|Second Sunday in Advent, Year B||December 10, 2017||Second Sunday of Advent, Year B||Isaiah 40:1-11, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8, Psalm 85:1-2,8-13|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year B||December 3, 2017||First Sunday of Advent, Year B||Mark 13:24-37|
|Christ the King, Year A||November 26, 2017||Christ the King Year A||Matthew 25:31-46|
|Thanksgiving, Year A||November 22, 2017||Thanksgiving, Year A||Psalm 65|
|Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||November 19, 2017||Proper 24, Year A||Matthew 25:36-37|
|Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||November 12, 2017||Proper 27, Year A||Matthew 25:1-13|
|All Saints, Year A||November 5, 2017||All Saints’ Day, Year A||Matthew 5:1-12|
|Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||October 29, 2017||Proper 25, Year A||Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Matthew 22:34-46|
|Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||October 22, 2017||Proper 24, Year A||Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 96, I Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22|
|Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||October 15, 2017||Proper 23, Year A||Isaiah 25:1-9, Psalm 23, Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14|
|Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||October 8, 2017||Proper 22, Year A||Isaiah 5:1-7, Matthew 21:33-46|
|The Season of Creation, Week 5, Year A||October 1, 2017||The Season of Creation, Week 5, Year A||Matthew 6:25-33|
|The Season of Creation, Week 4, Year A||September 24, 2017||The Season of Creation, Week 4, Year A||Leviticus 25:1-7, Hebrews 4:1-11, John 6:1-15|
|The Season of Creation, Week 3, Year A||September 17, 2017||The Season of Creation, Year A, Week 3||Deuteronomy 28:1-14, Psalm 65, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Matthew 6:19-24|
|The Season of Creation, Week 2, Year A||September 10, 2017||The Season of Creation, Year A, Week 2||Job 38:1-18, Psalm 139, Romans 1:18-25, Matthew 5:13-16|
Fifth Week in Easter
Sermon Date:May 22, 2011
Scripture: Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; I Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
Liturgy Calendar: 5th Sunday in Easter
Before farm machinery powered by gasoline was commonplace, I can remember my grandfather getting up very early in the morning, heading down to the barn, hitching up the mule and going out into his fields to plow.
And when he plowed, inevitably my grandfather would turn up stones.
When he first moved to the farm years and years before I was born, Papa, as we called him, resurrected lots and lots of big raggedy looking stones as he cleared the fields, so many that he decided to put them to use. With great patience, he smoothed and shaped those stones, and then fitted them together to build the chimney, the fireplaces and mantels, the steps up to the porch and the foundation of the house that he built—the solid house in which he raised his family, the same farm house where I spent many happy hours as a child, and which still stands today, lovingly cared for by my parents, who inherited the house when my grandfather died.
Stones make great building material—and this fact is noted frequently in scripture.
The Psalmist calls on God to be his strong rock, a castle to keep him safe. God is his crag and his stronghold.
I n the gospel reading we heard today, Jesus does not name the building material that he will be using to construct dwelling places for us that we will enter into in our own finally resurrected lives, but certainly stones come to mind again—for in Jesus’ time as in ours, substantial buildings like synagogues and the temple were made of stone.
And Peter, in today’s epistle reading, harkens back to a metaphor taken from the prophet Isaiah and the Psalms, when he describes Jesus as a cornerstone, chosen and precious.
Last week we took a look back through our 175 year old history, a history that indicates that those who came before us in this place built a house with a firm foundation, because this church, in spite of being in a town that is literally falling down around us, is solid, God’s house through all these years.
Truly, Jesus has been the cornerstone of this place.
The most important stone in the foundation of any building is the cornerstone. If that one stone got removed, the whole building would lose its sturdy foundation.
If you want to see a current example of a cornerstone, go to the main branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library next time you are in Fredericksburg. Facing the front of the building, you will find the cornerstone on the right. ( Now on this cornerstone is engraved the name of Ben’s ancestor, Sylvanius Jackson Quinn.)
And then imagine what would happen to the large brick building that has stood firmly for over one hundred years if that one stone were removed.
One of the great paradoxes of our faith is that Jesus does not fit our idea of who a Messiah should be. Like the Jews of the time who were waiting for a Messiah, we still expect that power and might are what will make up the strongest cornerstone we could put into place in our lives.
But Jesus was a man of mercy who asked God to forgive those who turned against him and nailed him to a cross, just as Stephen forgave those who stoned him to death. No wonder, then, that this cornerstone that Jesus is was rejected by the builders of an earthly empire built on power and might.
