I want to take you back
to March 10th of this year, when we discovered that we had this
Cornerstone with a time-vault in it. We made a big announcement to the
press that we were going to remove that Cornerstone in order to get to
the time-vault. And so we had all of the press gathered there, and we
brought in a stone-mason to help us free it up, and he was sawing away
on it to get it loose, this big anticipation as we waited. We were
chiseling away, hammering on it, doing everything we can to get it to
budge. And of course it wouldn't budge. We waited, the press was
waiting, and we couldn't get it out, so I made something up on-the-spot
about how firm of a foundation we have :).
The next day, finally, through some more work, several of us working on
it all day long, we finally got it out in order to get to that time
capsule that I'll come to in just a moment. Our Centennial Committee
decided that this would be the Sunday (Oct 2nd) on which we would put it
back. Only the stonecutter who originally told us that he'd come and
bring his tools and he would enlarge that space for the time-capsule,
never returned our phone calls. I have finally found a stone-cutter who
can do it, but it was too late to get it done for this Sunday, so we're
going to postpone it and do it next Sunday.
So the stone that we
couldn't get out when we wanted to, is the stone that we couldn't put
back when we wanted to put it back :).
In any event, when I began to prepare for this Sunday (that I thought
was Cornerstone Sunday), and I looked up the scripture that I had
selected back in January (without knowing any of this, as I didn't know
we even had a time capsule then), the lectionary passage from Matthew
21, the parable of the vineyard (in which the owner sends his son to
collect the fruit and the tenants revolt and kill the son, an obvious
reference to the crucifixion), but then Jesus concludes that story with
this verse: "Have you never read in the scriptures the stone that the
builders rejected has become the cornerstone?" :) "This was the Lord's
doing, it is marvelous in our eyes". Right!
‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ 41They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’
42 Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes”?
43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.
I wish he had said,
instead of 'rejected', the stone that "wouldn't cooperate", or something
to that effect :).
Well, inside of that stone, we're going to place a new time-capsule that
we've constructed, a little bigger than the original.
The 1911 time-capsule on the right, and the slightly larger 2011
time-capsule on the left.
We'll do that next
Sunday (Oct 9th).
That brings up the second surprise that the time-vault had for us. So
I'm a smart guy, I invited the press back to OPEN the time-capsule, and
reveal what the congregation had left for us 100 years ago. So in the
worship service, we take it out, the press is there and everything, we
opened it up, and we found a Bible. That's good, that makes sense.
The Bible being removed from the 1911 time-capsule.
The only other item was 3 pages of church letterhead -- that are
Evidently they used
disappearing ink in those days, without knowing it :). I remember
thinking at the time two things: first of all, do we really want to
invite the press the next time we have an event? :) And secondly, to
have nothing but the Bible in the cornerstone of the church, well,
that'll preach, as they say. That'll preach.
As the motto of our movement, back in the 19th century, said: "We have
no book but the Bible; no creed but Christ". And given that this is the
400th anniversary of the first King James Bible (one is on wonderful
display at Northwest Christian University where you can see one of those
Gutenberg Bibles) I find it interesting that this Bible, the one our
leaders chose to put in that time-capsule is not a King James version
(remember, this would have been on the 300th anniversary), but the
American Standard Version. It's the most recent translation of the Bible
in English they had at that time. That too, will preach -- to make the
good news relevant, contemporary for this age, we have to continually
update the word of God.
Well, since this was to be our Cornerstone Sunday, and given that this
is the first Sunday in a hundred years that the cornerstone has not
physically been on the property (because it is still with the
stonecutter) maybe there's a sermon there too: the absent cornerstone of
our faith that is still present with us in spirit. So let's go with that
What is that cornerstone? Like the empty tomb of Easter, we have nothing
this morning but the vacant space where that stone was to remind us that
he is arisen:
So the authors of the New Testament used this image of the cornerstone
for the risen Christ, not only here in Matthew and in the parallel
accounts we find in Mark and Luke (also the same story) but also in
Acts. And then again in 1 Peter. They use the same quote that comes from
Psalm 118: "The rejected stone has become the cornerstone".
I invite you to look at
this in your Bibles, take a look in there. Look up Matthew 21, and verse
42, I want you to observe the footnote. Remember how I always tell you,
pay attention to those footnotes. Well, this one you can actually ignore
-- but I'm going to point it out, then ignore it :). After the word
'cornerstone', you should see a little tiny letter, I think in your
version it would be the letter "b", and down at bottom of the page it
says for the letter "b": keystone. You know what a keystone is, right?
In a Roman arch, the Keystone is the stone in the middle that holds the
arch together. In Greek, the word literally means "head of corner"
(stone doesn't even appear in the definition). Evidently that can also
mean a cornerstone. In the Hebrew, from Psalm 118, the Hebrew word also
means 'head of corner'. And in Hebrew, when Psalm 118 was written, there
were no Roman arches, at least not in Palestine, so that's why I think
that 'cornerstone' is the correct translation, because that is what is
referred to is Psalm 118.
So I want to go to Psalm 118, and this is an "entrance" Psalm. It was a
part of a high, holy, festive day, when the people of God were headed up
into the Temple. Remember, the Temple Mount is on top of the hill in
Jerusalem. In verses 2-4, instructions are given of who is to
participate in the reading of this Psalm. It says "Let Israel say. . .",
so the nation, ". . his steadfast love endures forever". "Let the House
of Aaron say. . ", that would be the priests, ". . let us steadfast love
endure forever". "Let those who fear the Lord say. . ", and everyone
joins in again.
