United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“Many Uses for Stones”

By Rev. Mike Capron
May 14, 2017

Acts 7 & 1 Peter 2. 

  1. I should probably just admit right up front that this is a sermon about a metaphor.
  2. I’m going to be talking about stones, rocks, cornerstones, stones for building and stoning people to death.
  3. Some of my preaching professors might not have been happy about that. They would prefer that I start with a Biblical text; They were suspicious of sermons that started with ideas.
  4. It is too easy to become overly interested by your own imagination and forget the fact that you are preaching the Word of God, not the word of Mike.
  5. You can tell me afterward if you think I pulled it off in a faithful manner. <p
  6. Stones are a good metaphor to work with because everyone knows what you are talking about: Solid things, heavy.
  7. If they are small, we call them gravel and fill our driveways with them.
  8. If they are large, we call them boulders and consider how unmovable they are.  So, let me just get to the foundation of this sermon. …
  9. In today’s Biblical passages, rocks have two uses.
  10. They can be used to build or to destroy.
  11. In Stephen’s case, they were used to kill him, to stone him to death.
  12. In the case of the church, according to 1 Peter 2, they are used to build something wonderful.
  13. Peter, writing to members of the church says that you are like stones, living stones… let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood.
  14. Built together into a church, the people of God, we may proclaim God’s mighty acts and God’s mercy.
  15. Yes, stones can be used to build or to destroy. So can lots of other things, even Mother’s Day.
  16. If you are a mother of healthy children with whom you have a good relationship, Mother’s Day is a wonderful thing, an acknowledgment of how hard you work and what an impact you have made and will make on your children. Thank you.
  17. Thank you for all that you do. I celebrate you. I’m grateful for how you are forging the next generation. Happy Mother’s Day; I mean that.
  18. See, Mother’s Day can be used for building up!  <pause>
  19. If, on the other hand, you have no children, are unmarried… have lost a child (or lost custody of one), or if your child is addicted, criminal or estranged… then a cheery Mother’s Day message from the preacher can feel like a stone hitting you upside the head.
  20. Nobody means to do that. If you’ve ever heard a preacher blunder into hurting you that way, I’m sorry. I apologize on behalf of all preachers everywhere.  <pause>
  21. But you can see how Mother’s Day and Father’s Day present a dilemma for us. We want to affirm and cheer on the first group while not hurting the second group.
  22. And it isn’t just about those who have children and those who don’t.
  23. We all have complicated relationships with our parents.
  24. My mom was pretty easy to love. I don’t think I’ve ever met a kinder, more gracious woman.
  25. My dad had many admirable qualities, but he was not quite so easy to love.
  26. We all have this in common: our parents and forbearers were or are human beings, full of virtue, full of sin.
  27. It is hard to look at that with candor. Our tendency is to either demonize or canonize those who came before us.
  28. That is why Stephen gives the long Biblical history lesson.
  29. As he stands there surrounded by the temple authorities, they are glaring at him, ready to condemn him.
  30. But he give this long and candid speech where he lifts up the great forbearers of Israel. He tells it true, pointing out great moments of faith and also airing shameful moments, the proverbial dirty laundry.
  31. We hear about faithful Abraham and virtuous Joseph, as well as Joseph’s murderously jealous brothers and idol-making sinful Aaron.
  32. We hear about colorful Moses who had bad moments as well as good ones.
  33. We hear about all the stiff-necked, stuck-up people who opposed what Holy Spirit was doing, including the ones standing right there interrogating Stephen.
  34. Stephen said all this clearly and loudly, but he was not thanked for his truth-telling.
  35. Instead there came shouts of rage and the sound of hard stones impacting soft flesh.
  36. <pause>
  37. But a very strange thing happens.
  38. It is exactly the moment when Stephen should give up all hope, admit that the world is a horrific place and that there is no hope of goodness or love.
  39. But he doesn’t do that.
  40. At that moment when he has spoken God’s truth and is suffering the inevitable consequences, he doesn’t give up on faith or love or God; instead he is more deeply enfolded into it.
  41. He is filled with the Holy Spirit and granted a vision of the beauty of God the Father and Jesus the Son.
  42. He is not sad. Neither is he angry. He prays for the world that is killing him, that their sin would be forgiven by God.
  43. <pause>
  44. To employ the idea stated by Peter, Stephen is protected by the spiritual house made of the living stones of the people of faith.
  45. Some of those living stones come from our ancestors in the faith, people of Biblical times as well as those of more recent vintage.
  46. Some of the living stones are sitting right here in this room this morning.
  47. We are united in something larger than ourselves, something that defends us from believing that the evil of the world gets the final word.
  48. Perhaps it is true that a rational person would conclude that the world is a brutal dog-eat-dog place where only the strong and powerful thrive.
  49. But we don’t believe that.
  50. Perhaps it is true that a prudent parent would feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of bringing a child into this crazy world.
  51. But we are people of hope.
  52. <pause>
  53. While writing this sermon, I can’t help but think of two people I heard speaking recently.
  54. One was a politician, admonishing us that it doesn’t take any courage to cater to the wealthy and the powerful, but that it takes great courage to care for the weak and those in poverty.
  55. The other was the woman I met at St. Andrews last week.
  56. This woman of color told me how she grew up on a poor farm and how her brother was murdered and how the FBI advised the family to drop the matter lest something worse happen.
  57. Yet there she was many years later, silver haired and helping feed and clothe the poor.
  58. Why is she bothering with that? Why didn’t she give up years ago?
  59. It’s counter-intuitive; it isn’t very worldly. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.
  60. But it is inspiring.  …  Most of all it is Christian.
  61. It reminds me that stones can be used to build something wonderful—especially if you fit them in around the cornerstone.
  62. Christ is that cornerstone, the foundation of the greater whole that somehow we just fit around.
  63. Like the early church of Stephen’s time and Peter’s time, we face many obstacles, and truth be told, one doesn’t always see how it will ever come out right.
  64. But if we put aside all the things that get in our way… if we take nourishing spiritual milk… if we recognize our heritage as God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood, precious in God’s eyes and a blessing to the world.
  65. For Christ is our cornerstone and also a stumbling block to those who plan evil.
  66. He brings down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly.
  67. It is only a matter of time.
  68. So while I find I cannot blithely wish you a happy Mother’s Day—our family situations are too varied for that--I do find that I can wish you a Hopeful Mother’s Day, grounded in God’s love for all parents and for children of all ages.
  69. I do pray a special blessings for all mothers, the blessing of God’s love, and hopeful confidence in God’s promised future! Amen.