But God, in God’s power and might, has made this man of mercy and forgiveness the cornerstone of our faith, of our spiritual house. This is the man described in Philippians, Chapter 2, as Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. The writer of Philippians goes on to say that therefore God highly exalted Jesus.
In fact, as Thomas Keating, a great Catholic theologian notes, God’s resurrection and exaltation of Jesus makes our own interior resurrection possible—and that interior resurrection, here and now, consists of the healing in this life, of our human condition.
And so Jesus becomes the cornerstone of the church.
And we become the living stones that Peter refers to in today’s scripture.
Peter calls each one of us with this imperative sentence.
“Come to him, a living stone, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.”
“Come to God, a living stone.” What does Peter mean by this statement?
When they are first resurrected from the earth, stones are rough, complete with uneven surfaces, and jagged edges. As the stone lives on the earth’s surface, it goes through a series of changes. Stones are eventually made smooth as they lie exposed to rain, to wind, to heat and to cold. Some stones are made smooth by human use.
Great sculptors uncover the life in stones. Michelangelo, one of the greatest sculptors the world has ever known, said that
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
As new Christians, we also start out with uneven surfaces and ragged edges, blocks of stone within which our true identities are hidden. We are trapped by our human condition.
The lectionary leaves out the first verse of I Peter, Chapter 2. In that first verse, Peter describes our ragged edges, the human condition, with these words.
“Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.”
Malice—evil intentions toward another
Guile— cunning deceitfulness for your own benefit
Insincerity—Pretending to love one another and then speaking hatefully about others behind their backs
Envy—So focused on yourself that you can’t be pleased over the success of another
Slander—Taking the truth and turning it into a falsehood to make someone else look bad and to destroy that person’s reputation
After Peter describes these ragged edges, he continues with the verse that our reading today begins with—if indeed, we have tasted that the Lord is good, we will want to grow into salvation–we will long to give up malice, guile, insincerity, envy and slander, to have those ragged edges worn away—to become living stones.
And so that we can become living stones, we long for God to shape us into the beautiful creations we were meant to be, as Michelangelo found the exquisite human figures that were locked into blocks of stone.
We grow into salvation by submitting ourselves to God’s mercy and by becoming merciful, as Jesus himself was merciful.
In Bible study this past week we talked about mercy.
And the definition of mercy according to the dictionary is this—
Compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity or benevolence. 2. The disposition or discretionary power to be compassionate or forbearing. 3. An act of kindness, compassion, or favor. 4. Something of good fortune; blessing; it was a mercy they weren’t hurt.
When we learn to have mercy on one another, we give up being the rough stones of malice, guile, insincerity, envy and slander that we pick up and use to stone one another to death.
Instead, with God’s help, we become compassionate as we experience interior resurrection through the grace of God.
Beside the Sea of Galilee sits a church called the Church of the Beatitudes, nestled into a hillside known as the Mount of the Beatitudes, the traditional site where Jesus gave us the words of the Sermon on the Mount.
The church is eight-sided, one for each of the Beatitudes, and from the porches of the church, the visitor has a panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee, the view that Jesus himself might have seen as he shared the beatitudes with the crowd gathered around him that day.
The church is built from basalt, a local volcanic stone. Chunks of basalt resurrected from the earth’s surface can be found all over this part of Galilee.
The builders raised up the basalt for this church from the earth, shaped it into building blocks, turned that rock into the living stones of a church through which millions of people pass each year, reminded while they are there of the words of the Sermon on the Mount.
And one of those beatitudes is “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
In the gospel we have heard today, Jesus said, “If you know me, you will know my Father also”—
And this father is the merciful God who cares enough for us to raise us up from the dirt we’re buried beneath,
God who cares enough to take our rough ragged edges and shape us into living stones, to sculpt us into the creations we are meant to be, God who cares enough to give us a cornerstone so that we can be built together into this particular spiritual house
As Peter tells us—
“Once you were not a people, But now you are God’s people,
Once you had not received mercy, But now you have received mercy.”
And we pray that having received God’s mercy, we will experience interior resurrection,
that we will become living stones, people who can have mercy and compassion toward one another,
with the hope that our mercy and compassion for one another will hold us together,
and that we, these living stones built into a spiritual house, with Jesus as our cornerstone, will be a witness to the world that is falling down around us.