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"Living Stones"

Other may see them as debris or rubble, but God will use them, collectively, to build a house – a place of welcome, of warmth; a place where people will feel safe and be nourished; a place that protects all those inside from the storms that rage outside!

“Sheep” by Eli Halpin
CCC Heart Rock | Photo by Mike Buchheit

1 Peter 2:2-10

May 7, 2023

Dr. Todd R. Wright


Melba Patillo was born on December 7, 1941. She should have known that she would live an eventful life – and she did!


At 15, “[w]hile attending Horace Mann … in Little Rock, an all-black high school, [Melba] became aware that she was not receiving the same quality education as her peers at [white schools]. [Melba] then volunteered to transfer to the all-white Central High School.”[2] She and eight others became known as the Little Rock Nine. (Did I mention that she was just 15?)


They did not have it easy. Governor Orval Faubus deployed the Arkansas National Guard to block integration. Crowds held protests. One of the nine remembered: “[The crowd] moved closer and closer ... Somebody started yelling ... I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the crowd — someone who maybe could help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me.”[3]


Melba was subjected to verbal and physical abuse by many of the white students. She had acid thrown into her eyes and also recalled in her book, Warriors Don't Cry, an incident in which a group of white girls trapped her in a stall in the washroom and attempted to burn her by dropping pieces of flaming paper on her from above. But she remained motivated to continue the fight for integration by her wise grandmother who said, “We are…God’s ideas [and] you must strive to be the best of what God made you.”[4] She gave her granddaughter the gift of identity. She affirmed that, as a young black woman, she was “God’s idea.”[5] Imagine that!

 

I think Peter would have understood.


He was writing to Christians in the Roman provinces of Asia Minor – small groups in relatively rural areas. One scholar writes, “They would have likely endured scorn … for drawing the ire of the Roman gods whenever famine, flood, or some other natural scourge afflicted these communities.”[6]


Can you imagine the names they were called?


Can you imagine how isolated they must have felt?


Can you imagine their sense of powerlessness and vulnerability?


Of course, you can!


Most of us have some experience of being bullied, of doubting our worth, of questioning our choices. Those wounds do not heal easily.

 

Peter knows. He has first-hand experience.


I imagine those city-slickers made fun of him being a fisherman from Galilee, ignoring that he’d had to learn to navigate by the stars and remember currents and shoals without a map; and that anyone selling fish in the marketplace would have needed to speak several languages and calculate profit in their heads.


I imagine that some made fun of his nickname – the Rock – twisting it from Jesus’ intended indication of his steadiness to slander his bluntness, or dullness, or the way that, once he decided to act, he was like a boulder rolling down a hill.


And I imagine even some of his fellow Christians would have doubted his trust-worthiness – reminding him of his worst moment by crowing like a rooster behind his back.


Yes, Peter was the perfect person to be writing to this beleaguered band of Christians.

 

Notice what he does:


First, he reminds them that Jesus was rejected, called names, beaten, and spit upon.


He suffered like they have.


He was the stone that the builders rejected!


He is making the point that what others thought of Jesus and what they called him doesn’t matter, because God used him as a cornerstone when laying a new and lasting foundation!


Next, he tells them that they are stones too! Just like their Lord!


Other may see them as debris or rubble, but God will use them, collectively, to build a house – a place of welcome, of warmth; a place where people will feel safe and be nourished; a place that protects all those inside from the storms that rage outside!


Some of those listening to Peter would have heard the echoes of Israel’s story – of how God gathered a people who were scorned by their neighbors, battered by one foreign power after another, but loved and rescued every single time – and they would have smiled that God was following such a well-worn pattern with them.


And some, who did not grow up Jewish, would have marveled to be adopted into God’s family! And they would have found the words of Hosea especially resonant: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have …”

 

And if setting their suffering in context and reminding them of God’s action in history, was not enough, Peter also does what Melba’s grandmother did: he counters all the names they have been called by whispering a new reality into their ears! Eugene Peterson’s The Message puts it this way: “You are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be holy people … to tell others of the night and day difference he made for you – from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted!”


Can you imagine how those words must have leapt off the page when they were read to them – the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappodocia, Asia, and Bithynia? Can you imagine how they made them rethink their self-image? Can you imagine how they must have put a spring in their step?


Of course, you can, because you have witnessed how a few words can transform a life!


Maybe those words came from a Sunday school teacher or a youth advisor, from a relative or a coach. For Mary, they came from a teacher. Maybe you’ve heard her story:


Mary was born with a cleft palate and had to bear the jokes and stares of other children who teased her non-stop. She was convinced that no one outside her family would ever love her. Then one day something remarkable happened:


“Back in the 1950’s, it was common for teachers to give the children an annual hearing test. In addition to her cleft palate, [Mary] was barely able to hear out of one ear. [In an attempt to avoid more ridicule,] she would cheat on the test each year. The ‘whisper test’ [involved] having the child walk to the classroom door, turn sideways, close one ear with a finger, and then repeat something the teacher whispered. Mary turned her bad ear towards her teacher and pretended to cover her good ear. She knew that teachers would often say things like, ‘The sky is blue,’ or ‘What color are your shoes?’ But not on that day. That day God put seven words in [her teacher’s] mouth that changed Mary’s life forever. When she strained to hear her teacher’s voice, Mary heard the words quite clearly: ‘I wish you were my little girl.’”[7]


As far as Peter is concerned, that is what God is whispering to us all! Amen

[1] CCC Heart Rock | Photo by Mike Buchheit
[2] From the "Encyclopedia of Arkansas" entry, Beals, Melba Patillo
[3] From “Little Rock Nine paved the way” by Herb Boyd in New York Amsterdam News, 9/27/07
[4] From Melba Patillo Beals’ book, Warriors Don’t Cry
[5] From Jeannine K. Brown’s commentary on the text for workingpreacher.org, 5/14/17
[6] From Brian Power’s reflections on the text for Connections: Year A, Volume 2, Lent through Pentecost, page 264
[7] From https://bible.org/illustration/i-wish-you-were-my-little-girl
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