Here is the sermon I gave on May 14th at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church for the fifth Sunday of Easter. At this stage in the season of Easter the Lectionary Readings and Propers have transitioned from the resurrection appearances of Jesus to themes of building up the body of Christ- as the church draws closer to celebrating the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost.
We find in our Epistle reading for today the theme for our worship, as we reflect on the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” A Cornerstone is a carefully shaped rock designed to lay the foundation for the levelness and structural integrity of the rest of the building.
If the building’s cornerstone is off, the rest of the building cannot be straight. It is essential that the cornerstone be smooth and true to provide a foundation for all remaining stones in the building.
If Christ is the cornerstone of the spiritual house of the church- we know with certainty that this is a building that will last and endure.
But our reading from 1Peter doesn’t just describe Christ, the cornerstone- it also describes us as building stones ourselves. 4As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
We are called living stones who are built into a spiritual house, part of a holy priesthood. This is no humble description of God’s people, this is a regal, glorious picture of the church. A picture that may seem hard to swallow. Living stones? Is this really talking about us?
We may look out at our church and see anything but this beautiful spiritual house that 1Peter describes. We may instead see an imperfect spiritual house, characterized by an imperfect building- perhaps in need of some updates or repairs. We may look and see a church with a reputation in the community of people who often do not get along with each other.
We may see in St. Peter’s that it is like any church, composed of imperfect sinners. Instead of living stones that build a spiritual house, we may have an easier time picturing ourselves as rolling stones.
But the truth is, we aren’t members of a holy priesthood because of how we look or what we say. We are who the Father says we are! The Father gave His Son to die on the cross for us. And that is what makes us who we are. We find our identity in Christ. We are living stones in Him. Not just individually, but all together, a spiritual building in Him.
How amazing that we are part of God’s perfectly designed building! How amazing that we get to be living stones who continue to build on the foundation of Christ.
One rainy Sunday afternoon a father was babysitting his children and had the task of keeping them entertained. He assigned specific tasks to each child. To keep his ten year old son busy, he had torn a full page map of the United States out of a magazine, cut it into small pieces, and told his son to reassemble it as a jigsaw puzzle.
To the father’s amazement, his son presented him with the completed puzzle in just a few minutes. “How did you do it son? He asked. It was easy the boy replied. At first when I tried to fit together all those little lines and dots and the small print on the map, it looked like an impossible job. Then I saw part of a man’s face on the back of one of the pieces. So I turned the pieces over, and when I got the man together, the United States took care of itself.”
The jigsaw of life makes sense, and we get it all together- when we live our life against the background of Christ. Faith in Christ as our Savior makes all the pieces fit. The pieces fit together in our lives as individuals as well as our lives as a group. All the stones fir together, giving the building everything it needs to take shape.
People rejected Christ as the cornerstone, so they will also reject us if we follow from His foundation. But if we are built on the cornerstone of Christ we will not be put to shame. We will not labor in vain, even if people persecute us for our confession of faith.
In our reading from Acts Stephen confessed Jesus as Lord boldly. Once he began to tell the full story of how Israel rejected Jesus (just as they had all the prophets before him) they stoned him. But Stephen was not put to shame. Even as his life was taken from him he saw Jesus at the right hand of God, he was not put to shame, but instead glorified by God- honored as the first martyr of the church.
Many have observed that the one constant in life is that there is always change. Whether it is a season or a stage in life, things never stay the same as long as we want them to. Change happens within our lives and our families, as well as in our culture. You may be particularly aware of change on Mother’s Day today if your mother is now with the Lord.
But change is not the only true constant in life. Instead the one great constant in life is God’s love for us. We prayed in our Collect Prayer that among the many changes of this world our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found.
God’s love and favor to us lasts throughout our lifetime, where everything else changes. We can’t count on anything else staying the same. But through Christ’s changeless love for us- we find true joy.
Even the foundation of a building can fall over time. But the church is a building built of living stones based on the foundation of Christ. “See I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” Built on the foundation of Christ, the church will never fall.
To outward appearances it may appear as if the church will fall at any moment. Built upon imperfection. But because the cornerstone is perfect, the rest of the building is indeed a spiritual house of living stones.
This means here at St. Peter’s this congregation will certainly bear much good fruit because we are built on the cornerstone of Christ. No matter what decisions the congregation makes about building projects or pastoral calls God’s Word will continue to work in this congregation wonderful things. There is joy in knowing that God’s Word works regardless of what ministry goals we may or may not have as a congregation.
We are living stones. As we live our lives upon the foundation of Christ we continue to build upon the spiritual house of the church. We follow the example of those who have gone before us proclaiming Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection- and we lay a solid foundation for future generations to build upon. There is joy knowing that our faith is part of God’s plan, part of a bigger picture than ourselves.
In our gospel reading we hear of upcoming change as Jesus warns the disciples of his departure to take place shortly after the Last Supper. Thomas protested to Jesus, “Lord we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” The disciples were not ready for the change of losing their Lord. How could they know which way to go on their own? They were not seeing themselves as living stones.
Jesus answers them: “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” Although they will experience a change as the events of Holy week unfold, they will still know God’s constant love through Jesus- they will know the Father through him. Through the call to discipleship they will show others Jesus- they will be living stones who show the glory of the Father.
The change of Jesus’ departure will not keep them from the joy of knowing Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life.
In our reading of Psalm 30 we heard the psalmist declare, ‘I cried to you for help and you have healed me.” We face many challenges and changes in life, but have constant that our God hears us when we cry out in need. We even face death, the greatest change of all with the assurance of deliverance:
“O Lord you have brought up my soul from Sheol, you restored me to life from among those who go down into the pit.”
Not even death can keep us from knowing Jesus as the Way the Truth and the Life- our Cornerstone of life and salvation. Amen.