“. . .like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house. . .’See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious’. . .”
Last Saturday, at the close of Main Street Festival, I was helping others bring tables back inside, as well as picking up some trash along the iron fence near Wyatt Hall. As I made one of my trips up the steps, I noticed the stone set into one of the front pillars of Wyatt Hall. It has a simple inscription: “To the Glory of God” and two dates with a cross etched between them: 1848 and 1998. St. Philip’s became an official parish in 1848; in 1998, the building of Wyatt Ministry Center began.
According to Sally Bucklee’s book A Church and its Village, “when the cornerstone was slipped into place May 1, 1998—the Feast Day of St. Philip the Apostle—it said it all: the Ministry Center was dedicated simply ‘To the Glory of God.’” I must admit that this cornerstone aroused my curiosity. So on Friday, I wandered around this campus looking for other cornerstones. While I am pretty certain there is a cornerstone for this worship space, built in 1848, I could not find it. However, I did find one for what we now call the Administration Wing—originally the old Parish Hall. If you walk down the sidewalk towards the big mail box and look among the rhododendrons, you will see a large cornerstone which is quite different from the other stones around it. The only thing on it is the date: 1927. Yet this cornerstone fits the classic definition. “A ‘cornerstone’ is not only the stone set at the corner of two intersecting walls. . .but is one prepared and chosen for its exact 90’angle; as such, it is the basis for the construction of the whole building. Choosing the right corner is basic not only to the aesthetics of the building but also to its stability and longevity.”
Cornerstone. The first letter of Peter—probably not written by the apostle himself, but attributed to him by a loyal disciple—focused on Jesus Christ as cornerstone and Christian believers whom he insisted God had chosen. By the time this epistle was written—sometime between 70 and 90 CE—social tensions for Gentile Christians had sharpened. Roman society was patriarchal. Social status, an established household code and a well-defined political hierarchy were critical components to a stable society. Rome eyed this Christian religion with suspicion, because it reversed established hierarchical relationships and disregarded social standing among its members. It also allowed women to be leaders, and chose allegiance to Jesus the Christ as the Son of God rather than to the Roman emperor as a Son of God.
The writer of 1 Peter acknowledged the tensions of living as Christians and living as Roman citizens. In order to ease this tension to some degree, the author called the Christian community to an ethic of holy living. By holy living, he meant a way of living that would witness to the love of Christ, yet still exist within the social expectations of the Roman world. [As an aside, when modern readers read this letter, we must remember that its exhortation of slaves to obey their masters and women to obey their husbands was written not out of our context, but out of a first-century context.]
Christian leaders were trying to negotiate living a new way while not threatening the Roman society. Christians were respectful of the emperor (without worshiping him.) Christians paid the required taxes. Yet the writer of 1 Peter reminded the Christians that their true foundation was not based upon a city-state political system. Their true foundation was not based upon how much money they earned or their social standing. Their true foundation was not based upon how large their business was, or how many slaves they owned, or how well-behaved their wives were. No. Their true, strong foundation was Jesus, the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Jesus had come to show people how to live as chosen people—people God chose as precious, spiritual and holy.
The Christian writer of 1 Peter was firmly grounded in the Hebrew tradition. For example, in the mid 700’s BCE, the people of Israel were getting caught up in religious pluralism and the worship of the pagan god Baal. So God commanded the prophet Hosea to denounce Israel’s behavior through symbolic actions—even going so far as to name his own children strange names. Hosea named one daughter Lo-Ruhamah, which literally means “Not pitied.” He named one son Lo-Ammi, which means “Not my people.”
Seven centuries later, the author of 1 Peter claimed that God’s living word, the Word made flesh, had fulfilled an ancient prophecy and transformed a community of faith. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Through the waters of Holy Baptism, following the example of Jesus, Hosea’s ancient prophecy was finally fulfilled. And this fulfillment was fundamentally communal. In other words, a cornerstone is only a cornerstone when it is critical to the strength and support of other stones. And in a Christian community, these stones are not merely physical as we see them in a stone or brick and mortar building. They are spiritual and living.
If you and I are spiritual, living stones as God’s people, what does that mean in our daily lives? How do we witness to Christ the cornerstone?
Last Saturday, lots of strangers wandered onto the St. Philip’s campus, either because they went to our book sale, or their children were playing games, or because they needed a place to sit and eat their lunch on the front steps of the worship space or on Wyatt Hall’s front steps. Later, two of our parishioners told me that some folks had asked “What do you all believe at this church?” This was a question that neither parishioner felt all that comfortable in answering, but they tried.
How would I answer that question? Let’s see. . .“We believe in one God the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. . .We believe in one Lord, Jeus Christ, the only Son of God. . .We believe in the Holy Spirit. . .” Okay, not helpful to launch into the Nicene Creed at the Main Street Festival. If you visit websites of more evangelical churches, you will pretty quickly see what their doctrine is. You will see it, but you may not understand it, because they use phrases like “substitutionary death,” “regeneration,” “sanctification,” glorification”—words that make my eyes glaze over.
The bad news about the Anglican expression of the Christian faith is that we do not have a quick and easy way to express what we believe. The good news is that we do not have a quick and easy way to express what we believe. Now on one level, we do. We believe in a Triune God, and we probably express that best in our Baptismal Covenant, which we proclaim out of community every time we have a baptism. God the creator. Jesus Christ the Son. God the Holy Spirit. One contemporary Anglican theologian has argued that our Anglican understanding of the Gospel is this: “God is the creator of all that exists and. . .[God] has entered into and shared our human life in Jesus Christ so that the whole creation might come to its fulfilment.” The whole creation. In other words, as we live our lives modeled after the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, we become more of our selves than we would be without Jesus. The cornerstone—Jesus—makes us stronger in our faith. We become fuller spiritual beings who, for a time, live in human bodies.
As we become fuller spiritual beings, we know love. We claim that God loves us, no matter what, and we claim that out of God’s unconditional love, we love others. In order to live this way, we must gather in community. As we promise in our Baptismal Covenant: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? I will, with God’s help. . .Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? I will, with God’s help. . .Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? I will, with God’s help.”
You and I are not “no people.” You and I are God’s people: created out of love, nurtured out of love, strengthened out of love. God sent part of God’s very self, Jesus, to show us how best to live and move and have our being. God offers us a life that is rich with forgiveness and brimming over with joy. Because of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Christ, we can claim the fullness of love for broken people and a broken world.
This world desperately needs forgiveness, joy and love. It needs reconciliation, justice and peace. And we are able to offer that because we claim it for ourselves. We are able to offer that because we come here as community, nurtured in the great Paschal mystery of bread and wine blessed, broken, offered and given in the name of Christ.
That is who we are. Jesus is the cornerstone: chosen, living, precious. You and I are the other stones, part of God’s building. We, too, are living and precious because God has chosen us and we have chosen God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton
Pictures of Cornerstones taken by McJilton
 Sally Mitchell Bucklee, A Church and Its Village: St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Laurel, MD, (Baltimore: Gateway Press, 2001), 388.
 Joy Douglas Strome in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 2, David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010), 463.
 Louis Weil, “The Gospel in Anglicanism,” in Stephen Sykes, John Booty & Jonathan Knight, The Study of Anglicanism, Rev. Ed., (London & Minneapolis: SPCK/Fortress Press, 1998), 57.