The familiar gospel text we so often hear at funerals, the words spoken to Christ’s closest friends and followers after he’s washed their feet, told them of the coming betrayal, that Peter will deny that he knows him, and eats with them the Passover meal, but now tells them that they will eat this in a different way from this night on. Body, blood, given and shed for you. New Covenant, eat, drink, remember. He speaks words to them that they can’t begin to wrap themselves around, and yet in just hours they would be more vulnerable, more heart-broken, more frightened than they might ever have imagined. They will wonder if things will ever be the same, if they will ever be able to find their place in the world, in their families and their communities. They can’t begin to imagine what these words will come to mean to them. And they have many questions… don’t we? Their hearts were troubled, not knowing what was really taking place, what the future would look like, how it would all turn out. Aren’t those some of our questions as well?
It’s so important that we know that we have a place for us. We all long to find our place in life – a place in our family, a place with friends, a place in our work-a-day world, with our colleagues and co-workers, with our neighbors. Most of us go to great lengths to carve out our place, although some of us may do it less consciously. We begin in our childhood seeking love and a niche to fit into. As adolescents we are especially aware of what others’ are wearing and we want to dress like that, too. That seems to follow many of us for the rest of our lives. Just catching a few minutes of television here and there this past week, I realize just how fashion cycles, and we’re back to wearing things we wore twenty years ago. Bermuda shorts and seersucker are back big time for summer fashion. Flip-flops continue to be foot fashion. Even nail polish colors cycle…we wore some of the funky colors that we watch everyone now wear. There are those of us who are non-conformists and want to say that it doesn’t matter – we’re our own person and we don’t need time-specific fashion, hair styles, or the latest slang or text-messaging to speak for us. We are who we are. Yet, I believe that internally we all long to know that we belong, that there’s a place for us.
We feel more secure when we know our place in life and our place in relationships. We can find security in knowing that there is a place for us in God’s kingdom. Jesus reassures us that he has gone to prepare a place for us and that he will come again to take us to that place to be with him. He makes it very clear: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Not only do we hear these words of reassurance in John’s gospel, but Stephen’s witness to us as he is stoned for his convictions and testimony shows us that he knew that he belonged to God’s kingdom, and that Jesus would receive him even as he dies confessing his faith. Jesus is Stephen’s living stone, his strong rock, his tower of strength, the one who redeems and receives him, rescues him from his enemies. Jesus is the cornerstone of Stephen’s faith.
Our world may try to show us other cornerstones: build your life on athletics, build your life on academics, build your life on how many acres you farm, build your life on how much you earn in the work force, build your life on so many competitive cornerstones calling you, promising you success, wealth, popularity, happiness. But like the old Sunday School song of the foolish man and the wise man and where they build their houses, sand or rock, if we’re not rooted, grounded in our faith, our houses, our lives will go “plop” or “crash” like the house built on the sand. We hear strength in the Lord being called “my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, my tower of strength.”
In 1 Peter we hear that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. We hear that we have a place with the one who has become our cornerstone, Jesus Christ our Risen Savior. We bring ourselves and our children to our baptismal fonts to claim a place in God’s kingdom as a child of God. We are washed and made new. We are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit. We are chosen. The cornerstone of our life is Jesus Christ. As we have grown in our faith, we have continued to build our lives on that cornerstone, a foundation of faith for each of us. Our faith communities, our parents, our sponsors, were called to witness the promises that Christ has proclaimed to us in his life, the mission of his serving, healing, teaching ministry among us, his death and victory over sin and the devil, and his resurrection that gives us lives of hope and a promise that there is a place prepared for us in eternity. We then become the witnesses and the ones to proclaim what Christ is doing in our lives and in the world; we share the good news that Jesus Christ is our rock, our living stone, and a place is carved out for us in his earthly and heavenly kingdoms. We have the calling and the opportunities to be Christ’s hands and feet, to serve and go; his mouth to share God’s Word, his heart to love God and love one another. We have the promise that he will take us to himself. I picture that to mean even in this day and in this earthly kingdom that where Christ is, we are called to be. And we live in the hope and promise of being with him for all of eternity. So even with the questions Thomas and Peter and the others had, and even with the questions we ask and hope for answers that will reassure us, we can still trust that Jesus is the way; that Jesus always tells the truth; and Jesus promises us life – abundant life, life eternal. We are children of God, and nothing can separate us from our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior, the Risen Christ. He is our way, our truth, and our life. That’s good news! Let not your heart be troubled! Alleluia, Amen.