Laying Living Stones for God’s House
Emmanuel Church is such a beautiful place. This whole building contains, shelters, and protects this community of God. This community – this body of Christ – plans and sustains its life together here, shelters the EDS children, and feeds us in body and spirit. And we miss our beloved church building! But it’s really wherever we’re gathered – like here in our dining room – that is the family room in our spiritual house. Where we gather IS our family room. Not the formal living room or parlor that no one is allowed to sit in, but the family room – the den, sitting room, keeping room, whatever you call it – it’s the place where we get together.
In Emmanuel’s family room, we worship together. Our worship, what we do with each other here as Jesus’ family, is the very glue of our community – this body of Christ. Remember our beautiful nave at Emmanuel with me — and our chapel. We keep things that are really important to us as a family in those rooms. We have our crosses to remind us who – and whose – we are. We have our beautiful windows, like family portraits, that tell the story in color pictures of our ancestors’ long relationship with God. We have the beautiful fair linens and frontals on the altar, like table cloths on the dining room table for an important holiday meal. We have our needlepointed kneelers at the communion rail, drawing us to gather together around that table for our eucharist. We have pews and chairs – plenty of places for all of us to sit down. We have candles we light, to set our worship time apart from other times, like we would for a special family meal.
“In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places”
Today in John’s gospel, Jesus has just told the disciples that his betrayal and passion were coming. He tells them not to worry, and that he would prepare a place for them where he is going. In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places, Jesus is. He tells the disciples that they will know the way to find him in his Father’s house.
Thomas is uncertain — doubting a little as he does – and like some of us might have been doing. I’m pretty sure that I would have been feeling uncertain – even unseated, knocked off my perch, and way, way out of my comfort zone. The politics in Jerusalem were clearly moving against Jesus. Our gospel today takes us back before Holy Week and Easter. Jesus had predicted his betrayal, passion, death, and resurrection to the disciples, even as they covered their ears, averted their eyes, and heard things a different way. Their mission was just too important. Their love for Jesus was just too great. It’s in this context that Jesus reassures them: In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places, he says. He soothes Thomas, who isn’t sure how to find God’s house when it’s time. Thomas is still not sure and says so: Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way? Jesus tells Thomas. Jesus tells us all. He says I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Can you even imagine how badly Thomas wanted to find God’s house, to be sure he knew how to get there, and how to be with Jesus again? And then Jesus told him: I am the way, Jesus said. Of course Thomas is worried. They all must have been. Thomas wants to be sure he knows how to get to God’s house. Thomas wants directions. He wants the address. If he’d had iMaps on his cell phone, he would have wanted Jesus to drop a pin. But then Jesus tells them how to find their dwelling place with God. Jesus is the way to get there. Where Jesus is, God is. Where there is love, there is God. When we’re all together here in our family room, we are in God’s spiritual house.
God’s Own Holy Rock Pile
The first letter of Peter that we read today brings us to a time well after Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection, and after Jesus’ conversation with Thomas in the Gospel of John — that Doubting Thomas conversation we know — although scholars think that 1 Peter was written and circulated before the written gospels. 1 Peter is God’s own holy rock pile. There are many references to rocks, stones, cornerstones, fortresses, houses, and other shelters throughout both the Old Testament and the New Testament. It makes sense. The Holy Land is a really rocky place, with vast expanses of mountains, caves, wilderness, and desert. It makes sense that God’s people would describe their experiences with God in terms of their natural rocky environment.
Jesus even names Peter Cephas, which means “rock” in Aramaic. It translated into the Greek of the New Testament as Petros. Those of us who don’t know Greek would recognize it in the English word petrify. We don’t know for sure whether or not 1 Peter was really written by old Cephas, or Petros – Jesus’ good friend Simon Peter. Scholars do think that 1 Peter was a circular letter addressed to Christian communities scattered all over the northern part of Asia Minor – present day Turkey. Maybe tradition just gave old Rocky – Peter – credit for this very stony passage.
