Writings from the ministry team
for your refreshment
Sermon Sunday 14th May 2017 (Easter 5)
Readings: Acts, 7, 55 – 60 The Stoning of Stephen
1 Peter, 2:2 – 10 The Living Stones and the Chosen People
JOHN, 14:1 – 14 Jesus Comforts the disciples,
Let us Pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing unto you Lord. Amen.
How many times have you looked around you and thought ‘how on earth did I get here?’ and more to the point ‘what am I doing here?’ I seem to be doing that more and more these days as my life changes. I’m living a life and doing things I’d never even thought of when I left school all those years ago. When I look back at how my life has evolved and how I have evolved it’s like I’m looking at someone else. But although I’ve changed, (dramatically according to my brothers), I’m still me, but I’d like to think I’m a better me than before.
Our readings today are about stones of one sort or another and what they can do. But they’re also about trust and promises and how, when things go wrong or seem impossible, God is always there.
In our reading from Acts, the stones we hear about are being used as weapons. They were used to kill Stephen. And this casts a dark shadow over our Easter joy. Why, when we are in a period of celebration because our Lord has risen, is there this act of violence?
Well unfortunately for Stephen, he has openly criticised the Sanhedrin. The ruling council in Jerusalem. In re-counting their history, he has pointed out their failings, their disobedience to God in not believing in his Son, Jesus Christ, and their part in the killing of the Son of Man. There’s a saying that the truth often hurts, well Stephen obviously hit a nerve and the more he reminded them of their failings, the angrier they become, until eventually they dragged him outside of the city walls and stoned him to death. Not quite what you would expect from the religious good.
However, Stephen isn’t afraid to die. He’s had a vision which promises glory through suffering and he’s filled with the Holy Spirit. As he looks up to the heavens he sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God. He puts his trust and his life into God’s hands, and like Jesus before him, he actually asks that his murderers not be punished.
The sad thing is, when you look at the reading of Stephen’s death by stoning and then look around the world today at the atrocities being committed, not much has changed. The weapons used may have become more sophisticated but the outcome is the same. People being persecuted and killed for their faith and belief in God. Looking around at the misery and despair, you might be forgiven for wondering, where in all this, is this Kingdom of Heaven we were promised? Jesus said he was going to prepare a heavenly place for us. Has he forgotten about us? Is he coming back?
Is it any wonder then, that our hearts become troubled and worried, just like the disciples were. After all, how we can build our faith to the point where we can believe in a different world? A world where we can see God in the midst of hardship, if nothing seems to change.
Our reading from Peter gives us hope, and, some clues. He likens us to living stones. Jesus is the original and we are to be like him. However, it’s no good being a stone in isolation, you can’t build anything with just one stone. In order to build something, you need a whole host of stones. You join one to another and then another and so on and eventually you can build something quite wonderful. But, and there’s always a but. What if the stones don’t fit together? What happens then? After all, they come in all shapes and sizes. Well as any master mason will tell you, stones need to be honed. You need to chip away the sharp edges, smooth and shape them, until they become a perfect match for their neighbour. They’re still the same stone, except now they’re not alone, they’re attached to another stone. As the master mason selects and fits the stones together, they start to take shape, they become a structure of strength and stability. This building, our church, is a classic example of a master mason’s work. But, yes there’s another one, without people, it’s just another empty building, a blot on the landscape.
Peter says we are living stones, our aim is to emulate Jesus Christ, The original living stone. He is the cornerstone, the keystone, the very foundation on which we are to be built into God’s church. And God is our master mason. And like the stones of our building here, we too come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. And in order to fit together, to work together to build God’s church, we too have to be honed and shaped. To have our rough edges chipped away and smoothed off. And that is what God, as our master mason has done. If you take some time to look back over your lives, you can probably see how and where you have changed. How God has changed you into the person you are today. Probably a very different person to the one of your youth. But, you are still you, only now you are not alone, you have other like-minded living stones joining you to build God’s Church, to become the living breathing heart and soul of it.
Looking at Peter’s letter again, we can see quite clearly that together we are stronger, that our worship, our Christian growth, whilst being individual, is also corporate. It needs to be shared and enjoyed together. Through prayer, through the words and symbols of our
liturgies, through the example of those who love us into loving ourselves, because they
believe in God’s love for us. Only together can we fight the forces of evil that surround us. And perhaps the most powerful way of growing in the spirit of Christ is through the sharing of the Eucharist and believing that Jesus left this with us, so we could touch him and know he is in us. There, is God’s power. The mystery that explodes within us if we just open our hearts and minds to all He reveals to us. There is the means that will help us to continue looking for ways to build that Kingdom of heaven here while we wait to take our place in the world to come.
Jesus never promised a safe and trouble-free life for those who followed him – far from it. He was always very honest about the fact that “the world” would most often cover its ears, shout, and sometimes throw stones. But if we believe that we are chosen, that there is truth in the saying that one candle brings light into the darkness – then we are building, piece by piece and stone by stone.
There will always be stones that need replacing, and maintenance as with any building of worth. It will be a lifelong job and only God knows when it will be finished or if it will ever be finished. It’s highly unlikely that any of us will ever see the finished building and the
living stones that come along after we have gone may also never see it finished. In fact, the Kingdom here will probably never be finished, but it will continue to grow. We’re a part of it, a unique part, but not the whole. There’s always more to learn and more to offer of
ourselves to others. Evil will never cease trying to destroy goodness. And so, the need to continue building, to work together, to pray together, to become a holy community, right here with those sitting with you and around you, is as important today as it’s ever been
We have put our Trust in God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. As Jesus told his disciples in our Gospel reading, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, Believe in God, believe also in me’. ‘You know the way to the place where I am going’. Now Stephen, Peter and John all put their trust in God. They were living stones who believed, and joined together with like-minded people to build Christ’s Church, just as we are continuing to do today. And we must do the same. Trust in his promise that one day, we too will stand in our own room in the House of the Father,
By becoming one of the ‘living stones’ of God’s Church, you are called out of the darkness and into the wonderful light of Christ himself. Being a Christian is a great privilege. Being Christians together, could be - heaven on earth.