It's a responsive reading, or perhaps they chanted it. And the King, or
perhaps High Priest if in the absence of the King, would have been
leading this processional, and is the one who would speak, in verse
five, "Out of my distress I called upon the Lord", and then it refers to
a time of calamity, when the people of God called on the Lord for their
protection. And God responds, and they survive or are victorious,
whatever the case is.
And then we come to verse 19, and so the King says: "Open to me the
gates of righteousness that I may enter through them and give thanks to
the Lord". Then the priests respond: "This is the gate of the Lord, the
righteous shall enter through it". Then the King in procession proceeds
in through the gate, and they would probably then continue on through
the reading. "I thank you that you have answered me, you have become my
salvation, the stone that the builders rejected. . .", as they're
walking by this stone, the Cornerstone, see, ". . has become the chief
cornerstone, this is the Lord's doing, it is marvelous in our eyes".
So what is the message
of this Psalm in that setting? That God has chosen us, a rejected
people, and saved us from our enemies. And the followers of Jesus, in
those first few decades after the crucifixion and resurrection, are
trying to make sense of what has happened, trying to understand why
Jesus was crucified and why they, with their message about Jesus, were
rejected by so much of their world, including their own religious
leaders. And they found the answer in this Psalm.
In claiming and reinterpreting this Psalm for the death and resurrection
of Jesus, they're making three claims. First, his death was not God's
doing. It was the world's. And second, his resurrection was not the
world's doing, it was God's. And so third, God's affirmation of the
world's negation has made Christ our cornerstone, the one on whom and
around whom our faith is built.
Now, besides being a nice image, what does this mean concretely? And if
that pun wasn't obvious enough, how do we cement this into our faith
For those of you who have been reading John Dominic Crossan's book, "The
Greatest Prayer", I'll refer you to the Epilogue of that book. Skip
everything else and read it :) For those who have not read it, we still
have copies available, the author is going to be here next Sunday if you
want to get an autographed copy, there will be opportunities to do that.
But at any rate, Crossan, in that Epilogue, notes that throughout
scripture there are what amounts to two conflicting images of God.
There's one of violent God who achieves peace by slaughtering God's
enemies. And there's one of a non-violent God who achieves peace through
And if think one of those images is the old image out of the Old
Testament and the other is the new, enlightened image out of the New
Testament, then you have read neither. Or at least haven't read them
very well. Because both images are throughout scripture, and as Crossan
notes, Revelation (which concludes the New Testament) is the most
relentlessly violent book not just in our Bible but in the canonical
literature of any of the world's great religions.
Nor is the non-violent image of God limited to the New Testament. Some
of the most powerful images we have of a non-violent God are taken out
of our Hebrew scriptures. Swords that are beaten into plowshares. The
lamb that lies down with the lion. The garden of peace and tranquility
in the in the creation story.
So if both of those images for God are there side-by-side, how do we
choose among them? Do we simply, as Crossan notes, create a 'divine
cocktail' of so many parts of a violent God and so many parts of a
non-violent God? And he says no, that Christ is for us, as Christians,
our norm. We are not just people of the book, we are people with the
book. And the book points to Christ, not Christ to the book.
Thus, Christ is the revelation by which we, as Christian people,
interpret the Bible, not the other way around. That's why John's gospel
begins "In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God from the
very beginning, and became flesh and dwelt among us".
So does Christ reveal
to us a violent or a non-violent God? I think the answer is pretty
clear. The stone rejected by the world has become our cornerstone. Never
forget that the powers-that-be didn't reject Jesus with a really
harshly-worded resolution, right? They said some really nasty things
about him. No, they crucified him. They tortured him. It was with the
most brutal act of violence.
And God responded, not with retaliation or retribution, but through the
ultimate act of forgiveness and love. Raising Jesus into new life, and
remember it is never about the body of Jesus, it is about the body of
the people of God. It is about the whole world.
This is the cornerstone of our faith. By the way, if you hear anything
familiar next Sunday when Crossan is here, just remember you heard it
first from me :).
For me, the point that Crossan makes so powerfully clear is the need to
take the challenge of Jesus seriously. Not just as how we live as
individuals, but how we live as a community, how we live as a people,
how we live as a nation, how we live as a world. And if the message we
proclaim is to have any relevance, then, for our age, not just for 100
years ago, when our Cornerstone is opened once again 100 years from now,
then we must be able to show how Christ can be good news for the entire
world, demonstrating real salvation to real problems. From troubled
marriages to the troubled environment.
If Christ truly is good news for the world, then the way of Christ must
be a cornerstone for more than our personal faith, more than for this
building. The way of Christ, the way of non-violence, the way of peace
through justice, the way of love shown through compassion and
forgiveness, this way of living that retaliates with love instead of
hate, that sends bread instead of bombs, that gives life instead of
death, must become the cornerstone of our community, of our nation, and
100 years from now, when our descendents remove that cornerstone, and
open up that new, shiny, stainless-steel time vault, with it's expensive
plastic archival-proof packages :), and it's iPhone (with video), when
they open this time vault, what will they find?
A world with more violence, hatred, and fear? Or a world with more love,
peace, and hope?
I guess it all depends on what we leave behind.