Monday, May 12, 2014

Sermon for May 11, 2014

Rev. George Miller
1 Peter 2:1-10
“Rocks of Life”
May 11, 2014

Picture this: the people of Israel have been wandering the wilderness for 40 years. They’ve faced trials, tribulations, topes and times of scarcity. Right before they enter the Promised Land, Moses gathers them and (according to Deuteronomy 32) he speaks these words:

The Lord is your mighty defender,
perfect and just in all his ways...

Think of the past, of the time long ago;
ask your fathers to tell you what happened…

(Of how God)...
found them wandering through the desert,
a desolate, wind-swept wilderness.
He protected them and cared for them,
as he would protect himself.
Like an eagle teaching its young to fly,
catching them safely on its spreading wings,
the Lord kept Israel from falling.

They found wild honey among the rocks;
their olive trees flourished in stony ground…

The claim of finding honey among the rocks reminds me of today’s reading and the notion of spiritual milk that’s provided by Christ, the living stone.

I remember as a kid when my friends and I would gather stones and break them open to see what was inside. Not once did we ever find milk or honey.

The beaches on the north shore of Long Island are covered in jagged stones. I don’t recall seeing olive trees flourishing there but I do recall how the stony ground was no fun to walk barefoot on.

There was one time when I was about 7 playing in the Atlantic Ocean and I stepped into the water and felt an unbearable pain rip through my foot.

I thought a crab or a shark had grabbed a hold of me and my father rushed into the waves to drag me out of the water.

Turns out it wasn’t a crab or a shark but a glob of tar with stones and spikes sticking out of it that I had stepped onto and pierced the sole of my foot.

So I know that stones are not always pleasant; they can be painful…could that perhaps be part of the point that today’s scripture is trying to make?

1 Peter was written for a community of people who feel lost, who are facing challenges and need a reminder that God has not forgotten them.

They are Christians, a teeny tiny group of folk who are looked down upon and viewed as a dangerous cult of trouble makers and evil doers.

Under Roman rule, some of them have been jailed, others murdered. To save their lives and to keep their faith some of them go into hiding, others move into a new land.

They have a mix of emotions; they may be physically safe but they feel lost; they know they don’t belong where they’re at.

They may have a house; but they do not feel like they are home.

On one foot these Christians are experiencing the joy that new life in Christ brings, but on the other foot they are also experiencing the social and emotional owies that come from walking bare footed on a rocky beach.

It would be so easy to lose one’s faith. It would have been easier to just go back from where they came and say “You know what, I was wrong about the whole Christ-thing. Let’s start over.”

But this letter encourages them not to. Instead of shying away from the hardships they are facing, this letter really brings home the point that life is hard, that there will be trials and tribulations, but through God we will receive the victory; that in Christ we have a living hope.

There is dispute on who actually wrote this letter: Peter, or his assistant or someone claiming his name, either way the author does not shy away from the facts of life.

He states that as Christians we will suffer through trials, but just as gold is perfected by going through the fire, we will become stronger through the trials that we face.

I don’t believe he’s saying that God puts us through trials and suffering to test us or make us stronger; I believe what he’s saying is that God will use those trials and sufferings to refine us and to make us stronger.

That God will work with and through whatever it is we face to bring forth that spiritual milk we need.

Think of how much of our lives are spent in struggle. First our mothers have to struggle push us out of the womb.

We struggle to learn how to walk, falling down again and again, bumping our butts, getting owies on our foreheads.

We struggle in school, learning how to read and do math; we struggle against other candidates for a job.

We grow older, we struggle with weakening eyesight, expanded waists, chins that double and triple.

We struggle watching our children struggle. We struggle with a report from our doctor, a note from the bank, the burying of a loved one; confronting our own mortality.

We struggle with our memories.

Life is a struggle. A constant stepping on stones with our bare feet, a constant trying to avoid the spikes in the water that can pierce our sole.

Do we look at those struggles and say that God caused them, that God is responsible for all the hurt and pain?

Or do we discover, as we look back over our lives and think things over, that it was often during the times that we were walking across the stones that God’s presence was most felt?

Recall the stories in the holy scriptures: was it during green pastures and still waters that God called some of the greatest leaders and touched people’s lives?

Or was it during moments of stony ground and rocky circumstances?

Think about our spiritual mothers. When did God call Sarah to become the mother of a great nation and to bless all the families of the world?

Was it when she was a young, fertile and nubile woman? No. It was when she was considered to be “advanced in age”, barren, and in her own words, too old to know joy.

Was Miriam, the sister of Moses, a noble princess pampered in the royal courts with figs and the finest of clothes?

No, she was enslaved by the Egyptians, forced among many to turn straw into brick so the Pharaoh could further build his empire.

Yet it was Miriam who made sure her brother was reunited with their family; she worked alongside Moses and Aaron in bringing the people through the wilderness and it was she who led the women in praising God when they crossed the Red Sea.

What about the Woman at the Well that we meet in the Gospel of John? When did she encounter Jesus and finds out about his gift of Living Water?

Was it when she was a popular, 1st-time newlywed out strolling with the girls in the cool morning breeze?

No. She encountered Jesus as a despised Samaritan, married five times, all alone at a well in the hot afternoon sun; an outcast of outcasts.

Yet Jesus enters into her life and she becomes solely responsible for bringing an entire town of people to Jesus.

Sarah, Miriam, the Woman at the Well: our spiritual mothers who experienced rocky times who were in their own way each called, consoled and recreated by God to become something greater then what their worst could ever be.

Today’s reading reminds us that the times when the way seems to paved with nothing but jagged stones may also be the times when God is working to make a new way; a smoother way.

Do you think that things have become difficult? Do you feel like things are hard?

…They are. But because of your faith and because of the love of God as known through Christ you will get through.

Do you feel like you are an outsider and you don’t belong?

In Christ, you have a community right here where you fit right in and a spiritual home where you belong.

Have you been hurt, used and abused?

We all have; so was Christ, which means there is no suffering you can go through that you can’t take to Jesus and he won’t understand.

Life is not all green pastures and still waters. Stone after stone after stone we step, often with bare feet.

God is mindful of our pain, and if we give it to Jesus, those stones can actually become part of what is used to build us up and to further build God’s holy house.

Stone upon stone upon stone, we are given the opportunity to give them to Christ, who is the living corner stone.

When we are weak, when we are weary, we can turn to Christ, and know we are not alone.

We will be fed, we will be nourished; we have found our honey in the rock.

In conclusion, being a Christian does not automatically mean we will have an easy life, free of owies or situations that pierce our souls.

But it does mean that when we encounter the rocky paths of life, we are not traveling alone, but with Christ. He will give us the strength, the ability and the spiritual nourishment we’ll need to see it all through.

We can’t live our lives afraid of the stones we may step on, but we can live knowing we are part of something greater then ourselves and in Christ we will not be put to shame.

All thanks to God who spoke to both our spiritual mothers and our fathers; to the Holy Spirit that fills us with holy wisdom and for Christ, the cornerstone of our lives and of God’s holy habitation.

Amen and amen.

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