‘Boring Bricks or Living Stones?’
I would like to begin with a fictional story I composed long ago, set in Provence, South-East France.
Célestin Esclangon slowly straightens his weary back and gazes at the lavender fields shimmering hazily in the hot sun on the steep slopes across the valley. An aging, diminutive man clad in blue denims, he has tilled these rocky hillsides for years, with his mule aimlessly looking on.
The Provençal sun bakes the clay topsoil hard, and without regular hoeing the rare rainfall will do the vines little good. It is true that the ever-present stones help to retain moisture, but there are always too many. Célestin takes the time to dig out more stones and lay them round the edges of the vineyard, his toil adding to the backbreaking labors of his forbears.
As the sun sinks lower, he selects some stones, scrutinizing each one, and then loads them onto the cart; stones that have lain there exposed to the elements for at least a year. There are several types of limestone, some with little resistance, the first freeze-up fracturing them. However, the stones he has selected have weathered well; the winter frost and burning sunshine have not got the better of them.
Back in Entrepierres, with the help of neighbours, Célestin’s son Dominique is building a little house for his young family.
Dominique points to a largish stone on the pile: « Pass me up that beauty. Yes, that one over there!» The stone fits perfectly. He has the practiced eye of a mason. Sometimes a bit of chipping is needed to give the stone an even face. After he has settled the big stone into place with generous globs of mortar, smaller stones mixed with mortar are thrown in behind to fill the spaces. Watching him at work, we would notice that every size and shape of stone goes into building the wall.
It takes every size and shape to do the job.
Building stone walls, a dying art in the valleys of Provence, uses timeworn methods going back to the Roman Empire. Carefully cut corner stones give stability where the different walls join, the rest of the wall receiving cruder samples. The Apostle Peter had observed the stonemason’s craft. In I Peter 2:5 he calls believers « Living stones ». Why not « Living Bricks » ?
‘4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’
6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
Men of old in the plains of Shinar baked bricks and built up Babel, until God confused their language and scattered them. The Israelites bore the bitterness of slave labour under Pharaoh, fulfilling their brick quotas. Bondage! Boredom ! Acres of bricks drying in the scorching sun !
All the same shape, size, and weight !
So calling somebody a ‘brick’ is not, biblically, a compliment! Incidentally, why bricks with straw? Nowadays, we reinforce concrete with iron rods, which greatly increases its tensile strength, but in those far-off days straw gave added strength to the bricks. Bricks are much softer than stone.
What is the beauty of working with bricks? Uniformity ! Speed ! Ask any bricklayer ! But as Christians we are not called to sameness and uniformity, not speed but patient learning, not called to resemble each other in personality and pursuits, but together to become more like Jesus in character. God calls us to be filled with fruitfulness and usefulness, not boring bricks but living stones, of differing sizes, shapes, color and weight! Some are young and sleek, like me. Others are old and shabby. Did I say that right? (Correction: Some are young and sleek. Like me, others are old and shabby).
Jesus chips away at our rough edges and as we pass the successive testings of life we find our place and ministry in the living edifice which is His body, the church. All of us have spent time “out on the hillside”, enduring the lashing rain and scorching sun. We have weathered the frost and been taken home to become useful members in the house of God.
Positive ( or critical) onlooker or committed member?
Spectator or Participator?
Boring brick or living stone?
Does Jesus live in your heart? If so, you possess gift and ability.
Hearts fixed upon Jesus: creativity
Growth into our destiny Rom. 8:29: ‘For whom He foreknew, He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
If we love Him, and want to steadily grow like Him, we will need to spend generous, unhurried time with Him, discovering, hearing His will each day. Let us do it. We are personally responsible, with everybody here, to work out the salvation of our soul, learning to become genuinely more and more dependent upon His presence within our heart. Amen!