Sunday Sermon - 22nd May 2011

Revd Jan KeartonTo access all past sermons CLICK HERE

A Sermon given by Revd Jan Kearton 22nd May 2011

"Stones"

We’re about to embark on another bit of stone-walling at our own house. I have to admit that I’m dreading it. Our drive has an eight foot by twelve foot stone heap, made up of walling stones that we’ve dug up from various parts of the garden since 1994. It was very hard, back-breaking work to dig around them, lift them and barrow them to the driveway. On the way through all this work I had to learn the difference between a waller and rubbish. They all looked the same to me. Wallers have a good straight edge and they’re hard, solid stones that won’t delaminate over time or be porous to rain. Rubbish is more difficult to spot - at least to me. I can always see an edge that might be usable. 

The rubbish stones had to be barrowed to the drive too so that they could be used by local farmers as hardcore in whatever hole or new road they were currently digging. I resented that - just as much effort and it’s rubbish. John would tartly remind me that skips cost brass and sending stones to landfill is daft when they can perfectly well be used in the field next to where they came from. I would grit my teeth and glower, loathed to admit that he was right, and feel very grumpy about such unaccustomed and somewhat violent exercise. I’d catch a heavenly view of the calm study and desk at the vicarage and long for Saturday. 

Building the wall is making me feel grumpy again - more back-breaking shifting, barrowing and breaking of stones with strange shaped hammers that won’t do what I tell them to. John will turn a stone in his hand (they’re too heavy for me, I’ll have to push mine around a bit and squint down at ground level), wield the hammer and the stone will crack exactly where he intended it to. I’ll be hammering like mad for half an hour and end up with a small chip out of the very side that was usable in the first place. 

But life’s about team work isn’t it? Sharing each other’s pain? And being able to say to the grandchildren ‘when Grandpa and I built that wall’. There’ll be no feeble women and no imposed sexist divisions of labour in our family! Over my dead body. Which may come to pass rather rapidly if I slip again on that rock heap ... 

Why am I so concerned this Sunday about building stones? There’s a decidedly rocky theme to our readings this Sunday. Peter reflects on Christ and sees him as the cornerstone of the kingdom and ourselves as living stones being built into a spiritual house. The psalmist sees God as the strong rock, his castle, crag and stronghold. Jesus speaks about the promises of God to those who follow The Way - dwelling-places in God’s house, the hospitality and welcome of homecoming. And poor Stephen who laid the foundations of martyrdom in his faithful commitment to Christ and rock-like refusal to deny him. The stones used to kill Steven and the whole experience of demanding his death were to become instrumental in Paul’s conversion and his development into the most influential church-builder of his time. 

The Martydom of Stephen

All work that involves stones is hard work. The psalmist’s prayer is work born of deep need, fervent work that asks him to really live the trust he claims to have in God. Peter knows that stumbling over living stones is a real risk for us if we choose to disobey God’s word. Peter’s faithfulness to that word led him eventually on the hard path to martyrdom. The Easter season is a constant reminder of the difficult path that Jesus walked in order to open the gate of life and pave the way for us to God. 

The stone wall that John and I build at home should last for at least a hundred years so it’s perhaps not surprising that it’ll take considerable effort. It’ll be worth it. But Jesus isn’t building a hundred year project - the kingdom he’s building must have foundations that’ll last eternally, and that was never going to be easy. We’re called to do greater things because we have his risen help and encouragement. We shouldn’t be surprised if the work  demands a great deal from us. From time to time we’ll probably feel grumpy and discouraged, as though we’re failing and our courage has worn thin, and we’ll echo the psalmist’s thoughts and prayers. 

Jesus left us his vision for just those times. He shows us the sheer scale of the work we’re engaged in - the drawing of people into the vast household of God. The hospitality of God is  broad and generous - there are many dwelling-places, mansions if you prefer the King James’ translation, prepared by Jesus. We may feel as though we can’t always see the results of the work we’re doing - it can be hard to tell the difference between rubbish stones and wallers - but the promise of Jesus in John’s Gospel is sure: ‘I when I am lifted up will draw all people to myself’. The spiritual house is being built, stone on stone, and all our sacrifices are of immense value. 

We’re not to let our hearts be troubled or afraid but to believe that it will happen. Our risen Lord will take our work and make it worthy of his kingdom. Our buildings and services already give a taste of kingdom hospitality and we’re trying to do greater works to improve them - God’s houses in Hipswell and Colburn are already seen as strong rocks to those who seek our funeral ministry, those who come for baptism and those who wish marry. This bicentenary year will be hard work for both ends of the parish, but who can say who God will be able to touch, strengthen and reassure though our witness? 

Let’s take courage from the faith we see in Stephen, the Psalmist, Peter, John and Jesus. Let’s believe that, with our risen Lord’s inspiration and help, we are already making a difference to the lives of people in our communities and will make an ever greater difference in the years to come. And although the work is hard and demanding, let’s also give thanks to God for the privilege of following the way of truth and life that enables us to contribute small stones to the massive walls of the kingdom he is building. AMEN. 

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