Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Homily at my home church, Grace Lutheran in Winchester, WI

1 Peter 2:2-10
Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.Come to him, 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. For it stands in scripture: ‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’  To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner’,  and ‘A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 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.

Wednesday 5-14-14

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Christ our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

My husband and I were at Target the day after Mother's Day, and already the card section had been stripped clean of all vestiges that there had ever been a mother's day at all. Instead, all was being made ready for the next big “card holiday” - Father's Day! So you'd better get your cards now, before they're gone! And of course there are as many graduation cards still available as there are schools and programs to graduate from - high school, college, graduate school, pre school, med school. Cards for holding money, cards that are funny or slightly inappropriate, cards that are mushy and gushy, cards that make us cry with their wisdom.

Target and the Hallmark companies of the world seem to have all the festive and celebratory holidays and occasions covered. But if there were cards for “real life;” - cards that expressed what was really on our minds? What might THOSE cards say?

Alongside the "congrats on that new baby" cards might be the cards that say "Sorry for your loss... of sleep for the next 18 years." A graduation card from such an honesty line, like one I might get for my sister, graduating from college in just a few days, might say: “Congrats on entering the real world! Welcome to crippling debt for the next 15-20 years." or "I’m sorry that you are entering a crummy job market, my condolences."

But also, if such cards existed, next to the cards saying "congrats on your new job" should be cards for the condolences for the loss of job, or a pay cut or reduction in hours. Alongside the festive birthday cards should be cards in large bifocal friendly print that say something like "I hope that today at least is a good day for you, because getting older can be really, really difficult. Your body will betray you, and every year there will be more funerals and fewer faces of the ones you love.”

I suppose in such a world, we would have cards would tell our real life stories, not just the sugar-coated version of the lives that we wish we were leading. With such a honest line of Hallmark cards, it might be easier to share with one another how difficult life can really be.

Reading 1st Peter today is sort of like reading someone else’s real-life, honest Hallmark card. Well, really it’s more like reading a post on someone’s blog - this letter was written to a specific group of people, but read out loud in public, and passed down through the ages so that people like us, two thousand years later, can “eavesdrop.” Peter, writing to the dispersed and exiled communities around what is now Turkey, is not sugar-coating anything. Life did not suddenly become easy once the people in these communities began to follow Jesus. Believing and trusting in the resurrection of their Lord often actually made their lives more difficult. The early Christian church was growing like a weed, and was also being treated like one by the the Roman empire at the time.  To them, the growing Christian church was like a weed that must be pulled out and destroyed at all costs.

Fortunately for us, we no longer have to deal with the likes of the Roman Empire. But unfortunately for us, following Jesus does not seem to have gotten any easier. We may not have the Roman Empire to deal with any more, we do have other empires who oppress and seduce us. The empire of wealth will welcome us with open arms as it citizens, if only we have enough money to support the lifestyle of the successful. The empire of success will call us as one of its own if only we put in long hours and excel at everything we do, including the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect family. The empire of popularity beckons to us with its lure of instant friends and the acceptance we crave. The empire of stuff tells us that we will only truly find happiness with the next new thing, if only we fork over our credit cards for the next hot item at the mall or on Amazon.

And before long we are utterly used up, buried under this Empire of Death, our hearts slowing becoming deadened to love and kindness, slowly turning into stone. We become like walking dead people, trapped in a tomb of darkness.

Well, we know what Jesus does to tombs, don’t we? Tombs just don’t seem to stay shut around him. When Jesus shows up, people have a tendency not to stay dead.

Where the empires of our lives show us no mercy, Jesus has shown us mercy. When we were once a collection of individuals with hearts of stone, now Jesus has called us together to be a people, as Peter writes - to be living stones. As pastor, writer, and speaker Nadia Bolz-Weber has said, when looking out upon her congregation, “I am UNCLEAR about what all these people have in common.” Except, of course, we have our Lord Jesus in common, who gathers us together, and makes us into a new kind of people.

Jesus has called us out of the darkness of death into his marvelous light to be living stones that make up his church. You know that kids rhyme, “here is the church, here is the steeple, open the door and see all the people.” Well, I’m sorry to have to tell you that this rhyme is WRONG - dead WRONG. The church is NOT the building. It’s not the steeple. It’s not the pews or what color they are. The church is not the budget, or the pastors, (or who is preaching), or the banners, or the screen, or the altar rail. The church is not a building made of bricks and stone. “HERE is the church,” made of of living stones, made of flesh and blood, made of people who tried their darndest to follow Jesus every day. The church is wherever God is, and wherever God’s people happen to be, there is the church.

And if that is really true, that church can happen wherever God is (which is everywhere) and wherever God’s people find themselves, that means that church is not just what happens inside this building. It’s what happens OUT THERE, outside the safety of Jesus’ sheep pen we heard about last week.

I don’t have to tell you that the world can be a scary place. But we have built our lives on a movable cornerstone - our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. This cornerstone knows what it’s like to be rejected, to suffer pain in the extreme, both physical and emotional, and has gone into the tomb of the darkness of death. But as we know, tombs don’t stay shut for Jesus. The resurrected Lord is popping up all over the place, and sometimes NOT. EVEN. IN. CHURCH.

Jesus is on the move, a living stone that is rock-steady for us to build our lives on, and yet always ahead of us, leading us into a new kind of future. Now how is THAT for an awesome, real-life, greeting card? Amen.

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