Sunday, 18 May 2014

'Stones and stories': sermon for Easter 5A

Oh dear... could try harder.  Was so *not* in sermon-writing the end, just a lot of thoughts desperately in search of a sermon - with a little Manicheism thrown in for good measure...Augustine would be most disappointed :(

Nevertheless, a sermon, of sorts, based primarily on the 1 Peter text.

1 Peter 2:2-10 and John 14:1-14

Tell me the old, old story
of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory,
of Jesus and His love.

This last week, I’ve been thinking about stories...
and I’d quite like to do a wee straw poll with you:
what are some of your favourite stories? 
[allow folk to respond] 

But what’s all this business about stories got to do with our bible passages, I hear you ask...
And that’s a very good question! 
Last week, we thought about the question:
'what is the Church...?'
We looked at the very beginnings of the Church, as described in the Book of Acts,
and we were reminded that the Church... is us...
the people of God, called into community -
a learning community;
a worshipping community;
a sharing and supportive community;
a community of thanksgiving and praise.

This week, developing the theme a little more as we heard the reading from 1st Peter,
we’ve another aspect to add, which is:
a story-telling community.
In this, I’m very much thinking of Peter’s description 
of the followers of Jesus as ‘living stones’ -
‘come to the Lord, the living stone...
come, as living stones’

Stones and stories - what do they have to do with each other?
Let’s first look at the context in which this letter is written.
Within the letter itself we have an idea of the intended, original audience:
in Chapter One, the writer,
who may or may not be Peter,
addresses his readers as
‘God’s chosen people who live as refugees scattered throughout the provinces’ of what we refer to as Asia Minor.
The term ‘God’s chosen’ appears several times throughout the letter -
an encouragement for folk who appear
to be not only refugees, but along with that, scattered - or separated - from home, family, the larger body of Christians.
Following the opening greeting, the writer begins to talk of ‘trials’ and ‘sufferings’ -
there’s the possibility here that this wee, scattered lot of people are suffering persecution for their faith.  However, this might just refer to the difficulties of following Jesus, and how that impacts upon the general customs and culture of the day.
Within the letter, the writer also gives some practical tips to assist with living life as a follower of Jesus.
Overall, the aim of the letter is to encourage and affirm these ‘chosen’, possibly persecuted refugees... to assure them that:
  • there is a point and purpose to their lives;
  • that they’ve been liberated from darkness into light;
  •  that they are part of the body,
  • that they belong to God and
  • that they can rely on God, who calls them His people...‘living stones’.

Stones...and stories:
The stone metaphor is an odd one:
stones are more associated with...
well, just ...
sitting there being rather lifeless...
but here in our reading,
each stone is infused with the Spirit of God -
alive - active:
these stones live...
not unlike dry bones, in a dusty valley, also live, once God’s Spirit breathes upon them, remembering that passage from several weeks back from Ezekiel.

But whether bones, or stones,
God brings life - even when it appears unthinkable, impossible...
but then, God managed to roll away a stone
from a tomb
and out sprang the promise of resurrection and new life:
Jesus -
the stone that the builders rejected -
the living stone...

With God,
all things are possible, even living stones...
living stones that have a story to tell.

Stones and stories:
if these living stones could speak,
what would they say?
1st Peter provides some clues.
The living stones, God’s own people, have been:
'chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness and into his wonderful light...’

Living stones;
story-telling stones.
As I read about stones and of ‘proclaiming God’s wonderful acts’, I couldn’t help but cast my mind back to Palm Sunday...
the crowds are being gloriously, riotously cheerful - it irks the Pharisees, who complain to Jesus
and ask him to tell the crowd to be quiet.
His joyful response?    
‘I tell you, if they keep quiet, these stones would shout aloud!’
So then, our Peter passage is not the first time we encounter the possibility 
of lifeless stones becoming living stones -
story-telling stones.                                                     
A story that hints at our communal identity -
who we are...
and, whose we are.
But what is the story?
In the words of the old hymn:
Tell me the story slowly,
that I may take it in,
That wonderful redemption,
God’s remedy for sin.
Redemption: it’s one of those big theological words that gets pulled out, 
and dusted off, every now and then.
It’s a word most often associated with what happened to Jesus on the Cross
and how it impacted upon the whole of humanity.
And over the course of centuries,
theologians have been at it hammer and tongs trying to work that out.

Stones and stories:
One of my favourite writers, Paulo Coelho once commented 
that when all was said and done, there were really only four themes when it came to stories:
a love story between two people,
a love triangle,
the struggle for power,
and the story of a journey.

In a sense, the story the living stones tell is a combination of these four themes...
the love story?
- of God for humanity;
the love triangle?
- the alluring whispers of a serpent in a garden;
the struggle for power?
- between light and dark, goodness and evil;
the story of a journey? -
exile from the garden, and the long journey back to that first love,
the journey back to God...
But also, another journey -
God’s journey - involving the vulnerability of incarnation:
of becoming one of us
to show us the way
in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus
It is a story of pain and sacrifice,
love and separation
redemption and reunion - for love always wins.
This is the story that God’s living stones proclaim.

Gathered together here, as God’s people,
as his living stones,
each one of us comes with our own story
- of whose we are ... family ties, connections, relationships;
of where we’ve come from,
where we are,
and where we hope to go
as we journey along our life’s path...
Each story different, unique...
and yet, as we gather together as God’s people,
each of us shares in a common story:
the story that brings us here today...
The story passed down to us by the living stones of the church 
going all the way back to the very earliest living stones...
All of us, church visible and invisible, building a spiritual house 
'where love can dwell and all can safely live.'

As God’s living stones
as God’s story-telling stones,
how might we tell the story?
How might we proclaim the marvellous acts of the one 
who has brought us out of darkness into his marvellous light?
How might we live God’s story in our lives this week?
How might we:
Tell out the old, old story,
tell out the old, old story,
Tell out the old, old story,
of Jesus and His love.

Let’s pray:
Holy God, we give you thanks
for the gift of Your Son, Jesus
the Word, the way,
the truth, 
the living stone,
who expands our
limited understanding
with outstretched arms
of love.
As your living stones
breathe your Spirit upon us
renew us
refresh us
excite us
that we may go out into your world 
to proclaim your marvellous works.
In Jesus’ name


*prayer borrowed and slightly added to, with thanks to RevGals!


Monica said...

I love the connection with the stone covering the tomb. Less of a dog than you think.

Anonymous said...

It words for me! I really like having people share their favorite story.