Archive for May, 2011

1 Peter 2:2-10

“. . .like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house. . .’See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious’. . .”

If you have ever been involved in building a home, an office building, a church, or a parish hall, you know that the foundation is the most important part of that building. A good foundation must be laid with strong, lasting material. Material that can withstand any force of nature. Material that does not leak. In most large buildings, you will see a large stone placed in the foundation of the building, at a principal corner (there are several around St. Philip’s.) This large stone is called a cornerstone. Often you will see the date of the building’s ground-breaking, and the names of the principals involved.

I have been thinking about foundations, cornerstones and living stones this week. During its long history, St. Philip’s has experienced building in a physical way. For example, on May 1, 1999—the Feast Day of St. Philip the Apostle—Wyatt Ministry Center was dedicated. According to Sally Bucklee’s book A Church and its Village, the initial goal of building Wyatt Hall had been “to expand and extend God’s work at Sixth and Main to better serve the people of a four county region.”[1]  When the building was dedicated, a simple inscription had been carved on that cornerstone: “To the Glory of God.”

The building itself is just a building—a container, if you will. What has really mattered through the years is the ministries that happen in Wyatt Ministry Center and out of it. Ministries of fellowship, outreach, and community service. Ministries of Christian education and hospitality. The stories of many St. Philippians have been shaped and told out of this historic worship space—built out of stone so many years ago—and out of Wyatt Ministry Center. Faithful people have been—and continue to be—living stones of Christian faith. Our individual stories are held within the larger, archetypal stories of God’s divine love for God’s people.

Sometimes it is easy to see how our own stories fit into God’s larger story. Sometimes we struggle, because our journeys include exploration, questions, challenges and doubt. Whether we see it or not, from the moment we identify ourselves as God’s people, with a particular kind of story, our Christian story takes a different path than stories of our surrounding culture or society. Such is the case in our epistle reading today.

While no one is certain when the first letter of Peter was written, evidence suggests that it was “toward the end of the first century. . .”[2]    There is no mention in 1 Peter of emperor worship. No evidence that this early Christian movement has yet experienced systematic political persecution. While it seems likely that the “growing Christian movement [has] already stirred up trouble among its neighbors. . .[it has] not yet attracted the attention of the emperor or been forced to choose between allegiance to him and allegiance to Christ.”[3]  That reality will happen in a few short years, but not just yet. Nonetheless, the followers of Jesus are obviously different from those with whom they live and work. Are they respectful of the emperor, as their neighbors are? Yes. Do they pay the required taxes, as their neighbors do? Yes. Do they see life through the same lens? No. The waters of baptism and their way of life have changed their perspectives on life. As Christians, they know that their new foundation is not based on a city-state political system nor on their economic or social status in the community.

The writer of this epistle reminds the Christian community that their foundation is living, precious, spiritual, holy. God has chosen them to be God’s own people, so they must be different. They no longer belong to themselves. They have been baptized into a life that asks them to sacrifice their small truths for the larger truth that is in Jesus of Nazareth—the Holy One who lived with us, died for us and rose to new life. God has called the people of God  to be holy. To be different. Yes, even to be counter-cultural in a society that will never understand such difference. The writer of 1 Peter wants Christians to understand that it really is okay to be different from those around them. In fact, if they are really living into their faith journeys as Jesus did, difference is to be expected.

The first step into this new life was repentance. Turning one way (literally) to renounce Satan and the forces of evil. Turning the other way to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour three times. Walking down three steps into the life-changing waters of Holy Baptism. Marked with the sign of the cross—first with water, then with oil, new Christians were dressed in white robes, then joined the Christian communion for bread and wine in the name of the risen Christ. They then spent the Easter season learning more about their faith.

The story of Holy Baptism and growth in the Christian faith stretches from that first century community of faith to those of us gathered at St. Philip’s today. Just a month ago, at the Easter Vigil, the St. Philip’s family of faith welcomed baby Charles McGinnes Allen through the waters of Holy Baptism. Baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, Charlie—like so many babies, children, youth and adults before him—he has become a living stone in the Body of Christ. Jesus has become the cornerstone of Charlie’s life. With the help of his parents and people in this parish, he and all our little ones will grow strong in the Christian faith. Years from now, God willing, Charles and other children in this parish will do what a group of young people did last Sunday: they will claim their Christian faith for themselves, through the discipline and sacrament of Confirmation.

