Rev. Nick Reed
A Community of Living Stones
John 14:1-14; 1 Peter 2:2-10
As we worship this morning on this Fifth Sunday of Easter, it is interesting that our gospel reading is not a post resurrection story of the disciples, but the story when Jesus is gathered with them on the night of his arrest. The setting has not been as calm as one would think. After Jesus washed the disciples feet he shared that one his followers would betray him and the other will deny him three times before the night has ended. Anxiety had to be building, so knowing that his time with the disciples is only a little longer he gives them a final speech or lesson to prepare them for their post resurrection ministry.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me.” What we hear next is a conversation filled with proclamations by Jesus and confusion by the faithful disciples. Jesus proclaims that he is going to prepare a place for them, and he will come again and will to take them to where he is going, and they know the way to the place where he is going. Thomas finds himself confused with Jesus’ proclamation and thinks the way Jesus is referring to is some kind of geographical path. To help clear up any misunderstanding Jesus proclaims the primary theological conviction of the whole Gospel of John… “I am the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE.” The Way Jesus is referring to is God’s great revelation that reveals God’s love for the world through Christ.
This term, The Way, is actually in the Old Testament. It was a term usually used to express God’s law, God’s wisdom, God’s purpose for God’s people. A great example of this is in Psalm 86, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.”
By Jesus proclaiming “I am the way” Jesus is saying to the world that God is choosing you and loving you through me. The integral theological conviction being proclaimed by Jesus is that God’s purpose for the world is LOVE. God chooses us unconditionally through the Way, the Truth, the Life, Jesus Christ. While humans might veer towards the idea of an exclusive path for their salvation, God has revealed an inclusive path through Jesus Christ that says more about God’s role in salvation than our own.
That is the truth that is revealed to the world through the cross; Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life for the world so the world would know that God is for us, not against us. This is the exact reason why Jesus proclaims to the disciples, “Do not let your hearts be trouble”…because God has chosen to love the world through Christ.
WORK TO DO
This is just the beginning of Jesus’ final conversation with the disciples. After proclaiming why they do not need to let their hearts be troubled, he then proclaims to the disciples that while his time with them is coming to a close, their ministry is just getting started. He tells them, “The ones who believe in me will also do the works that I do, and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” Jesus is reminding them of the new commandment and calling he just gave them in the previous chapter, moments before this conversation…“just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Jesus is telling the disciples that while things are about to change and God is about to reveal God’s love for the world through him, they have a calling to love the world too.
If the verse when Jesus proclaims that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life is the integral theological conviction of God’s purpose for the world and for us, then you can see why the First Letter of Peter describes Jesus the way it does. “Come to him (Jesus), a Living Stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight.” Christ is the cornerstone, the foundation of God’s work in the world. The author of this letter also echos Jesus’ words reminding the readers that we have a calling as we experience God’s love…“Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.”
COMMUNITY OF LIVING STONES
Did you hear the plural of the words about stones? The First Letter of Peter did not say like a Living Stone, let yourself be built into a spiritual house, but the author said like Living Stones, let yourselves be built into a Spiritual house. We live in a cultural that sometimes lives for the singular, and forgets the plural nature of the world.
The First Letter of Peter is a wonderful reminder that discipleship and Christian living is not about our individual selves. It is about the the community and world around us. Sure everyone has their own individual stone, but together we build up a Spiritual house. For Christians there is a significant and crucial element to our ability to live and to build with one another…Jesus Christ our cornerstone and God’s great revelation of Love. We are called to be a community whose foundation is built upon God’s love for the world. With the truth revealed to us that God loves the world through Christ; Christ our Living Stone empowers us to live as a community of living stones that glorifies God by loving others and caring for the vulnerable. We are called to be a community of Living Stones who choose love.
Community has always been an important element of a life following Christ. A close community followed Jesus all around Palestine listening and soaking up his every word. As the early church formed, smaller communities would gather together in homes for worship and encourage one in their life of faithfulness to God. Community is significant and meaningful in the life of this church. I have had so many phone conversations and emails from people who look forward to the day when we can all gather together in the Sanctuary, in the Chapel, and in Baird Hall and gather in person with one another. Then there is the importance of the community around us, the Auburn Opelika Community, our State and national community, our global community. A sense of community holds meaning for us because as Christians we remember Christ’s words in Matthew that “whenever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them”.
When we reflect back on all these communities I mentioned, there are also moments when disagreements happen, or conflicts break out or uncertainty surrounds them. It is in these moments, especially as we explore the conflicts between the disciples or communities of the early church that Jesus or someone like Paul or Peter tells the faithful to not forget that Christ is the cornerstone of the community.
When disagreements or conflicts or confusion happens to the community of living stones and they are lost with how to be a community, in those moments we are called to lean on our great cornerstone and foundation for how to respond. When we lean on Christ our great cornerstone we will remember that God’s purpose for the world is that the world be loved through Christ. When we lean on Christ who is The Way, The Truth, and The Life we remember his words that just as he loved us, we are called to chose love and love one another.
Of course the word community holds a little different meaning than it did a few months ago. A few months ago the living stones could all gather together and find clear ways to glorify God together through our worship of God and our outreach to the vulnerable. Most of our in person encountering now only happens with the greater community around us and it happens in an odd fashion. Even if things are different, let us not forget that we are called to be community of Living Stones that glorifies God with our love and care for one another.
I came across an article from the Chief of Staff at East Alabama Medical Center, Dr. Michael Roberts stating how we can love and care for one another in our unique temporary normal. It was an article about how wearing a mask over our mouth and nose wherever we go even if you feel healthy and confident is a way to seek that all in our community are healthy and safe. His point was that we are all at the lowest risk to the virus that causes Covid 19 when everyone wears something as simple as a handmade cloth mask. He wrote that this is especially important since the virus can spread before symptoms appear. He lifted up that by doing this, in conjunction with social distancing and frequent hand washing, that these things are integral in keeping everyone healthy as we encounter our various communities around us in the days and weeks ahead.
After reading this article by Dr. Roberts, I find myself pondering his words and pondering Jesus’ proclamation to the disciples that they have a calling to love the world too. If we are to be a community of Living Stones that glorifies God with our love and actions for each other; in this moment of time, glorifying God and being a community of Living Stones is loving each other by washing our hands and wearing a mask so others in our community remain safe and healthy. Right now in this moment of time glorifying God is tending to the needs of the vulnerable, whether it is their health or their living conditions. While some of these examples of glorifying God might be different than what we have done in the past, there is definitely one way we can glorify God that hasn’t changed, we are still able to be a community of living stones that proclaims to our various communities the hope of the Good News of God’s unconditional love for us through Jesus Christ.
So as we find ourselves gathered in unique ways in the coming days and weeks ahead with the various people and communities around us, may we all remember that Christ is our cornerstone for how we live our life and love the the world. When things get difficult in the world whether it be because of the unknown, because of conflict within our communities may we remember Christ’s words! “Do not let your hearts be troubled…I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Do not let your hearts be troubled for God has called us as a community of living stones who are able to lean on and love one another. Do not let your hearts be troubled, because God has revealed that God’s purpose for the world is love. Do not let your hearts be troubled because God has chosen to love us through Christ and be our God, forever! Alleluia Amen!