The rejected cornerstone
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Friday, March 26th: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Jeremiah 33:1-9; and Philippians 2:12-18. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today is our sixth Lenten Friday, days that are especially solemn within a season that is especially solemn. Today we read that Jeremiah has the unenviable task of being the prophet who prepares Jerusalem for defeat, destruction and deportation. He advised everyone in the city to surrender so that lives would be saved. Jerusalem was not going to win this battle. Understandably, the authorities looked unkindly on such messaging and they imprisoned the prophet.
In the book of Jeremiah, it is written: “Concerning the houses of this city and the houses of the kings of Judah that were torn down to make a defense against the siege-ramps and before the sword.” The people of Jerusalem were trying to proverbially circle the wagons. They were dismantling houses within the city’s walls to bolster the walls. Jeremiah foretells that these efforts are futile.
Sometimes we feel like the best defense is to close ourselves off, to build walls, to keep others out no matter what we must do to ourselves to accomplish this. I am sadly amazed at what some Americans are willing to sacrifice in order to keep up the walls, to prevent the outsider and the disenfranchised from getting inside. I’m afraid that even the sacredness of our democracy is not exempt from being “torn down to make a defense” against emerging voices and awakened activists. We will even destroy what we have to protect us from these others, but as Jeremiah warns, these efforts are futile. They only prolong the illusion. They only make the collapse more dramatic.
Remaining with this imagery of building walls of exclusion, the Psalmist today writes of the rejected stone. This metaphor was embraced by the earliest Christians to explain Jesus’ ministry: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Jesus is not a part of the old wall of exclusion. Jesus is not about protecting us from them. He actually reaches out to the excluded and the demonized. Jesus is the cornerstone of a new structure, the cornerstone of walls that support buildings that give cover and protection to all who wish to enter.
Rather than destroying what is within the walls to preserve the illusion of isolation, Jesus inspires believers to beckon outsiders inside and to use their gifts and talents to keep building this new structure in ways once unforeseen. Paul puts it nicely for us today: “In the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.” Christians don’t hide behind walls. Christ calls us to go forth “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” Out amongst the people of the world, out amongst the racism, xenophobia, sexism, violence and greed of the world, Christians are to “shine like stars.” We are to be activists building the better structure of which Jesus is the cornerstone, the one rejected by the ways of the world, but the one that is “marvelous in our eyes.”
And please remember that we don’t ever do this alone. The work is too much. The futility too real. IF we do this alone. Rather, the motivation to build a better world and the strength to actually do it comes from God: “It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work.” On this sixth Lenten Friday, let us concentrate on the rejected cornerstone who hangs on the cross, the cross which in turn is the fundamental rejection of the ways of the world. Let us not hide behind walls, but rather follow the Saviour who hangs on the cross to finally and forever breakdown the walls of separation. No one was at the cross with Jesus. No one deserves His salvation. This means that all of us, saint and sinner, are all welcomed inside because this is the will and way of Christ.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Massachusetts Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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