... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

EASTER MESSAGE - May 15th, 2011

Jesus: Portal for Abundant Life

Text: John 10:1-10

The story is told of the Archbishop who, having been at a conference in downtown Toronto, took a taxi to the airport to catch his flight home. It seems that the young taxi driver was a bit of a hot shot and he weaved in and out of traffic at what seemed harrowing speeds. Seemingly oblivious to stop signs, traffic lights and pedestrians alike, he made his way to the 427 toward the airport when going into the entrance ramp he was involved in a fatal accident. Ending up at the pearly gates, St. Peter greeted both the Archbishop and the taxi driver and escorted them to their new dwelling places. The taxi driver was shown to a huge mansion with all the amenities one could imagine. The Archbishop, however, was given a one bedroom apartment. When he inquired of St. Peter why he was so housed while the taxi driver had been given such beautiful accommodations, St. Peter replied, “You should know! That young man in only 3 years as a taxi driver brought more people to faith and prayer than you ever did in your 60 years as a priest!”

While humorous, the truth of the story is that in situations of acute or dire trouble and distress people

turn to their faith and to prayer. In fact the scriptural witness shows that from the beginning Israel’s faith and their prayers turned to God expressly in those times and in those turnings found God to be utterly reliable providing peace strength safety and rescue as was needed to face the calamities. As a nation Israel found its greatest sense of community in times of turmoil and when their faith and trust in God superseded their reliance on their own desires and actions. The Psalm for today as well as Psalm 23 from last week point out this truth. In the story of Stephen’s sermon and subsequent death at the hands of the non-believers, the early Christian church carried on Israel’s experience of God’s reliability and redeeming powers.

Both the Gospel and 1 Peter build on the faith expressed in the psalm and Stephen’s ending to point out the concrete reality of church as a living edifice providing a place of welcome security support and nurture, not so much as a physical location but as a relational location in God through Christ Jesus . This relational location is expressed as the household of God and provides an alternative understanding of household and honour code as was prevalent in those days.

[The imagery of a building founded on solid corner stone is perhaps very poignant to us here in Bala this morning as we still have the fresh evidence of our addition as well as the ongoing completion of it. Of course while we have a physical structure, 1 Peter is referring to the spiritual structure being erected by God but founded in the life and teachings of Jesus.]

[The imagery of a building founded on a solid cornerstone is perhaps more poignant to us here in Mactier this morning, as our entry Fraternity is composed of the allegory of building an edifice in which the corner stone is of prime importance. While our Fraternity uses the allegory to impress upon us the moral need of a strong foundation, 1 Peter is referring us to the spiritual structure being erected by God but founded on the life and teachings of Jesus.]

Jesus is the cornerstone – the 1st stone laid at the intersection of two outside walls and from which lines are drawn horizontally and vertically and become the reference point for the entire structure. What every Mason knows is that once the layout of a building is done the site for the 1st stone is most important. The place where it is to be must be solid and secure, resting on a base which will neither crumble nor erode, for if it does the entire building will be out of alignment. The base of God’s spiritual household is God’s own word and the cornerstone the Word made flesh.

From this corner and foundation all other building blocks are attached. But here in 1 Peter we are brought up short with a reference to Psalm 118 and Isaiah 8. The stones of this Divine spiritual household are not the ordinary stones one would customarily associate with buildings. To modern stonemasons, bricks or stones are regular in shape size and consistency, making for easy handling and joining together with mortar. However in the far distant past such was not necessarily the case. In fact on a recent Discovery channel programme archaeologists were commenting on finds where walls were built of stones purposefully cut out of irregular shapes and custom fitted to give the structure a shape fitted design. The amazing thing about these walls is that even without mortar they have not lost their shape or their strength. In fact these walls are supposedly stronger and more resilient that any walls built today because they use the dynamic forces of the physics of irregular shapes to bind the stones with an integral strength.

Having now seen the imagery from a practical point of view we must look at what Peter had intended as a pastoral goal. In other words, “What was he trying to convey to the early church?” First, the emphasis on the unity of believers in one body – described as household, race, and priesthood – serves to create and maintain a social identity. The people to whom this letter was addressed were displaced, dispossessed and not part of the mainline religions. In fact they may have been part of the communities suffering from the first persecutions and who needed a sense of purpose, a source of comfort, and a bolster for what they believed. In fact the closing verse of today’s reading brings this Diaspora into the traditional view of God’s own people Amni and Ruhamah – “now you are God’s people and now you have received mercy.” While this might seem exclusivist to us sitting here in the pews in 2011, to those suffering persecutions in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD this was a community, building and laying out the boundaries which would encompass many.

Secondly Peter was linking these people with Jesus Christ and his teachings, establishing the social dimensions of this alternative household. What they needed to see was that they were family with God as the head and Jesus the cornerstone. In this new family Jesus’ teachings would be the new morality and the new way of relating to one another – not as citizens of a specific country but as brothers and sisters, living stones joined as a new and holy nation.

The third pastoral goal Peter tries to fulfill in this fledgling community of believers is their sense of worth. They are no longer to see themselves as loners, outsiders, dispossessed or the object of the world’s aggression. They were to view themselves as God’s own people having the mission to proclaim God’s mighty acts of salvation in and through Christ Jesus. They were to be the righteous conscience of a world gone mad and steeped in evil.

It is perhaps in this very pastoral goal that the church today needs to be reawakened. We have become complacent; we have blurred the boundaries between Christianity and the larger society: we have become unattached and slipped from the square line of the cornerstone. More than ever we need to become reconnected to Christ and his teachings, to be a people of God realizing that we have received mercy and, in response to be propelled to witness to God’s goodness and love.