Sermon delivered on Easter Sunday 5A, May 18, 2014 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.
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Lectionary texts: Acts 7.55-60; Psalm 31.1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2.2-10; John 14.1-14.
Starting with our First Lesson form Acts and then followed by the psalm refrain and further following up with 1 Peter, we see numerous references to stone, stones, or rocks. In fact a quick electronic reference of these terms turned up approximately 80 such in just the New Testament. Some references negative with many positive.
In our first reading from Acts, we see stones being used as weapons, as a means of destroying life, with the stoning death of Stephen, the one accounted to be the first martyr. But this is not the first or only time we see stones being used in this way. We have, of course, the story of the woman caught in adultery, who was about to be stoned, whose life was spared only because Jesus intervened. In Matthew in the 23rd verse we find Jesus expressing his sadness over the fact that the very City of God- Jerusalem was a place where many of God’s prophets had been killed by stoning. Even Jesus faced the threat of stoning on a number of occasions at least two of which we find the Gospel of John in Chapter 8 first in Verse 7 and later in Verse 59. Besides stones being used as weapons, most of us have had the experience of tripping over and stubbing our foot on a stone which if that experience did not cause us to fall probable caused some loss of balance and some pain and unfortunately for some of some the use of colorful language.
Stones have had and still have many positive uses. One of the earliest uses of stones or stone markers was their uses as guide posts giving directions on which way to travel and points of significance. Often in the days before GPS, the setting of land boundaries relied on descriptions, which took account of natural features and often made reference to a stone or rock formation and in some cases there was the placing of a rock on the proposed boundary line. In the time of Jesus it was a Jewish practice to use the distance that a stone could be thrown to determine the distance that a person could travel on the Sabbath. Given that distances that most of travel on any given Sunday, we would need a great throwing arm.
Stones are used today even as there were used in the time of Jesus as the base or bottom layer to provide stability for a road, sidewalk, or structure. Sometimes this was accomplished by placing stones under the structure and other times by digging down until hitting a rock base. In the Gospel of Luke, we have the story of the man who digs down deep and builds his house on the rock foundation and as a result when the floods came, the house could not be shaken or destroyed. It was safe because it had been built well, built on the foundation of stone.
Stones, precious stones, are frequently mentioned in the Scriptures. Such stones were used to decorate the Temple and the vestments of the Priests. No I am not going to suggest that we priests need new bling — but even today we adorn chalices with gold, silver, and jewels to symbolically offer to God our very best and He gives His very best to us. Precious stones can have many purposes.
In addition to both Old Testament and are present use of such stones to make worthy offerings to God. Such stones also play a part in our lives giving us a sense of beauty. They give beauty to an object and can add to the attractiveness of a person. Some precious stones have been used for years as a medium for trade. Long before the dollar, stones of gold and silver, or coins made of these stones were the primary form of currency.
Some precious stones like the diamond have taken on a symbolic nature as when they are found on the engagement or wedding ring emphasizing the value of the relationship and the desire for permanence. But the diamond and some other stones are also known for other characteristics – the diamond because of its hardness is often used to cut or shape other stones or objects that they may more attractive or useful.
I mentioned already how stones are used to provide a foundation but stones have been and still are used to actually build structures in many parts of the world. Most of us have seen such buildings if not in person at least on TV. Some are simple cottages and some of these stone built structures are great castles. All stone built structures have one thing in common and that is that they start with a cornerstone – usually a unique large stone that provides stability and support to all of the other stones. Without the cornerstone, all of the other stones would move out of position and the whole structure would fail.
Now you might ask, what has all this talking about stones have do with being a Christian or with today’s scripture reading? In our Epistle reading we are reminded that Jesus is our cornerstone.We are reminded that we need to see our relationship with Jesus as secured and made permanent only as we are tied to Him like the stones of a building are tied to the natural cornerstone used by the builder. Jesus was and Jesus needs to be the cornerstone of our lives, for though he was rejected by the many of his time and his message of a new personal and loving relationship with God, was truly a stumbling block for many. It is Jesus alone that can be the true cornerstone for it is Jesus who was chosen to be the cornerstone by the Father, the Creator who would declared Him precious. Jesus remains the cornerstone for as a building’s structure depends on the cornerstone for stability, so it is that the community we call church and our own lives depend on Him for stability in an unstable world. Jesus like any cornerstone is unique, because, it is only in Jesus that we find the Way to God, the Truth of God,and the Life of God.
Jesus is the only true foundation stone.
But if Jesus is the cornerstone what does that say of us? The Scripture is clear. We are to be living stones. We are to be precious living stones. Stones supported on the sure foundation of Christ so that we can be built into a spiritual house where we will also be a royal priesthood offering sacrifices made acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. As God’s precious stones, we must be careful not to allow our lives to be used in a destructive manner bring injury to others.
While the professing and living of our faith will be a stumbling block for many who do not or choose not to understand the special relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ, we must make every effort to not cause unnecessary pain. We are called to be precious stones that whose lives sparkle with the beauty of God’s love attracting them not to us but the one who made us.
Like the diamond sometimes we will glisten with brightness and that is all that will be required and other times also like the diamond we will be called to do hard work to shape this world into the one that the Father desires. We should also remember that most precious stones require a good deal of grinding and polishing before their true beauty and value and come forth and we should not be surprised if God does some grinding and polishing on us. Be comforted in knowing that God is the great jeweler who knows how to bring out the best in us. As precious living stones, we are called to signs and landmarks, through the way we live our lives and by our sharing of the Good News, that others may come to know Jesus Christ, the most precious cornerstone. Amen.