The Word This Weekend – October 8, 2017
The Rev. Dr. William L. Hurst
FLCS Senior Pastor
42Jesus said to (his opponents), “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?
43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.
44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
The long green summer season moves forward. This coming weekend features “Blessing God’s Creatures,” our annual festival of support and love for pets and those who care for them. Our late Sunday Service will be followed by pet blessings, visiting neighborhood pet groups, and a delicious Oktoberfest lunch. And our Gospel text this week presents a strong and uncompromising parable of the Reign of God, and those who will bear its challenges and promise.
The setting for the words above is what we have come to call “Holy Week,” the days leading up to Christ’s arrest and passion. Jesus faces his opponents among the religious elites of Jerusalem, and tells a striking parable about vineyard workers who stage a rebellion against the owner, first abusing his representatives, and ultimately murdering his son. When the religious leaders conclude that such rebels deserve a violent and hideous death for their cruel actions, the Nazarene throws their verdict back on them. The import of his response is that they themselves have coveted and misused the vineyard God had called them to steward, and that they would lose their own control over Temple and populace in favor of new stewards who would be more faithful and accountable to God’s mission of love and justice.
Tough talk from the Rabbi, and it’s not hard to see how such a stern rebuke would exacerbate the already tense relationship between him and these ensconced leaders. In fact, disputes such as these would lead to an enmity resulting in his arrest, trial and execution just days later.
But I’d like to ask us to see these words in a different context – that of any of us who would faithfully follow the Christ who spoke these words. Because there’s more going on here than a courtyard argument between conflicting religionists. There’s a word for you and me. A word about The Stone.
Face it friends – it’s a lot easier for us to see the faults of others, their misuse of God’s gifts, than to acknowledge our own failures to bring forth the fruits of the Kingdom. How gifted we are in this vineyard of material plenty and religious liberty. How vast is the promise we might hold for caring for our hurting neighbors, near and far. And, on this “Blessing God’s Creatures” weekend, how important it is for to recognize our responsibility to use our many gifts and resources to provide dignity and care for the rest of God’s creation and creatures, as stewards of the bountiful and blessed world God places in our hands.
Each year, as I bend over to bless and pray with rescue animals and their adoptive families, and hear the hair-raising stories of abuse and cruelty these creatures have suffered at the hands of vile and thoughtless people, it simply breaks my heart. As much as I admire the courage and commitment of these pet families, I can’t help but grieve what kind of benighted minds and souls would torture and abuse such innocent animals.
And it goes so much wider, I fear. We, as a nation, are grieving the needless carnage of hundreds of neighbors in Las Vegas this week – people who gathered for a night of great music, only to be mowed down by the evil acts of yet another twisted and sick individual. Over and over, we watch in amazement and horror at the capacity for such evil within the human soul. Who can save us from this body of death?
The Stone. The Cornerstone, to be more precise. The One announced of old, who would come to dwell among us, and bear our wounding and wounded-ness. The One whose grace, justice and peace crushes all our self-serving sin – whether the highly publicized villainy of crazed or evil assassins, or the day by day sins of all who live in entitlement and tone-deafness to the ills, evils and sufferings all around.
For to be crushed by this Stone is not to perish – it is to be birthed anew. The Old Adam in each and every one of us, whether spectacular in our sins or just the run of the mill brokenness that leads to broken homes, broken communities, broken promises and broken lives. He comes to crush it all – to crush it to powder – and then to shape us anew into a people who will be fruitful in service, compassionate in living, daring in courage, and active in faithful love.
So we’re praying this week. Praying for any and all of God’s creatures – human and other – who suffer at the hands of others. We are praying for those still straining under the devastation of climatic disasters, desperate for us to come to their aid through our generosity and energies. We pray for those who are grieving their dead, and asking those deep and inexorable “Why” questions as to how their lives could have come apart in such violent and indiscriminate ways. We pray as those who fully recognize the fallen-ness of humankind – in all its large and small expressions and extremes.
And, most of all, we pray as children of the God we know from The Stone – the Redeemer who full well knows (and has experienced) the depth of human sin, and whose sinless sacrifice has opened a new and fruitful Kingdom of love to all who will dare to be crushed and remade by his grace.
So, I hope to see you at worship this weekend, as we pray for Christ’s goodness to wash over his Church in every place, and over our world in every circumstance. May God empower and lead us to shower and transform the world with His Good-ness. For, as blessed creatures of God in Christ, we are called to no less. And, in the hope of The Stone who died and rose again, called to so much more.
With You in God’s Good Work,