Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
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The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone. ”There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’
Sermon for June 6, 2021: Is Jesus Your Cornerstone?
Based upon Acts 4:5-12
by Pastor Intern Becky Walker (thanks, Becky, for preaching while Pastor Chrissy was on vacation)
For the past few Sundays, starting with Pentecost, we have been reading from the Book of Acts. Last Sunday, Pastor Chrissy and I talked about the crippled man and how the Holy Spirit worked through Peter and he was able to walk, having been crippled since birth. After that amazing healing, Peter preached a sermon, with John by his side, in the temple complex to a group of the people who had witnessed the crippled man walk.
This wonderful act of healing set up a chain reaction of misunderstanding, resistance, and opposition. Those who had witnessed the healing misunderstood what had happened. They saw and heard Peter summon up the healing “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk”, but assumed that Peter had caused the healing. When people assume, it is difficult to get them to see or hear the truth. Peter and John were not powerful, shaman-like healers and Peter had to set them straight: “It wasn’t our power at all that caused this healing, but the power of God and the power of faith in the name of Jesus” (3:12-16).
In his commentary on this scripture, F. Scott Spencer noted that the temple authorities were comprised of chief priests from the Sadducee party. When they heard what was going on, they showed up “much annoyed.” They are angry with the commotion over the lame man’s up-rising in the holy place and, especially, with the disciples’ crediting this wondrous event to the risen Jesus Christ. The wisdom and authority of the temple leaders was being seriously challenged on their own turf. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead under any circumstances. But they would have been particularly disturbed, and not a little jealous, over the people’s rapt attention to the gospel of the resurrection of Jesus. They presumed they had the power to put a lid on the good news. For it was Jesus whom the chief priests had delivered over to the Roman Pontius Pilate as a blasphemer and traitor.
In her commentary on this text, Mitzi Smith notes that the temple officials held Peter and John in jail overnight, thinking that time in the cell would change their story. It also gave the officials time to gather the high priest and other leaders to figure out what to do with these followers of Jesus who kept claiming . . . the impossible. The following day, they summoned Peter and John to interrogate them. Like the leaders and the people, Peter and John are devout Jews, and disciples commissioned by Jesus. The leaders wanted to know the source and authority of their power to heal a man crippled from birth: “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 4:7. Now, the issue has shifted from healing, resurrection, and the mercy of God to the issue of power. Power. This disabled man, who had to beg for food and money to survive, could now walk after he rejoiced praising God, and that act caused the priests to see this event as an attack on their authority and a challenge to their positions of power. Thomas Long in his commentary on the text described the shift this way: a bunch of “uneducated and ordinary men” have been filled “with divine power to instruct people in positions of power about the true source of power.”
How does an act of charity, or kindness cause so much trouble? You would think that bringing health to someone who has been sick his entire life would be cause for rejoicing. The disabled beggar certainly saw it that way. He immediately got up, took a few steps, and started leaping and praising God. He had made eye contact with Peter and John, hoping for a few coins. Instead, he had experienced a life-changing event. He was changed forever by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, and he simply couldn’t be quiet about it. That simple, amazing act of charity created a power struggle.
Dr. Long states that there are two main reasons why power was suddenly introduced into the equation. The first of these is control. The religious authorities are jealous and protective of their franchise on religion. They wanted people to be prayerful and faithful, but to do so under the exclusive banner of the temple and its protocols. With the outbreak of the Holy Spirit, the Christian movement was spreading like wildfire. The temple officials couldn’t control it with their rules and structures. The second reason was the religious authorities concern for their protection from the scared. They felt the temples, churches, and religious structures not only brought people close to God, but protected them from the full, unmediated glare of God’s glory. The leaders were frightened of the work Peter and John were doing.
Peter understood the fear and ignorance of his audience. He understood what motivated their questions and behavior. Peter’s message is not only to members of the high-priestly family, but to all of Israel. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he tells them “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ Peter knows that pointing a finger at the rulers as the ones responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion, that three more fingers point back at him. He denied Jesus three times and that put him in the same category as these priests. Only a few weeks earlier Jesus had stood on this spot, before these same religious rulers and spoke about the cornerstone, referring to both Psalm 118 and Isaiah 28. He challenged the religious systems of the day, summing up the parable of the wicked tenants with the quote from Psalm 118 that describes a rejected stone becoming the cornerstone.
If you’re not familiar with building stone walls, stone buildings, or archways, you probably don’t know that much about the importance of a cornerstone. I’m not a stonemason, so I needed to do some research:
What is a cornerstone? The cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. All the other foundation stones are set in reference to this stone. That means the cornerstone determines the position of the entire structure. For a building to be sound, all the foundation stones must line up with the cornerstone as their reference point.
What characteristics does a stone need to have in order to become the cornerstone? Because of its function as a reference point, the cornerstone needs to be of fairly good size, and relatively square.
What would cause a stonemason to reject a particular stone as a cornerstone? It needs to be a solid chunk of good quality rock, without defects. The whole building is going to rest on this stone, or be lined up with it, so most stones will be rejected for one reason or another.”
Peter is clear in his statement and names Jesus as “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.” How would you respond to Peter’s statement? Are you staying in line with Jesus and his purposes? God laid the cornerstone in Jesus, but the foundation is made up of other stones, “living stones.” We are those living stones and if we wish to be part of a strong foundation, we need to consciously line up with the cornerstone. How do we do that? Well, we could read the Bible regularly, pray all the time, and keep in community with each other. Great answers, but I think there’s more we can to do. We must desire to do God’s will, make Jesus central to our lives. This cornerstone is crucial to the foundation and he needs to be the focus of our faith and our lives.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes in her commentary on this Acts scripture, “As important as this particular cornerstone is, it is curiously passive. After the builders rejected it, it did not leap into places under its own power. Someone else placed it there. What does this say about the power vested in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth? Is it the muscular power of someone who can make things happen, or the power of one willing to lie wherever God places him, trusting God to use him well?”
Dr. Taylor continues, “Peter trusts that he does not stand in the dock alone. He is filled with the Holy Spirit. While the verb is passive, Peter is passive in the same way that a cornerstone is passive. This rock is willing to be where God places him, trusting that God will use him well.”
Do you trust in God to place you where you are needed? It is in our human nature to resist change. Many of us like a routine and when there is change, we dig our heals in and resist. The problem is, we don’t realize we need to trust in God when things turn upside down. God always has a reason and a purpose for a change in course. Trust in God’s process. Be a passive cornerstone to be used where you are needed. Once you’ve put your trust in God, think about where your relationship is with Jesus. Is he the strong cornerstone center to your life? Remember.... Alignment is everything. AMEN.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Thomas G. Long, “Fourth Sunday of Easter,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), pgs 430, 432, 434
Barbara Brown Taylor, “Fourth Sunday of Easter,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), pgs 433, 435
Mitzi Smith: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fourth-sunday-of-easter-2/commentary-on-acts-45-12
F. Scott Spencer: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fourth-sunday-of-easter-2/commentary-on-acts-45-12-2
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.