Service for May 10, 2020-“The Rock and the Stones”
(Based on Lessons: Acts 7: 55-8:1 and 1Peter 2: 2-10)
Happy Mother’s Day Peninsula United Methodist Church! Today, with heartfelt gratitude, we celebrate the precious mothers and female role models that have been such an important part in our lives. Their love, guidance, and acts of self-sacrifice have helped to mold us into the adults we have become. Their strong values have guided our judgement criteria, and we are better human beings for their being (having been) involved in our lives.
As we consider the importance of the values that have guided and shaped our lives, we turn to the scripture lessons for today. Sometimes, the stark contrasts found between the lessons are so striking to us, that they call our attention directly to them for further consideration. That is the case with the lessons for today. The reading from Acts for today takes us to the scene of the stoning of the apostle Stephen. He had been brought before the council leaders, elders and people of the synagogue for his Spirit-filled message of truth about Jesus Christ. It was a message many of them considered to be blasphemous against traditional Jewish laws and rituals.
As Stephen continued to preach his message, the crowd became angry and they “dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.” These people wielded stones as weapons, and they used them to silence the message they did not want either themselves or others to hear.
In bold contrast, the lesson from 1Peter 2 for today describes for us how Jesus is the focal point of God’s plan for our salvation. 1Peter declares that Christ Jesus is the “cornerstone chosen and precious.” This means that Jesus is the rock—the firm foundation upon which our faith is built. It continues, “The Stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner.” These words remind believers that Jesus endured suffering, rejection and death before he was raised into glorious new life as the solid rock and cornerstone of our faith. Once we were no people, but now we are God’s people, built upon the solid stone-Jesus.
As I read these lessons, I could not escape the bold contrast of these two uses of stones. For Stephen, stones became weapons of death and destruction hurled against him and ending his life. 1Peter reminds us that Jesus, by contrast, is the cornerstone of our faith-the life-giving foundational stone chosen for the building up of God’s people.
Stones, like so many other objects and elements found in our lives, can be either up-building, reinforcing and life-giving or destructive, chaotic and toxic to our very souls. It all depends upon how we choose to make use of them.
These days of social distancing have provided us with an unusual opportunity to spend time in relationship with our immediate families. They have afforded us some quality time to spend in activities that promote self-discovery and personal growth. I also suspect that many of us have been spending more time than usual viewing “the tube,” keeping up with current events and sometimes mindlessly keeping it on as background noise. Media in itself, like a stone, is not problematic.
It is what we choose to do with it that determines whether it becomes a blessing to us and to others or a toxic weapon of the destruction of our values and the very quality of our lives. I have seen TV broadcasts with so many examples of people who are using these days to practice gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, and love.
I have also witnessed some shows in which poison arrows of selfishness, doubt, anger and blame are being launched out though the media waves. Those are the same kind words and feelings that drove some of the Jews to the point of stoning Stephen for having a faith with which they disagreed.
Fostering negativity can truly become toxic to our health and to our spiritual well-being. Through practicing good discernment of the media that is being offered to us, we can control our degree of exposure to these negative messages.
During these days we have been given, let us not give in to the temptation to allow our difficulty to drag us into places of frustration, negativity or blaming. These are the places from which we lash out at others, injuring them with our own emotion-charged stones. Instead, may we seek to envision what God may be doing in and through us and our world right in the midst of even these difficult times.
What new thing may God be preparing for us right now? How can we see this time as a gift, and use it both to build and to rebuild critical interpersonal relationships with others? Isaiah 43: 19 states, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
There is a way for us in the wilderness of these days we are living. Jesus is the way, the truth and the source of all marvelous new life. We always need Jesus, we especially need him now. With our eyes focused on him, our rock and cornerstone, we will rise up from our own pit of stones into an abundant and eternal life of building loving community with one another.
So, let’s lean on the Rock, and avoid throwing the stones. Amen.