Sunday, May 18, 2014

Rockiness - Easter 5 Sermon

The Audio can be found at [ ]
The Text follows:

What is a living stone?  Is it something worth desiring to have?  [How many of You remember the Pet rock fad?]  How does one become a living stone?  Do you want to be one?

In today's second reading, Peter refers to Christ as the "Living Stone" which has become the cornerstone of the church.  What does he mean by this phrase "a living stone"?  After all, a stone by its very nature is an inanimate object, that is, one that does not have life. 

Well there are a few exceptions.  We think of coral as a stone.  It is when we see it in someone’s home on a shelf or a mantel.  It can be a beautiful rock hard decoration that someone uses to accent their home.  Yet prior to being broken away from the sea floor, this was a living element of the universe.  Extremely slow growing, affected by other elements in the water which affects color and shape, we know that pollution can even kill the coral.

In some of the old construction around St. Croix, the builders used almost anything they could get their hands on to build walls and stairs.  The bricks used for ballast in the holds of sailing vessels were generally thrown overboard when the ships arrived in port.  For the casks of rum would provide the ballast for the return trip to Europe.  Builder’s helpers would dive into the harbor and pull up usable items to build the walls and stairwells in this island community.  Along the way they might gather in some of the coral and discarded bottles from rum that never made it to Europe.  So living stones are not necessarily inanimate objects, and they are not always carefully chosen.

Webster defines a stone as a rock which is used for a specific purpose, such as a building block, a paving block, a grindstone or a gravestone.  Occasionally in television commercials that celebrate the longevity of companies or cities, filmmakers will use old film footage of the construction of trademark buildings in NYC or Philadelphia.  These films generally start with scenes of the foundation stones being quarried.  These stones are cut and lifted into place for use in the building of skyscrapers.  Even this week we saw the same evidence of the bedrock of Manhattan being the foundation of the new World Trade Center. 

If stone is used for these specific purposes, then we must next ask why it is used for these purposes.  Obviously, a stone is known for its permanence, its imperviousness to change or to things like the weather.  It is also not easily moved from one place to another, especially if it is a large stone.  Once placed in a specific spot, it will stay there unless a greater force is exerted upon it.  We have witnessed that in the reconstruction of the stairway into the Upper Darby Township Building at Garrett and Long Lane.

It is no wonder that contractors use stone for the walls in foundations.  It is built to keep out the soil that has been carved into for a basement.  The stone keeps out the dirt and the water, and the roots of other intrusive living things.  That’s why the builders of this church first planted a stone basement on this site at 7240 Walnut.  Often times in Philadelphia I have seen churches that worshipped in there basements before they began to make plans for finishing the building.  Sometimes they never built the upper structure of the church. 
If and when they finished it they did not build a frame structure to fit on top of the stone foundation.  They wanted something with permanence.  They wanted a fortress to fight against sin.  They wanted a safe haven for the gathered community of believers.  They wanted shelter for those who were lost, but by the grace of God could be found.  They finished building this church with stone.

Now what Peter (who himself was named "the Rock" by none other than Christ) is doing in this second reading is attributing the qualities of a stone to a living person, Jesus Christ.  This is someone who can sleep through storms that toss a ship and frighten the entire crew.  This is someone who can speak to stormy waters and calm them down.  This is someone who can do verbal battle with lawyers and judges, and even the leaders of his church.  This is someone who when confronted with the choice of living and dying, chose death so that others might live, and live abundantly.  Someone who is "a stone" exhibits the qualities of bravery, courage and loyalty in the face of danger, but who is also willing to pay the ultimate price, to lay down their life for others.

In his definition of the word "live", Webster points out that it can describe someone who has attained eternal life.  Thus, someone who is said to be "living" has attained eternal life through Christ, by following the model of self-sacrifice which Christ provided.  Most of us do not come into situations that call for that kind of sacrificial giving.

2:6 For it stands in scripture: "See, I am laying in Zion a  stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes  in him will not be put to shame."
2:7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,"
2:8 and "A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Not everyone hears on the first reading.  We are fortunate that God knows that our senses continually need to be tested.  God is asking us today and every day, how are you witnessing to your faith for those who walk by my planting.  Are you continuing to be a fortress for those seeking safety?  I don’t find it any wonder that that there are significant crowds in our stone building on any day of the week. People who come to this stone building know that they need the support of one another.  They need the reinforcement of gathering together in community.  They seek personal support in their beginning a new life in a new country with a new language.  They seek support in caring for their children after school while they are still at work.  They seek a save place for their children to learn and play during a summer of vacation. They seek support in sustaining life in a time of food insufficiency on a weekly or monthly basis. They need the spiritual support of the stories of the power of God that has kept others on a path where they can be a foundation stone and not a tumbling rock.

Our challenge is to see if we can identify ourselves as stoned Christians, who are ready to share our space and place of support that is based on the Rock of our Faith.  It is not just for other, for we too need the support of one another.  We need the reinforcement of gathering together in community.  We need the spiritual support of the stories of the power of God.  When we gather to study scripture, when we gather to teach scripture to others, it is our own Christian story as a disciple of Jesus that helps us focus on the path set before us by Jesus and his disciples.  It is our own Christian journey that keeps us on a path where we can be a foundation stone and not a tumbling rock.  It is our own consecration and dedication to the mission of Christ to go into the entire world baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit that defines our reason for being here.

2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,  God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty  acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous  light.
2:10 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.


My thanks to the following colleagues: MARK STAHLHUT, SILVERIUS F. GALVAN

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