Sermon for Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sermon for Easter 5, Year A

May 14, 2017

Acts 7:55-60                     Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16                   1 Peter 2:2-10                      John 14:1-14

In old Jerusalem, there is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  It was one of the first places we visited when I was at St. George’s College. It is a huge structure which houses what is believed by many to be the two most holy sites in Christianity – the place where Jesus was crucified and the tomb where the body of Jesus was laid.  There is a shrine built over each of these sites, and whether or not the shrines are built in the actual places where these events occurred,  millions of Christians from all over the world visit this church to remember the death of our Lord.  The church is shared by several denominations and has several chapels within it.

On one of the lower levels there is a window where archeologist found a cracked stone.  The tour guides are now quick to draw it to everyone’s attention as being the stone referred to in scriptures as “the stone that the builders rejected.” In 1st Peter, this stone is said to have “become the very head of the corner.”  Peter is quoting the same verse in Psalm 118, which Jesus quotes while teaching people after he has ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that after Jesus says this, the scribes and the chief priest know Jesus is referring to them.  They want to arrest him on the spot, but fear how the crowd listening to Jesus might respond.  They have rejected Jesus and his teachings in their hearts and minds, and later they will do so publicly with his execution.

So, the tour guides in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher point out the crack in the stone and note that it is located beneath the site, two stories above, where Jesus was crucified.  Jesus is the cornerstone of our salvation, and the cornerstone that the scribes and chief priest have rejected.  To them, Jesus is fatally flawed.  Yet, the Bible is filled with stories of how God chooses the least likely to accomplish what needs to be done.  A young sheep herder goes against Goliath with only a slingshot and some stones, and wins the battle.  A carpenter saves the world with his love, his sacrificial love, not violence.

Jesus is indeed the chief cornerstone that the builders rejected and we are building our faith on him and his love – not only his love for us, but for everyone – friend and foe, family and strangers.

In our readings from Acts today, we hear about Stephen, the first Christian to be martyred. He is stoned to death, and we are told that the coats of those who stoned him are laid at the feet of none other than Saul – who we know as Paul.  It is Paul’s first appearance in the scriptures and one in which he can be identified as an unlikely candidate to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.  After that day Saul pursues and persecutes Christians with zeal.

Then, on the road to Damascus, Jesus appears to Saul and asks why Saul is persecuting him.  Saul becomes Paul, and some have suggested there would be no Christian Church without Paul.  It is Paul who spreads the good news of God’s love for us throughout the Roman empire.

And, of course, we have today’s gospel, in which Jesus is preparing his disciples for what is to come.  Jesus tells them he is going to be with his Father and he will prepare a place for them.  Jesus then says, “And you know the place where I am going.”  Thomas replies, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?”  Philip says, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  Here, Jesus is patient with his disciples – after all his followers are fishermen and a tax collector – an unlikely group of people on which to build Christ’s Church.

Before becoming a priest, I hired a number of people in order to carry out the mission of the home health and hospice programs that employed me.  I would seek the best possible candidates, people who had the strengths I needed.  Today, however, I am thinking about how God has accomplished such great things with the most unlikely people, people that I would have rejected.  Perhaps I am too quick to dismiss people.

The other day I needed to purchase some moving supplies.  The first place I went to was closed with nothing but a note on the door saying it would be open the next day.  I took my business elsewhere, thinking there would be no reason to return there.  Later in the week, however, after learning that neither of the two movers in town could move us on the dates we had available, I decided to go back by that u-haul rental company and ask if they had the names of people who could pack and load the truck for us.  I was thinking I could then drive the truck and arrange help to unload it once there.  I can’t say why I decided to go to that particular store, only that I did.  It was open this time and by the time I was walking out, I knew that God was taking care of us.  I had underestimated the services they had to offer.  It is a full service moving company, as well as U-haul rental agency and they will be moving us to Batesville.

Now, being Mother’s Day, I am reminded of another time in my life when I realized I had underestimated someone.  Growing up, it was my father’s presence which seemed to dominate a room.  His love for everyone regardless of social status, race, or any other characteristic, challenged us to be more loving and accepting of others.  After his death, however, I got to know my mother better and began to see how she had influenced him to become the man he was.

I came to understand my mother as an example of God’s  self-sacrificing love for us.  Some of us can identity this trait with other women who have served as mothers to us.  We cannot over appreciate these women in our lives and the gifts they have given us.  So on this day, I give thanks for our mothers and other women who gave of themselves that we might become the people we are today.

I am also personally thankful for the reminder in today’s scripture that we should not be so quick to judge and dismiss others, or even ourselves, for “the stone that the builders rejected” may indeed “become the very head of the corner.”  God’s Kingdom will come about because God’s love can overcome any flaws in us or others.

Let us pray.

God, our Father, help us to see past the flaws in others and in ourselves and see the potential you see.  Help us, then, to support others that we might truly come to know the way to truth and live.  Accept also, our thanks today for those who have mothered us, seen our potential, and taught us to love.   We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.