“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
- Psalm 118:22 & 1 Peter 2:7
Builders should know the quality of a stone. I once talked with a stone mason who described how he had to examine each stone before he used it. But the builders in this passage lack an eye for quality. They end up discarding the best stone. In Psalm 118 and 1 Peter 2, the stone is a metaphor for people, and the buildings are the projects and jobs that they get fitted into, and the builders -- well, they should be managing everything. They are the ones that should know how to train and shape the people they employ. But apparently they’re terrible at it.
The world rejects good people because they don’t know what to do with them, or they place people into roles for which they are ill-suited. Peter offers this critique partially to comfort the people he is writing to. They had been rejected by their culture, and Peter reminds them not to worry: The builders aren't good at determining value anyway. They rejected Jesus, after all. But Peter is also giving them a way to live, a way that recognizes that any project of God is going to require an increased sensitivity to the most valuable resource of all, the human resource.
People are not stones. They are not fixed constants that can be used in a predictable way across time. Peter is quick to note this and calls the people “living stones.” In order to use people, you have to recognize they are becoming, developing, growing, even unpredictable. How do you work with such a building material? You have to be constantly getting to know it.
As an organization, we spend a lot of time together getting to know each other. I don’t think I can emphasize enough the amount of time that people have spent getting to know each other. In all kinds of ways. Through all kinds of situations. We’ve known each other 5, 10, 15, or 20 years. If any group of people are poignantly aware that God’s stones are living -- that they grow and develop and fail and succeed -- we know.
Gregg Garner recently talked about this at one of our Saturday-morning meetings. I’ll pull back the curtain a little here and give you a window into life inside Global Outreach Developments. We met in the morning. Yes, there was coffee. Some people had volunteered to cook breakfast for the people who wanted it -- they made some kind of breakfast sandwich, I think, though I confess to not arriving early enough to snag one.
The meeting began and Gregg Garner discussed some of the recent changes in our organization -- some people were moving into new responsibilities, new positions were being created, and different positions were taking on different forms. It was in the midst of this discussion that Gregg noted how inevitable change was in an organization that allowed people to be people. Change wasn’t a sign of failure; It was also a sign of growth. This growth--even from what we find in 1 Peter--is a sign of God building people up. And that’s a focus our ministry has: equipping, educating, and developing people.
Gregg illustrated this by having people share their personal experience of working with and being developed in the context of our ministry, giving people an opportunity to share the ways that God has been equipping them and developing them through our ministry, how they’ve developed skills, and in what areas of service they’ve become effective. How people enter into our ministry is not how they continue to be. People have been equipped and strengthened and learned skills and grown.
Psalm 118 is a thanksgiving Psalm. The psalmist had been rejected, but in the end he finds a place of belonging: “This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.” He finds purpose and use in God’s project. During that meeting, amid the ordinariness of coffee and breakfast sandwich, we got an opportunity of sharing the ways in which we have found a place in God’s project by being developed and built up by him who knows how to work with living stones.