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The 5th Sunday of Easter, Year A

Living and Chosen Stones

Readings: Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-8, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

The Scripture passages for today are full of images of rocks. The images range from the poetic to the tragic. In the Acts of the Apostles there is the story of the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. The psalm uses "rock" as a poetic image of God's protection. God is our "rock and our fortress". God protects us as a rock wall protects people from their enemies. Peter refers to Christ as the cornerstone, chosen and precious. Christ is the foundation on which the Christian faith is built. And we, we are "living and chosen stones."

What does it mean to be living and chosen stones? It certainly conveys to me that I know the immensity of God's grace at work in my life. I know the reality of God's forgiveness. That says to me that now is the time for us to grow into mature, dependable Christians. Like blocks that firm up and reinforce a building we are to build up God's kingdom on earth.

There are many stones that need to be shaped and formed to fit into the great temple of God. They are part of God's plan for creation. We are called to declare the love of God for all God's creatures. We do it in our daily lives and work, in response to the great love of God and God's gift of divine grace. Yet so often, whether through lack of commitment, or through our inability to heed God's word, or through the distractions and troubles of life, we become blocks to God at work in the world. Or we simply miss the real message of the gospel. The passage from John is one that has often been misinterpreted.

My friend Maude loved today's Gospel passage. She was a single woman who had come over to Canada from England during the Second World War. Because of her economic status she lived all of her life in rooming houses. "But when I get to Heaven," she would tell me, "there'll be a mansion waiting for me." One of the earliest modern versions of Scripture changed it to 'rooms'. She was incensed. "I've lived in rooms all my life. I want a mansion." And knowing Maude, that's exactly what she got.

This passage was not meant to portray Jesus as the manager of some heavenly development project. In fact, it is not meant to tell us in any factual way about Heaven. It is not mere platitudes – 'every cloud has a silver lining'. We need to remind ourselves of the context. The disciples are on the brink of disaster. They are about to lose their leader. He will be brutally executed. Their lives will never be the same again. Their dreams of Heaven on earth will be shattered.

Jesus offers them a way forward, a cure for troubled hearts. "Believe in God, believe in me," he says to them. He is offering them real hope, building stones for the faith. Behind it all is the wonderful message of the Gospel, that he will conquer death and darkness. Because he lives, they will live. Jesus goes on to tell them that he is the way, the truth and the life.

That presents us with a deep theological problem, especially in a multi-racial, multi-faith society such as ours. Is Jesus saying that he is the only path to God? For it has been used to mean exactly that. It has been used to exclude any whose faith has led them in other directions. It has been used to prove that Moslems, Jews, Hindus and anyone who professes faith in other than the Christian version of God are lost. Even if people believe in universal salvation they often dismiss other faiths by saying that they simply have not been enlightened, that they will find the true path.

We need to look at it another way. For in another sense, 'believe in God, believe in me' is about each one of us, We do own the way, the truth, the life, but we carry with us the marks of our faith for others to see. When someone is aware of us as friend or colleague, then it is through us that the person views the Christian faith. We become the 'way' by which the Christian faith makes it claims. We become the 'truth' about the Christian life. We become the 'life' through which it is judged.

Mostly it happens in things noted silently, as life and relationship are lived out. We may not discover until much later that this is so. I heard some time ago from a woman about a kindness I did as a teenager that affected her profoundly. It changed her life. And yet, I had no idea. I don't even remember doing it. Yet it had such an impact on her life that she wrote to me forty years later to tell me. It was humbling as I reflected on how God uses us to reach others.

We underestimate the power of our relationship to God and its impact on the lives of those around us. It comes back to Peter's message to us that "we are living and chosen stones." What an amazing thing that is! Jesus is the cornerstone, and each of us is chosen to fit into exactly the place God has for us so that the Church is the place it ought to be.

That calls for us as a church to make a commitment of our lives to Christ. Our Baptismal Covenant reminds us of that call to commitment. We renew it each time we have a baptism. But it can be mere words. How many of us have consciously asked God to be in our hearts and in our lives? Do we take seriously our need to study God's word? We don't seem to have verses of Scripture at our fingertips. Do we take the time to pray for God to work in our lives? Do we set aside time in our day for prayer? Do we learn new ways to come into relationship with God through prayer? What kind of 'living stones' are we if we don't have those kinds of tools to help us convey our faith to others?

We are called as well to an understanding of 'the priesthood of all believers' as a foundation of our life of faith. What does that mean to us? It surely cannot mean that we can simply pay someone to be the priest in our parish and abdicate all responsibility for the work of the church. Jesus may be the cornerstone, but the rest of us need to fit together to build the temple of God. My work over the past ten years has been to encourage you to be everything that God means you to be. You are administrators, teachers, preachers, people of prayer, lay visitors, readers, servers, youth workers. The list goes on. I have worked faithfully in this parish. I have every confidence that as I leave you will continue the good work that you have been doing.

Finally we are called to a commitment that reaches out into society, that calls for change in structures that harm people, that supports the needy in our country and globally, that encourages and invites people into our community of faith. Our parish is intended to be a place of nurture for us. But Sunday by Sunday we are sent out to be the church. We are called to mission, to go out beyond this place with the good news of how the Holy Spirit is working in our lives, of the great love of God and God's gift of divine grace.

We are the living and chosen stones called to give of our time, our talents, and our wealth to reach out to others with the great message of God's love. It is an opportunity to live out our Baptismal Covenant. May we do so with a renewed sense of commitment and fervour for the Gospel! Amen.
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