Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Easter 5 A RCL

Easter 5A RCL

In the name of God who forms us into living stones of a heavenly building. AMEN

Stones have gotten bad press in our English vernacular it seems to me. Stone cold sober, deaf as a stone, dead as a stone, dumb as a rock, stoned (inebriated), stoners (those who are often inebriated), kidney stones, all betray a somewhat negative understanding of stones.

The scriptures are a bit more complimentary of stones....Jesus says that the religious leaders should not try and quiet the crowd because if they tried, even the stones would cry out Hosanna! Not one stone will be left on another of the temple in Jerusalem Jesus predicts and indeed was right—except for that stony remnant we now call the wailing wall, which was the foundation.

As many of you know, I completely re-landscaped my yard three years ago, building retaining walls and shoring up the fences as to stop them from being used as a Thruway for the many feral cats that roam my urban neighborhood. To do this I needed stones---lots of em. And as luck would have it I had a parishioner (Mary Sue) who just happened to have some stones she was in need of getting rid of. In addition she lived next to a stone mason's shop where they piled up the stones which, for whatever reason, were rejected and were fine with neighbors and their neighbor's friends lifting a few for personal use.

I got a great deal of pleasure knowing that I was using stones that were destined for the landfill and using them in such a way that made them useful and showed off their grain and function.

If you wanted to build something that would endure a desert climate for generations, you built it of stone. Resistant to sun damage, virtually indestructible by insects and water and cool in the hot months.
So when Peter uses the image of stones he is intentionally using a building material meant for the ages rather than a temporary structure. Peter's cultural context of Palestine and the Mediterranean Sea basin dictated that stone was the building material of choice. Yet he adds an important caveat. He talks about the stones which the builders rejected. Who are the builders and who are the rejected stones may be the next question you probably have in this allegorical description of this poetic spiritual building.

Of course the builders are those in power, those who have authority (or think they do) in deciding religious piety and how God works. We should take note here that we take on a builder's persona when we decide who is spiritual enough and who isn't. When we confine God to acting in one predictable way and not another. The builders in Jesus' and Peter's time were the Jewish religious elite. Those who laid terrible burdens on the people in the way they were to be religious. The ones who rejected Jesus as God could never come to them in THAT way. Jesus was the stone that the builders rejected in building their beautiful idea of what God's kingdom would be like. An idea solely conceived by them and oblivious to what God was actually doing around them.

So Peter calls us to become living stones around the cornerstone. The cornerstone of course in this allegory is Jesus. If you've ever seen a gothic arch you know that the top stone, or keystone is the critical stone as it transfers the stress throughout the whole arch, yet is the point where the pressure is constantly exerted. What is important to note however, the stones that form either side of the arch are critical as well, working with the keystone to hold the arch firmly in place. The Romans knew that and developed the arch as a central part of their architectural design. It was able to hold up a great deal of weight without adding a great deal of bulk.

Peter says a radical thing today ---he speaks to you and me in the apostolic community when he says that we are living stones, grafted onto Christ in Baptism and by virtue of that we join in holding up the building of which Christ is the main stone. Without us there would be no building ---just the potential in the cornerstone.
You are rejected for many reasons by the culture---you believe in this invisible God, you are part of this small, storefront congregation, you stake your life on something that has no visible guarantee, you believe in a God who you have not seen exactly; you give your time and money to something that does not give you a monetary return. You are quite odd really, in the eyes of the culture. You believe in a person, and claim a relationship with him who was purported to have been raised from the dead. An event that is either unbelievable to many, or a fond story and can easily be explained away in biology that he really didn't die, but fainted or went into a coma from which he recovered.

SO the next time you think going to Church and being part of a faith community is normal, consider that.

But Peter goes on. Because Christ dwells in you by virtue of your faith and baptism, you are now part of a community and an invisible priesthood that before now didn't exist. You are a holy priesthood. What is a priest? In the traditional Jewish understanding a priest was a person who performed a unique and important function in Israel's early life. They were the ones who were allowed to approach God on behalf of the people made intercession for them--performed sacrifice on their behalf to eradicate sin or for thanksgiving.

Now, according to Peter, you have direct access through Jesus who lives in you. Because of the Holy Spirit's presence in you given at Baptism, you are participating in God yourself and can have direct access by virtue of your faith. Therefore you are a royal priesthood who intercedes on behalf of the world. I don't think we often understand that. Perhaps we don't want to understand that as it may give us too much of a sense of responsibility. You are a priest for everyone with whom you have contact, God will hear your message to God about them. And then God will decide what to do with your spoken, or unspoken request/intercession/condemnation regarding them.

Its an awesome place to be this priesthood of which you partake whether you acknowledge it or not.

The responsibility then is to heal and reconcile those who are far off to the living God. You are a shepherd. You make intercession for all you come in contact with.

You are also responsible for justice. To see that the weak and powerless get a fair shake. You are to understand and get in with those who the society rejects, as that is precisely where God can do God's best work.

As we progress toward the dream of a new and more permanent home. Let us not be distracted from our priesthood. Our job is not to make St. E's more financially solvent, or more permanent or more anything except out there reconciling the world to God. If we keep the main the main thing then the rest will come.

Our mission statement "All are welcome, none are judged, a community of reconciliation in Christ" needs to be on the forefront of all we do and say. Peter explains our own mission statement in the end of this passage when he says "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."

To live this will make us truly a light in this culture of judgment and rejection. To live this out will be the outward sign of our priesthood as believers.



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