(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on April 20, 2014)
There are lots of metaphors and pictures and images that describe Jesus and the victory of Easter.
Lion. Lamb. Warrior on a white horse.
But there’s one I don’t think of often, but that surprisingly appears quite a bit in the New Testament. Jesus used it himself. Peter used it in a sermon in the early church, and Peter and Paul both used it in letters. It’s an image picked up from several places in the Old Testament, including Psalm 118 which we are looking at today. What is it?
“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
The one rejected becomes the one on whom everything is built.
Last May, as part of my sabbatical, I got to go to Nebraska for the first time in my life.
I stayed in Alliance in Northeast Nebraska, where my grandparents graduated from high school. And I took a day trip to Rushville, Nebraska. My my grandpa was born there, and in 1910, a year before he was born, my grandma’s grandfather was elected as sheriff.
This is a picture of the cornerstone of the courthouse, the courthouse that Sheriff New worked in and lived next to. You can’t really tell from this picture, but it’s a ceremonial cornerstone. It sure looks impressive! It’s got the date and the name and everything.
But it’s not the foundation or at all important to the structure of that building. It’s three feet off the ground, resting on the true foundation of brick.
Here’s a painting of one that’s still ceremonial, but looks much more functional. George Washington, our first president, is laying the cornerstone for the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. With this painting, you can get an idea in your mind of the importance of the cornerstone. It’s the one everything gets built around and on. It’s the one that sets the position of the whole structure.
Traditionally masons would choose the right stone for this task, finding one bigger and straighter than the others, one that would serve well. The role it had to play was setting the direction for every other stone. Many stones would be rejected-not straight enough, not square enough, not hefty enough to be a solid anchor.
I can see why the early church grabbed a hold of the rejected cornerstone metaphor.
In so many ways, the religious leaders who crucified Jesus were like the masons who judged and rejected Jesus as dangerous and unworthy of being a reference point or foundation for the people of God. They rejected his lack of boundaries. They rejected his claims of intimacy with God.
The early church had to explain that. The people who should have known what they were doing, who should have been the best judges of what God was doing in the world…they crucified Jesus. How could those early Christians justify basing their whole lives on the one who had been killed?
That was the great Easter turnaround!
Jesus…the one the leaders had been angry at, afraid of…the one they put to death and left on the slag heap of rejection…on that first Easter Sunday long ago, God pushed aside the slag heap stone and resurrected the rejected one as the Living Stone, the Cornerstone. It’s the best work God has ever done.
What’s this like?
How do you describe God taking the rejected one, raising him to life, and making Jesus the cornerstone of the new creation?
I thought of some rather poor analogies. It’s like when the Blazers passed over Michael Jordan to take Sam Bowie, and MJ went on to become the foundation of the NBA forever and for all time. It’s like the time long ago when I was in the clearance department at Sears, and two people ahead of me passed on the cheap VCR because it didn’t have a remote, and I found the remote on the table next to it and bought them both. It’s like the time my family drove right past an In-n-Out Burger to eat at the Olive Garden, but I went back on my own for a double-double.
It’s like that…only, you know, a zillion times better!
The obvious reason the church grabbed this cornerstone metaphor from the Old Testament is that Jesus, the person of Jesus, is the cornerstone.
And that’s right! I believe it.
And this week, another application kept percolating up to the surface of my brain; not instead of Jesus as cornerstone, but also and alongside and in a “Wait! There’s more!” sort of way.
Would you look at Psalm 118 with me? Turn there in your bibles, or in the ones in the racks in front of you.
Psalm 118 was an important one in the corporate life of Israel. They used it in worship, as they were entering into the temple, the giant temple of Solomon, one of the wonders of the world. Perhaps they even saw the cornerstone of the temple as they spoke these words of hope and trust in God’s victory.
It’s a celebration psalm, a declaration psalm, a confident psalm, a God-is-close-and-trustworthy psalm. Listen as I read part of it for our Easter celebration. Listen for the cornerstone image. Listen for the words from this psalm that were also shouted in praise on Palm Sunday.
