Sunday, May 10, 2020
Do your kids or grandkids like to collect rocks as much as mine do? Perhaps you yourself enjoy collecting seashells or other interesting natural “found” objects. Our first and second readings this morning talk about two very different ways of using stones. In the first reading from Acts, an angry mob uses rocks to stone the apostle Stephen to death. Our second reading from 1 Peter talks about Christians being living stones, built into a spiritual house with Christ our cornerstone, even though Christ is the cornerstone that the builders rejected. In the first instance, stones are used to harm, to kill, to try to tear down faith in Christ. In the second, they are used to build up – to build up followers of Christ as precious stones that allow believers to worship and praise God with their lives.
The gospel this morning, I think, brings these two stories together as Jesus gives us another I AM statement: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Last week, Jesus gave us the assurance that he is the gate and the good shepherd, opening our lives up to a life of abundance. Today, we can ask ourselves what is this way of life, this abundance that Jesus is asking us to follow? The early Christian movement began by calling themselves not “Christian” but followers of “the Way.” Given the options of using stones to build up one another in love or tear down and kill, these early followers of Jesus chose the first way – living in the Way of love, grace, forgiveness and peace, even if their very lives were threatened, even if others could not accept their new way of life.
While our culture today remains at least culturally Christian, for the most part, as our country becomes more secular, choosing to follow Jesus the way, the truth, and the life as a particular and peculiar way is important. Sometimes I wonder if “they will know we are Christians by our love” as the old song goes, or if even as Christians we are tempted to fall into the trap of quickly judging others to be lesser than ourselves, of condemning those who don’t agree with us, and trying to protect ourselves at all costs without much thought of our neighbors in need. Certainly I see these dynamics at work during this pandemic. All of us, at some point, I would guess, hopefully have not literally thrown stones at others, but we have hurt others with our words, assumed the worst about others or our current situation.
Researchers have studied the patterns of attitudes and behaviors of regions when they undergo any societal trauma, like 9-11, or hurricane Sandy, or like this global pandemic today. What they have found is that there is a short “honeymoon” period of about a week where a community really comes together after a disaster: we can think about the rainbows in people’s windows, the 7pm noisy “thank yous” out New York City windows for essential workers, the donations to small businesses that are struggling. But consistently, after this feeling that we’re all in this together, a community will experience a period of disillusionment and disintegration of community life. Go on any social media these days and you’ll see this research proven true – name calling, further political division, shaming of people who are not following strict quarantines on the one hand and people who gather in protest of the restrictions on the other hand. We’ve seen, unfortunately, this period of disillusionment we’re in right now even turn to violence in some very sad instances over supply shortages or people wearing or not wearing masks. As Christians today, trying to weather a global pandemic with gratitude and grace, it’s OK to not feel happy all of the time, or to have strong opinions about how we should move forward as a society. We are not impervious to the psychological impacts of this unprecedented time we are living through.
However, 1 Peter reminds us that we are living stones, holy and chosen in God’s sight. We are all in this together, even now, still. Jesus, in asking us to follow him, THE way, tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” If as followers of Christ the way, we only respond in this time out of fear and disillusionment, out of selfishness and judgment of others, we are not building each other up as living stones but throwing stones that hurt. We don’t have to have all of the answers, but we do have words of encouragement and hope to offer a world that is hurting and in need. For some of us, perhaps our faith was not so much in the forefront of our lives before all of this happened. An occasional visit to church or prayer when we were in trouble may have been the extent of our relationship with God. For some of us, God is helping us find our way through this uncertain, fearful time more than we ever have experienced before. As we work through our collective disillusionment and grief and come to terms with this new way of being in the world, God promises us a new beginning: reconstruction. God promises to use us as living stones of faith to build a spiritual house of support for all who are in need of hope, grace, and love. In following Jesus our way, truth, and life, we can be at the forefront of reconstructing a new beginning that brings people together.
My buddy Thomas shows up here again in John 14, asking Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Once again, Thomas hits the nail on the head with our questions. Where are we going? What is the way forward? How do we know? Jesus answers Thomas and us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life….from now on you do know him and have seen him.” So often in life, and certainly in these days, we feel like we don’t know where we’re going or what we should do next. Jesus leaves us with this promise that we know more than we think we know, because we know him. Because we know him, we know the Way, we know God. We can follow where God leads and leave a bit of our troubled hearts, our judgments, our throwing stones, behind to enter a new beginning with God. And in Christ Jesus, we have this ultimate promise that following this way leads to life, life abundant, and life everlasting. Thanks be to God. Amen.