AMEN IS CERTAINTY
Ephesians 2 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[d] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by[e] the Spirit.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our theme this year is “Amen! This is most certainly true.” Our theme song is “Let All God’s People Say Amen (even have a “whoa” in there). Already in Divine Service today we have said amen to the Invocation. Amen to the absolution. Amen to the collect for the day. Thanks be to God to the lessons. Amen to the Creed. Before the service is over we will say amen to each of the petitions in our prayer, amen to the Lord’s Prayer, amen to the Pax Domini, amen to the Lord’s Supper, amen to the post communion collect, amen to the benediction.
Three part sermon series, as follows.
• Amen is trust, like the trust of a (child) for a parent.
• Amen is certainty, like the strong and solid (walls) of a well-built house.
• Amen is faithfulness, like the bond forged between a husband and (wife)
Very disturbing news came to us this past week from a remote village in Guinea, where eight Ebola humanitarian aid workers and journalists were murdered and dumped in a latrine. Villagers in nearby village used machetes and clubs to attack eight members of a team trying to raise awareness about the disease. Also from a treatment center in Monrovia, Liberia, we hear reports that aid workers have been attacked and the aid station looted. How tragic that they put to death the very servants who came to give them life. At first glance, and upon first reflection, it’s also a very dark and bad Friday when the Jewish leaders forced Pontius Pilate’s hand in putting to death the very servant who came to give them life. That the very builders of the church had rejected the cornerstone.
You should know that in the ancient times the cornerstone was the stone at the corner of two walls that united them. It was the visible corner of the foundation of the building and the starting point of all future building above the foundation. It was the most costly stone because of its beauty and strength. It was often the largest, the most solid, the most carefully constructed stone. To cast aside the cornerstone would be to resist any future building on that foundation. And yet in our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus teaches the very simple truth that this was the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in the eyes of all who believe. Today we want to think of ourselves as living stones and to learn two important truths about what it means to be part of a well-built building where the architect knows exactly what he is doing and where the foundation is certain. Two truths the Holy Spirit would teach us today – first about the beauty of stones resting and secondly about the necessary pain of getting chiseled.
First, if stones in this well-built structure could talk, certainly they would tell us what a privilege it is to be part of a plumb wall that rests on a firm foundation. The Bible has a lot to say about stones. Already in Genesis 31, after Jacob had worked for his uncle Laban for 20 years for the privilege of marrying his two daughters Leah and then Rachel, after years of cheating and being cheated, after years of rubbing each other the wrong way and fighting and making up and then fighting some more – finally Laban suggests that they make a covenant. And so Jacob takes a stone and sets it up as a pillar. He commands his kinsmen to grab some stones and they made a heap of stones and ate a meal next to the heap. Laban and Jacob agreed that this heap of stones would be a witness of the promise they were making. Laban declares, “This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm.” They ate a meal together, they spent the night as a family together, and in the morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them and they parted ways. If that heap of stones could talk, oh my – what a story they could tell! They could tellof those little grandsons growing up to be the twelve tribes of Israel/ Egyptian slavery/ wilderness wanderings / victories in the Promised Land. If those stones could talk!
So also do we as New Testament living stones have a story to tell. As living stones we are called to witness to those near and dear and to those in the farthest corners of this world the greatest story ever told. The story of how beautiful it is to rest n the grace and mercy of Almighty God. Of how comforting it is to know that we can run with all of our weariness and all of our tiredness for refuge and strength to the Creator of the universe any time of the day, any day of the week. The story of how Jesus said (yes) to us at the cross. It’s a story of our Father in heaven asking His beloved Son to give up the riches of heaven and accept the poverty of humanity, to which Jesus answered, “Yes, Father, I will do that.” It’s a story of a father asking the very Rock of Ages to let sinners throw stones at him and to let vicious soldiers slap and whip and mutilate him and Jesus said, ‘Yes, Father, I will let them do that.” It’s the story of a cornerstone being rejected and yet becoming the chief cornerstone, the very foundation of a spiritual house with pillars standing strong and stones fitting together and against which the gates of hell will never prevail. And the story doesn’t end there.