Psalm 118:14-29, TNIV
The LORD is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.
Shouts of joy and victory
resound in the tents of the righteous:
‘The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!
The LORD’s right hand is lifted high;
the LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!’
I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the LORD has done.
The LORD has chastened me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
Open for me the gates of the righteous;
I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD
through which the righteous may enter.
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The LORD has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.
LORD, save us!
LORD, grant us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you.
The LORD is God,
and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Without a doubt, the images of this psalm are ones of military might and victory.
It’s clearer in the earlier part of the psalm, the part I didn’t read. The psalmist talks about enemies and nations surrounding them, and how it’s better to trust God than other princes. The psalmist celebrates cutting down enemies and winning.
The shouts of joy and victory in the tents of the righteous are clearly the tents that hold the victorious warriors. They weren’t killed, they didn’t die, they will live because, the psalmist says, because of what God has done.
The psalmist sees the warriors of Israel as ones who had been rejected, but now, the psalmist sees the warriors as God’s chosen cornerstone.
And for generations after, this is a psalm Israel would go to in hope. This is one they would sing and speak responsively, as they climbed the steps and entered the temple.
“Lord save us! Lord, grant us success!” We bless the one who comes in your name to save us, deliver us, the one your light is shining on. We bless that one from the house of the Lord, from right here in the temple. With our palm branches, we join the big parade right up to the altar itself. We call on you Lord, to give us victory. We are the rejected people. Claim us and make us the cornerstone in this battlefield of a world.
We’re waiting for our mighty warrior.
Here is what Easter, the resurrection, has done.
It shows Christ is not the failed and rejected one. Christ is alive and vindicated and is the cornerstone of the new community God is building, a community of people where God will make his home!
It shows we all are not the rejected, failed ones, forgotten and left alone. We have been claimed! We are taken from the slag heap of life and welcomed and fitted into the community that is in right relationship with Jesus the Cornerstone!
And here’s the percolating thought, the challenging thought, the world-rocking thought.
Victory has been redefined forever!
Losing is winning. Dying is life. Sacrifice is salvation.
The cries for military victory are misguided. Success has been redefined. The things chosen all too often for winning, for victory in our world…those are the things which God passes over. God looks instead for the humble, broken, obedient ones. God pulls us from the rubble, dusts us off, lifts our chin, embraces us with eyes and arms, and invites us to join Jesus, align ourselves to Jesus our cornerstone. Jesus our measuring point. Jesus our foundation.
Jesus the alive one! Jesus the beginning of a resurrected community that will live and love and be in loving relationship for all eternity! This is what God is building after all. A community. A forever community. An “alive forever” community.
This is victory. This is winning. It is not conquering or power, but the sacrifice and death which lead to right relationships in a worldwide, eternal community.
God has done in Jesus what he wants to do for us.
Unending life has come, and as the cornerstone, Jesus has been set in place as the reference point for the new community God is weaving into eternity. Jesus is the stone, marking the edge, stretching out the line for more of us to be built into place. God remakes and realigns us, giving us a place and a purpose. This is what Easter has done!
We are, Ephesians say, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become…a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph. 2:20-22)
The only question left is, how big a building will this be? How much room is there in the community of people, the temple in which God will come to call home?We have the base, the cornerstone in Jesus. How far does the outline of the walls stretch?
It stretches as far as God’s love in Christ. “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” Eph. 3:17-19
God’s love knows no bounds! This is the victory which God has brought in Christ. Find your place in God’s love. It will be in line with the first resurrected one, Jesus Christ.
End with commissioning blessing
May you live each day in the power of the Easter turnaround.
May you pass over and reject the fake victory of cutting others down.
May you embrace the rejected one, Jesus.
May you find your place in the forever community which is God’s home.
May you be one who lives and breathes and demonstrates the unending love of Jesus, where all are welcomed in!