Last Sunday, we blessed our youth confirmands: Gabrielle Boyce, Jackie Cooper, Sharon Herbert and Gideon Toole. These young people spent nine months learning and preparing for a new part of their Christian journey. They have claimed publicly that Jesus Christ is their cornerstone, their foundation for living. As they find their ministries here in this parish and as they go away to college, they will live in real ways as living, precious, spiritual and holy stones in the Christian faith.

We, too, are living stones in the Christian faith. St. Philippians are proud of our historic buildings, made of stone, adorned by stained glass windows. Yet even in this historic worship space made of stones, and in Wyatt Hall, dedicated to the glory of God, God calls God’s people beyond physical buildings. God’s people must not get so caught up in physical and historic buildings that we forget the real ministry to which we are called. We are called to be living stones: to be the face, the hands, the feet of Christ and the Church in our everyday lives. In our offices, on the Metro, in the streets where we walk, in the grocery store, at restaurants.  We are called “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”[4] As each of us uses the gifts and talents God has given us to build God’s Kingdom, we are living stones. We are letting God build us into a spiritual house, in which dwells the risen Christ.

In the words of the hymn we sang earlier, “Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ the head and cornerstone, chosen of  the Lord, and precious, binding all the Church in one; holy Zion’s help for ever, and her confidence alone.” [5]Amen.

(c) The Rev. Sheila N. McJilton

[1] Sally Mitchell Budklee, A Church and its Village, (Baltimore: Gateway Press, 2001), 388.

[2] The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XII, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 234.

[3] Ibid., 234.

[4] From “The Catechism” in The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, 855.

[5] First stanza of “Christ is made the sure foundation,” Hymn 518 in Hymnal 1982.

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Note: I did not write the following sermon. Our seminarian at St. Philip’s, Ginny, Wilder, from Virginia Theological Seminary, preached this very fine sermon this morning.  In fact, she preached it better than I would have today–despite the fact that I had been wrestling with this issue all week long, in much the same way as she has, during my devotional morning time.

On Ginny’s final Sunday with us before summer break, she hit this one out of the park. We are blessed to have her among us at St. Philip’s:

On that same day two people were waiting on the platform for the Metro in order to ride into the City of Washington DC, about seven miles from Alexandria, Virginia and each was talking with the other about the event that had taken place.  While they were busy discussing this news a stranger came up to them and said, “What are you talking about?”

They stood still looking at the stranger and asked, “Are you the only Stranger in Alexandria who does not have access to CNN, the internet or Facebook??”  The stranger replied, “What news are you speaking about?” One of the companions said to the stranger, “The news is all over every major form of media- How can you not know that Osama bin Laden has been killed?  He was an evil man, responsible for the tragedy of 9/11 and the 3000 deaths that took place at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, in the air plane crashes and has continued to wage war on us through Al qaeda.  He was a terrorist, an evil man whose main goal was the demise of our country, our pride, our freedom.  We’ve been after him for years and now he is dead, shot through the eye and dead, gone, good riddance.  We have been hoping for this day, a chance to redeem America- the United States of America.”

The stranger spoke to them and said, “Why is his death a good thing?  Is he not a child of God?  Is he not your neighbor?” And after he said this he began with Moses and all the prophets.  He interpreted to them things about himself in all the scriptures. After departing from the Metro Station and walking towards the White House where a large crowd was gathered, the stranger walked ahead of them.  The two companions from Alexandria asked him to stay with them, to gather with them at the White House and the stranger said come with me, I am hungry.  Let’s get something to eat. The three made it to a restaurant nearby.  A bread basket was placed on the table and the bottle of wine opened.  The stranger took the bread from the basket, blessed it and broke it and gave it to the two companions.  In that moment the eyes of the traveling companions were opened and they recognized the stranger for who he was- Jesus.  Our Savior.  The Son of God.  The one who died, was buried and rose again.  The man who died once for all of us.  The one who told us to love our enemies. Gone.  Disappeared.  Vanished.

One companion says to the other, “Were not our hearts and minds warmed?  Were not our souls quieted while he spoke?  We should go tell others what has happened.”

