Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
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.
Has anyone here ever heard the word “cornerstone” before? Do you know what one is? Yes. That’s right: A block or stone that is set in the corner of a building, often the first corner. It is supposed to be strong and stable, and help set the direction for construction of the rest of the walls.
You might see it laying on the ground, as one of the first parts of construct or a few feet up from the ground, often at the point where a building is shifting from foundation walls to the parts of the building where we live and work. Sometimes buildings have special cornerstones to celebrate when they were built or values that were important to them when they built it.
I asked some pastors I know if they’d be willing to share pictures of cornerstones at their churches. I found another neat picture of one, too. I wanted to show them to you.
This cornerstone is from Ceres Bethel AME Church of Jefferson, Maryland, built in 1870. It has the name of the pastor at the time, too: L. Bensen. You can see where the foundation was made of stones, and this was put in as the last stone before the rest of the building was added. I found this image at: Cornerstone, Ceres Bethel of A.M.E. Church 1870 L. Benson, Pastor, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=58592 [retrieved May 11, 2023]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ceres_Bethel_African_Methodist_Church,_cornerstone_(21604465715).jpg.
Cornerstones come up a lot in the Bible. Sometimes it’s just because they are describing a building or someone being able to build. In Job 38, God is talking to Job about creating the universe, comparing the act of creation to that of constructing a building. God says,
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
And, the prophet Jeremiah talks a little about cornerstones, but only to say that Babylon, the country that had beaten Israel so badly in war, was soon going to have a downfall so spectacular that they wouldn’t even have stones left to build with.
Other times, though, when the Bible is talking about a cornerstone, they are actually talking about a person. Today’s scripture is a day when they are talking about a person. Do you remember who the person is? That’s right, Jesus. I said earlier that one way that Job talked about what God does is comparing the creation to a house God built, laying a cornerstone so the house will have a good foundation. In some cases, what God is building is a community or a country. People would describe a leader as someone who is like a cornerstone, that is, helps create a strong foundation for their country. In Isaiah 28, the prophet describes a leader who hold corrupt religious leaders and rulers to account. That person is called a cornerstone. They will lay a foundation with justice and righteousness. When people were trying to figure out how to explain who Jesus was and when Jesus himself was trying to explain his mission, he and his friends often turned to Isaiah: “See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: ‘One who trusts will not panic.’”
We’re not sure who wrote the letter that we call 1 Peter. It might be someone called Silvanus who was acting as kind of a scribe for Peter. But, it probably was just someone who appreciated Peter’s teaching and lived a few generations after he did. This person wanted to help members of the church in Rome deal with a difficult situation. This was a time when most people weren’t Christians. And, some people did not trust those who were Christians. According to a scholar named Eugene Boring, they thought Christians were unwelcome and maybe even dangerous. When you go from feeling loved and accepted by society to feeling unwelcome and having people say abusive things to you, it can be really hard. The person who wrote this letter wanted help them manage being untrusted and being treated badly. Because that’s something that our faith is useful for: giving us comfort and also reminding us that Jesus gives us the strength to do what’s right, even when it’s hard and the majority of people don’t want you to.
Even to this day, when so many people are Christians and largely aren’t being persecuted in this country, we know that it can be hard to follow your faith when the broader community is making different choices than you are. As just one example: Right now, when it seems increasingly popular to try to criminalize transgender people and keep them from being able to exist safely in public, we Christians who know that God loves transgender people may feel pressure not to say so out loud because so many people are being cruel to people who they think are trans. Even though we know that our faith in Jesus tells us that transgender people deserve love and care, especially for people who aren’t transgender, it can be tempting to not share that part of our faith aloud. It is tempting to stay silent as a way to protect ourselves.
Our reading today does not tell us to pretend to be less faithful than we are to survive. Instead, it tells us to look to Jesus, our cornerstone, our foundation, and build up a church, like we are building a house, and make it strong enough to withstand the forces that would punish us for daring to live our faith in public. This is what it means to be church: to think of ourselves as stones lain upon the cornerstone of Christ, standing firm together for love and justice.
This week, as you watch the news or think about legislation being passed that you know is harming some of God’s beloved children, I hope you remember this text and feel less alone. We can be a spiritual house together. We can help make each other brave. We can teach each other to advocate. We can care for each other when things are hard and still live our lives faithfully, even when the broader community seems to be lost in suspicion and abuse. I hope you will feel Jesus, a cornerstone under your feet, making clear the path of love and justice before you.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Carolyn Brown: http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/03/year-the-fifth-sunday-of-easter-may-18.html
The entry on "cornerstone," written by Robert A. Wild in the Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Paul Achetemeier, ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1996)
Shively Smith: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-of-easter/commentary-on-1-peter-22-10-3
M. Eugene Boring"s, intro to 1 Peter in The New Oxford Annotated Bible: The New Revised Standard Version with Apocryphya, ed. Michael Coogan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)
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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.