Monday, May 15, 2017

Sermon for Easter 5: The Gift of Identity

1 Peter 2:2-10

            When I was a little girl, there was a pretty solid line between the kinds of toys boys got to play with the toys girls got – for example, my brother got trucks – we got dolls – we got the Easy Bake Oven, he got the chemistry seat.  But every once in awhile, my brother got something that I kind of envied, that I wished someone had gotten for me, instead.  One of those presents was something called a “Rock Tumbler.”   This was a contraption, or a machine that promised to make plain ordinary stones into beautiful shiny agates.  You just put the rocks into the machine – more than one at a time, of course, and you put in something called ‘grit’ – and you turned on the machine and the rocks went round and round  --and when they came out – magic!  -- they were changed, they were beautiful, they were something you might want to put on a necklace and hang around your neck.

            “Come to him, a living stone… and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house….”

            During this season of Easter, we’ve been contemplating some of the gifts of the Resurrection –- the gift of Jesus’ presence with us, the gift of the community.  This week the gift is:  identity.  Who are we?  Who are you?   There are many answers to that question –the answer last week would have been that we are sheep, for example.   We are sheep, and Jesus is our shepherd.  Or in Ephesians, Paul writes that we are no longer strangers, but we are citizens, and part of the household of God.
              But today, Peter says that we are – stones. “living stones” – but still ‘stones.’ We are stones – and Jesus is the cornerstone.  But, what does he mean?  How can it be a gift to be a stone? 
            Perhaps to begin to answer that question, we need to look at places where there are stones in the Bible.  And yes – there are actually many references to stones in the scriptures.
             I did a whole Bible study once, and learned a lot of stories about stones.  For example, there’s the story of Jacob, fleeing from his twin brother Esau.  He has stolen the birthright and the blessing that belongs to his brother, and now he’s on the run.  When he stops for the night, he uses a stone for a pillow.  Can you imagine anything more uncomfortable?  I can’t. But during the night he dreams of a ladder reaching to heaven, with angels descending and ascending.           .And God made a covenant there with him.  God promised to be with him and to bless his family.
             So in the morning Jacob took that stone pillow, and he poured oil over it, and he called the place “Bethel”  - the house of God, and he says, “surely God is in this place, and I didn’t even know it.”

            A stone is the house of God.

            There are many other stories about stones in the Bible.  There is the shepherd boy David and his five smooth stones, only one of which he needed to kill Goliath.  There is “Ebenezer” – (ever wonder about that word?) the “stone of help” that the Israelites put down after a victory in battle, to remind them of God’s help to them.  There is the way the Psalmist always talks about God as the “rock of our salvation.”    There are stones all over the Bible, one at a time, or in groups.        

            There is this story from the book of Joshua about the Israelites going into the promised land, and how each tribe took a stone from the wilderness across the river into the promised land.  Twelve stones to remember where they had been – to take to the place they were going.

            And then there is the stone that the builders rejected – Jesus – the one who became the cornerstone.   There is the stone that no one recognized, that one that was tossed aside  -- but chosen and precious in God’s eyes.We are stones, and Jesus is our cornerstone.  But what does this mean?

            Well,  for one thing it means is that we are precious. 
            We are precious to God – even if we are not great in the world.   We are chosen by God – and set apart by God – for a particular purpose.         We may look ordinary, we may look  plain – but God sees something in us  --

            When my niece Rachel was a little girl I used to watch her pick up rocks in the yard.  She was fascinated by stones, but I could never figure out how she decided which were her favorite ones.  A few of them were shiny, but many of them just looked ordinary and plain.  She would pick them up and then line them all up, her treasures, especially chosen and precious.  And  that is that way it is between us and God.  For some mysterious reason, God has picked us up and has made us a part of the spiritual house. 
            Beth-el.  The house of God. 

            Who are you?  Who are we? 
            What is your basic identity?  There are so many ways we can answer that question, if we want to.  And to be truthful, there are many who would be eager to answer that question for us.   In the Old Testament, the Egyptians told the Hebrew people that they were slaves – but God kept telling them that they were free – and then he set them free.  Who are you?  You are consumers, only driven by your greed.  You are poor, you are rich,  you are defined by your past, and you can’t escape.  You are a bleeding-heart, you are idealistic, and your compassion makes you weak.  You are only one person, and you can’t make a difference.

            But God says, no.  God tells you who you are, and it is a gift. 
            You are flawed and forgiven person, a sign a God, a stone of help, a sign of the presence of God, reminders of the presence of God, even in the wilderness.   
            And despite all appearance to the contrary, you are strong, but not in the way you might think.

            One thing about rock:  it’s strong.
             If you have a house made of rock, it is going to last.  Right? 
            Think about that old folk tale, the three little pigs.  And how when the wolf got to the third house, made of brick, he couldn’t destroy it.  Because it was strong.

            Some of you have been praying for a friend of mine, Melissa.  She is a pastor in Minneapolis.   She serves a bilingual congregation, and a couple of weeks ago, her son, a senior at the University of Minnesota, was swept into the Mississsippi River.  His friend was sitting with him and somehow got out. They searched and searched and hoped and hoped, but finally they found his body.  And it has been heartbreaking. 
And she has been writing and sharing her pain and her faith with her church and the wider community who surrounds her, and people keep saying she is strong, and she keeps saying she is not.

            But she is strong. 
            She is strong because she is only leaning on Jesus, and she is clinging to the promise that she and her son are both children of God, and that is what makes her strong.  She is strong because she knows who she is, and she knows that both she and her son belong to God.   She is strong because Jesus is all she’s got.  And he’s got her, and he’s got her son.

            Who are you?   
            You are the house of God, a sign of God’s presence, even in the wilderness. 
            You are precious and chosen, made beautiful in the rock tumbler of pain and forgiveness.  And Jesus is your cornerstone.


1 comment:

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

Hey Dianne - got your email and I'm okay. Also moved to another state - North Dakota in fact. As you know well... new call involves all sorts of energy/time... but so far so good. Maybe sometime I'll get back to blogging?! Hope TX is treating you great!