. . .like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house. . .’See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious’. . .”
If you have ever been involved in building a home, an office building, a church, or a parish hall, you know that the foundation is the most important part of that building. A good foundation must be laid with strong, lasting material. Material that can withstand any force of nature. Material that does not leak. In most large buildings, you will see a large stone placed in the foundation of the building, at a principal corner (there are several around St. Philip’s.) This large stone is called a cornerstone. Often you will see the date of the building’s ground-breaking, and the names of the principals involved.
I have been thinking about foundations, cornerstones and living stones this week. During its long history, St. Philip’s has experienced building in a physical way. For example, on May 1, 1999—the Feast Day of St. Philip the Apostle—Wyatt Ministry Center was dedicated. According to Sally Bucklee’s book A Church and its Village, the initial goal of building Wyatt Hall had been “to expand and extend God’s work at Sixth and Main to better serve the people of a four county region.” When the building was dedicated, a simple inscription had been carved on that cornerstone: “To the Glory of God.”
The building itself is just a building—a container, if you will. What has really mattered through the years is the ministries that happen in Wyatt Ministry Center and out of it. Ministries of fellowship, outreach, and community service. Ministries of Christian education and hospitality. The stories of many St. Philippians have been shaped and told out of this historic worship space—built out of stone so many years ago—and out of Wyatt Ministry Center. Faithful people have been—and continue to be—living stones of Christian faith. Our individual stories are held within the larger, archetypal stories of God’s divine love for God’s people.
Sometimes it is easy to see how our own stories fit into God’s larger story. Sometimes we struggle, because our journeys include exploration, questions, challenges and doubt. Whether we see it or not, from the moment we identify ourselves as God’s people, with a particular kind of story, our Christian story takes a different path than stories of our surrounding culture or society. Such is the case in our epistle reading today.
While no one is certain when the first letter of Peter was written, evidence suggests that it was “toward the end of the first century. . .” There is no mention in 1 Peter of emperor worship. No evidence that this early Christian movement has yet experienced systematic political persecution. While it seems likely that the “growing Christian movement [has] already stirred up trouble among its neighbors. . .[it has] not yet attracted the attention of the emperor or been forced to choose between allegiance to him and allegiance to Christ.” That reality will happen in a few short years, but not just yet. Nonetheless, the followers of Jesus are obviously different from those with whom they live and work. Are they respectful of the emperor, as their neighbors are? Yes. Do they pay the required taxes, as their neighbors do? Yes. Do they see life through the same lens? No. The waters of baptism and their way of life have changed their perspectives on life. As Christians, they know that their new foundation is not based on a city-state political system nor on their economic or social status in the community.
The writer of this epistle reminds the Christian community that their foundation is living, precious, spiritual, holy. God has chosen them to be God’s own people, so they must be different. They no longer belong to themselves. They have been baptized into a life that asks them to sacrifice their small truths for the larger truth that is in Jesus of Nazareth—the Holy One who lived with us, died for us and rose to new life. God has called the people of God to be holy. To be different. Yes, even to be counter-cultural in a society that will never understand such difference. The writer of 1 Peter wants Christians to understand that it really is okay to be different from those around them. In fact, if they are really living into their faith journeys as Jesus did, difference is to be expected.
The first step into this new life was repentance. Turning one way (literally) to renounce Satan and the forces of evil. Turning the other way to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour three times. Walking down three steps into the life-changing waters of Holy Baptism. Marked with the sign of the cross—first with water, then with oil, new Christians were dressed in white robes, then joined the Christian communion for bread and wine in the name of the risen Christ. They then spent the Easter season learning more about their faith.
The story of Holy Baptism and growth in the Christian faith stretches from that first century community of faith to those of us gathered at St. Philip’s today. Just a month ago, at the Easter Vigil, the St. Philip’s family of faith welcomed baby Charles McGinnes Allen through the waters of Holy Baptism. Baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, Charlie—like so many babies, children, youth and adults before him—he has become a living stone in the Body of Christ. Jesus has become the cornerstone of Charlie’s life. With the help of his parents and people in this parish, he and all our little ones will grow strong in the Christian faith. Years from now, God willing, Charles and other children in this parish will do what a group of young people did last Sunday: they will claim their Christian faith for themselves, through the discipline and sacrament of Confirmation.
Last Sunday, we blessed our youth confirmands: Gabrielle Boyce, Jackie Cooper, Sharon Herbert and Gideon Toole. These young people spent nine months learning and preparing for a new part of their Christian journey. They have claimed publicly that Jesus Christ is their cornerstone, their foundation for living. As they find their ministries here in this parish and as they go away to college, they will live in real ways as living, precious, spiritual and holy stones in the Christian faith.
We, too, are living stones in the Christian faith. St. Philippians are proud of our historic buildings, made of stone, adorned by stained glass windows. Yet even in this historic worship space made of stones, and in Wyatt Hall, dedicated to the glory of God, God calls God’s people beyond physical buildings. God’s people must not get so caught up in physical and historic buildings that we forget the real ministry to which we are called. We are called to be living stones: to be the face, the hands, the feet of Christ and the Church in our everyday lives. In our offices, on the Metro, in the streets where we walk, in the grocery store, at restaurants. We are called “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” As each of us uses the gifts and talents God has given us to build God’s Kingdom, we are living stones. We are letting God build us into a spiritual house, in which dwells the risen Christ.
In the words of the hymn we sang earlier, “Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ the head and cornerstone, chosen of the Lord, and precious, binding all the Church in one; holy Zion’s help for ever, and her confidence alone.” Amen.
(c) The Rev. Sheila N. McJilton
 Sally Mitchell Budklee, A Church and its Village, (Baltimore: Gateway Press, 2001), 388.
 The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XII, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 234.
 Ibid., 234.
 From “The Catechism” in The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, 855.
 First stanza of “Christ is made the sure foundation,” Hymn 518 in Hymnal 1982.