1 Peter gathers together, in the space of ten verses, stone images from Job, the Psalms, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and probably many others. In 1 Peter, we not only have the stone, the stone that the builders rejected, and the chief cornerstone, we also have the stumbling block, which is called, in some translations, the stone you strike your foot against. The chief cornerstone and the stumbling block are two completely separate rock ideas – the rock of shelter and security for believers and the rock of destruction for unbelievers – or the rockheaded. Both ideas are described in 1 Peter as coexisting features of a single stone. BUT these two separate rock ideas do not occur together anywhere else in scripture other than in Isaiah, and there they are 20 chapters apart.
BUT WAIT – as they used to say on the Ronco ads – there’s more! 1 Peter has added a new stone image to his rock collection in Chapter 2:
Come to [Jesus], a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
We are the Living Stones
1 Peter means for us to do something with this rock pile. We’re in it! We are the living stones, and Jesus is the chief cornerstone. We’re being told as a Christian community to lay ourselves down as a foundation, to stack ourselves up into walls, to shingle ourselves into a roof to shelter our dwelling place in God’s house, and to mortar ourselves into place with love.
Our community — even gathered virtually as we are now — is alive with this body of Christ, shimmering with the Holy Spirit. Our community is a living room, one of the many dwelling places in God’s house. But this isn’t a fancy living room we’re not supposed to touch. It’s a living room we’re allowed to sit in. God wants us here together. Spending time with each other. Settling in. Hanging out. Leaving the kneelers dented and worn from use in our many family meals together. Even though we know that the church building is not the church — we, the body of Christ, are the church — I have often sensed the love of God in an empty church, in the middle of the day, with no service going on.
Can you imagine Emmanuel now? When I imagine Emmanuel, I can see God’s love in the dust motes shining in the sunbeams pouring through the stained glass windows, thickening the colors as they pool on the pews. I can smell it in the scent of the wood and wax, all living relics of the loving hands that served. Caring for God’s living room is loving, nurturing, mothering activity, done by mothers, regardless of their actual gender or biological role. And happy Mothers Day to all who love and serve that way.
The smell of wood and wax and polish tells our story. They tell the story of all the hands that have rubbed and polished, stitched, ironed and starched, arranged the flowers, and prayed with fingers on the organ. They tell the story of voices that have sung God’s praise in hymns and chants, read scripture, and led the Prayers of the People. They tell the story of the feet that have processed in and recessed our living room in God’s House – at Emmanuel or gathered as we are right now.
We build the church, this living room in God’s house, stone by living stone, to shelter the members of the body of Christ and give them a place to dream. Let us stitch ourselves into the altar cloths, and let us mend ourselves into the kneelers, remembering as we weave together all our threads who we are, and what we have promised God and each other: to love one another, be in community, feed and care for one another. Let us stitch ourselves into the kneelers at the altar and become God’s own people, a spiritual house, stitch by stitch, stone by living stone, every stitch our prayer. Amen.
Mother’s Day Prayer
To the Moms Who Are
Good and gentle God, we pray on this Mother’s Day for all the Moms — of whatever gender or biological relationship — and for all who mother, nurture, and care.
For the Moms who are struggling, and for those filled with incandescent joy.
For the Moms who are remembering children who have died, and pregnancies that miscarried.
For the Moms who decided other parents were the best choice for their babies, and for the Moms who adopted those kids and loved them fiercely.
For those experiencing frustration or desperation in infertility.
For those who knew they never wanted kids, and the ways they have contributed to our shared world.
For those who mothered colleagues, mentees, neighborhood kids, and anyone who needed it.
For those remembering Moms no longer with us.
For those moving forward from Moms who did not show love, or hurt those they should have cared for.
Today is a day to honor the unyielding love and care for others we call ‘Motherhood,’ wherever we have found it and in whatever ways we have found to cultivate it within ourselves.
– Hannah Kardon, Pastor at Elston Avenue United Methodist Church