It was about 10:30pm on the 8th day of this resurrection season when I began to see postings on Facebook about the death of Osama bin Laden.  I have close to 600 friends on Facebook- people from various backgrounds, upbringings, political stances, religious beliefs and the variety of postings reflected this in one beautiful human tapestry.  There were joyous shouts, great thanksgivings for our armed forces, courageous exclamations about our president, fear of what might happen next while other postings declaring they could not share in the celebration of a person’s death while other postings mentioned a continued prayer for peace.

I was, for the first time in my life, grateful for the death of a person.  Now I have prayed for peace and quick death for people who have suffered long term illness or who were in great pain but this was the first time I had ever actively thought to myself, “I’m glad he’s gone.”  How do I justify that?  How do I make peace in my understanding of Christianity?  How do I look at our great teacher who died for all of us and still be glad that this evil man is dead?  Is this justice?  Is this mercy?

Now, I will not stand here and say, “This is how you do that.  This is how you justify that thought.”  I don’t have the answers.  I don’t know if I will ever have an answer to this theological dilemma.  I am still trying to figure out where I am on this Road to Emmaus.  It just seems so strange to me to be rejoicing in the resurrection of Christ- of Christ overcoming death and in the same breath, the same heartbeat to feel a different kind of rejoicing that an evil man has been dealt with in a way that brings a sense of permanency with it.  The man is dead.  Shot through the eye.  Buried at sea.  Gone.

I will admit that in a few minutes, the joy I felt about the death of bin Laden soon gave way to guilt, uncertainty and grief.  A deep solemn sadness set in. So, I went looking for some help- some help to figure out how to feel about this- or at least try to put these feelings into words.  Some of these statements were posted on the internet: There is the prayer for our enemies found on page 816 in the Book of Common Prayer that reads:  “O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Or this one:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” From The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, “Strength to Love” delivered in 1963.

At one moment we grieve the loss of life- the countless lives ended too soon at the hands of this one man.  It is clear that the only way to rid the world of his evil was to do exactly what happened- end his life.  We give thanks for the bravery of our service men and women who have continuously risked their lives to protect our freedom.  And now, let us use this time as a time of reflection.  How best to move forward and embrace the peace of Christ that our souls yearn for.  We cannot be the hands and feet of Christ if we are gloating, boasting and creating divisions of Us, Us, Us and them, them, them.  Because, as Jesus taught the two companions on the road to Emmaus- life is so much more than this present moment.  Life is so much more than fear.  The gift of Life is so much more than creating divisions.

We have a chance to move forward extending our hands in love and in peace.  Whether you are glad Osama is dead or not, we must use this opportunity to be the body of Christ- to be like the one revealed to us in the breaking of the bread.  The one who said when he appeared to his disciples in that locked upstairs room “Peace be with you.  My own peace I leave with you.”

On Monday morning of this week, I attended our noonday Eucharist at school and in the prayers of the people we actively prayed for the repose of the soul of Osama bin Laden.  At the Offertory, we sang “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”  I wept.  I wept while singing this song I have known since my childhood because I wanted nothing more in that moment than to feel the comfort of being held in the loving hands of our creator.  I wanted the peace that passes all understanding coursing through my soul, mind and heart.  And I wanted to believe that the “Whole World” meant exactly that- “He’s got you and me brother, in his hands.  He’s got you and me sister, in his hands. He’s got you and me together in his hands- he’s got the whole world in his hands.”

Regardless of where you are in the world.  Regardless of what you do for a living.  Regardless of how you pray- God has the whole world in his hands.

Our Liturgy continued and we were using the Eucharistic Prayer 1 from Enriching our Worship. These words struck me:

“Blessed are you, gracious God, creator of the universe and giver of life. You formed us in your own image and called us to dwell in your infinite love. You gave the world into our care that we might be your faithful stewards and show forth your bountiful grace.

But we failed to honor your image in one another and in ourselves; we would not see your goodness in the world around us; and so we violated your creation, abused one another, and rejected your love. Yet you never ceased to care for us, and prepared the way of salvation for all people.”

Somehow, some way, this road to Emmaus for me includes figuring out how to include an evil human like bin Laden into that phrase of “salvation for all people”.  I’m still walking on this road- but I don’t believe I am alone in this journey. Amen.

© Ginny Wilder

Pictures accessed through Google images

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