God didn’t just say yes to a world of sinners. The Triune God said (yes) to us in Holy Baptism. The salvation purchased and won for us at Calvary has been delivered in water connected with the Word. The sign of the cross has been placed both on our foreheads and on our hearts to mark us as forgiven and holy and precious people of God. Day after day we are invited to rest in the certain knowledge that our spiritual debt has been paid, that our sins have been washed away, that our names have been written in the book of life, and that our mansions are on reserve in heaven. We are invited to rest in the promise that we are members of the household of God and that our cornerstone is certain and the foundation is sure and our first assignment each day isn’t so much to get up and be busy serving but to be served and to sit still and rest.
How hard can it be to (rest)? Isn’t it true that resting by definition is supposed to be easy? Yet by nature we are a restless and stressed out and anxious bunch. I read research this week that 51% of Americans do not feel it is important to go to church, that 79% of women say they are stressed, that 42% of people are unhappy with their life and work balance. Research which suggests that many of us are finding our refuge and strength in a variety of false gods. Instead of throwing ourselves on the mercy of the one true God, we so often throw ourselves into working hard and playing hard thinking that maybe then we will be tired enough to sleep at night. Even though the Psalmist has warned us clearly that “it is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest” and that unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Lesson #1 today, stones in this well-built structure could talk, certainly they would tell us what a privilege it is to be part of a plumb wall that rests on a firm foundation.
Lesson #2 is that if stones in this well-built temple could talk, certainly they would tell us how painful the (chiseling) process is. God’s promises are in two categories. On the one hand, God invites us to rest in His grace and to find refuge in His mercy. On the other hand, He promises to get our attention with trials and to humble us with a certain amount of suffering in our lives. On the one hand He will comfort us when we are afflicted and on the other hand He will afflict us when we are too comfortable. In Solomon's temple, all of the stones were chiseled and shaped in the quarry so that no tool had to be used as they were assembled at the temple site. Many of the stones were actually boulders that could weigh thousands of pounds. The building process included all kinds of chiseling, chipping, rubbing together, and polishing. There was nothing easy about the process it took to cut and file and shape the stones that would eventually fit into and rest on top of one another.
No pain, no (gain). Was there ever a coach or a teacher or a parent who didn’t use some version of that little saying to get across the idea of discipline. From beginning to end, Scriptures teach us that the process of growing up into and following Jesus Christ will a process of learning by trial and error. You can pick any number of metaphors. If you’re going to be a branch attached to Jesus the Vine, you can expect to be pruned on a regular basis. If you’re a lump of clay about to be molded into something precious by the potter, you can expect affair amount of suffering. If you’re going to call Jesus Master, you can expect a road filled with self-denial, taking up your cross, and persecution. There is no way to learn obedience except through suffering. No way to develop a spirit of endurance and strong Christian character except through troubles, trials, and tribulation.
You may find it helpful to think of your suffering in three categories. There is the suffering you bring on yourself (Examples would a habit of drinking too much which causes all kinds of trouble in your life or the habit of losing your temper which hurts and harms your neighbors in a variety of ways). A second kind of suffering is brought to your table by family members and others in your lives with their bad habits and annoying qualities. And a third kind of suffering will come to you through no fault of yours or other people in your life - as in a child born with a severe disability or various forms of cancer or natural disasters. All three kinds of suffering are part of this chiseling or pruning or disciplining process – call it what you like- and the remaining question today is this one:
Are you spending your days rejoicing in the Builder or complaining about the (process)? The kingdom of God is like a large rock who witnesses every day to how painful is the chiseling process. About how unfair it is that the Builder is picking on him. About who full of trouble every one of his days are, and some days are worse than others. Next to that rock is another who has developed the habit of rejoicing in the Builder instead of complaining. He witnesses to the fact that the end product is going to be magnificent. How certain he is that the Builder knows what he is doing. How there can be no gain without pain. How beautiful it is when the Builder’s face is fixed on him and at the same time has the big picture in mind. How confident he is that when the rains fall and the winds blow, he is part of a building that will stand strong.
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