Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

Fragile, living stones - a "Passion" series based upon 1 Peter 2:4-10
"the stone rejected"

Message preached February 29, 2004
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Psalm 118:21-27

Order of Worship

            Visiting Manchester College with Caitlin last weekend, I heard the word "passion" mentioned a lot. No, they werenít referring to the movie just released last Wednesday about the last earthly hours of Jesus. Nor were they talking about matters of the heart and the - ahem! - hormones which might be too much on the minds of college age young people. The word "passion" came up in connection to helping students engage their chosen life work with what they care most about. "What is your passion?" is an important question. To become "passionate" about a career, a vocation, is one of the goals of a good education.

            However, Iím not sure we really understand what "passion" is all about. Is passion, for instance, something that makes our heart race? If so, then Carl Palmer must be a real "passionate" guy, for his heart has gotten a bit out of sync lately, and is beating to a whole different rhythm than it once did. Of course, Carl is passionate about saving our church money. Furthermore, he is a devoted husband to Lillie Mae. But I donít think this has anything to do with the fibrillation of his heart.

            Passion, as we normally think of the word, is something that excites us. Now, a good portion of our societyís impulses are geared to the excitement generated by sex. Plug the word "passion" into an Internet search engine and guess where youíll be directed. Chances are, six out of ten sites might involve bare flesh or other racy content. Passion is energy to us, involving our libido, or some other lust. But is that what "passion" really is all about?

            A simple check of the dictionary reveals what should be no surprise. The word literally means what? "To suffer." What? How does "suffering" relate to the "passion" between a man and a woman? Have you ever watched two persons madly in love? Sometimes itís downright painful to see lovers "pining away" for one another. You can love someone so intently that it hurts, right? Down the road, when love "bears all things," there can be suffering as well. How many spouses, parents, or children - as they stand beside someone they love going through an illness - wish they could take the pain upon themselves? In this case, "passion" is patiently living with someone you love when there is nothing you can do to make them better.

            But how does this word "passion" relate to living out your calling, putting "gusto" into a job such that it gets you out of bed each morning? Of course, our job is not always our vocation in life. Often our job just pays the bills and makes it possible for us to answer our calling in some other area. However, how does "suffering" relate to passionately living out our calling in life? Well, what are you willing to suffer for what you care most about? If something is truly your passion, what will you go through to make it possible?

            The "passion" of the Christ is what Jesus was willing to go through in order to make possible what God was calling him to do and to be. Thatís what is portrayed in the Mel Gibson movie currently on the big screen - a version of it, that is. Something we dare not forget, though, is that Christís passion is more that the violence and pain he suffered, as graphically shown in the film. His "passion" in life was to save the world, to reveal Godís kingdom, to bless and to heal. His suffering was not an end in itself. It was a means to an end. Remember that.

            "God so passionately loved the world that he sent his Son..." Bet you never heard that translation! However, every definition Iíve ever heard of agapť or Godís love, involves a willingness to "suffer" (perhaps even die) for someone else. If "God so passionately loved the world," if it was Godís passion that people not perish but have real life, then might this not also have been Jesusí passion? Letís not lose sight of Jesusí passion as we explore his suffering.

            This is the first of several sermons on the passion of Christ. Iím linking to, but not limited to, the movie I encourage you to go see if you feel able. I would not recommend it to young children, for it is not a sanitized version. Itís "R" rating is for real. This movie represents the passion of its director, Mel Gibson. This is what he cares deeply about. As you (if you) watch it, however, donít lose track of the bigger picture. Itís not about suffering for the sake of suffering, violence for the sake of violence. Keep asking, "what was Jesusí passion in life and death?" Not, "what was he suffering?," but "for what was he suffering?"

            Throughout this series of messages, I propose we use something very tangible to help us keep focused. When you entered the sanctuary, you were handed a stone. Did anyone not receive one? (ushers hand them out, if not) Hold it in your hand just now. These are simple stones. Nothing out of the ordinary about them, though they are a bit polished. I invite you, through the upcoming weeks, to take this stone with you. Stick it in your pocket. Put it someplace on you where you wonít forget about it. You may need to be a little creative in this, but I trust you can do it. If you somehow lose the stone - donít worry, weíve got more. Pick up another one next Sunday. If you havenít lost it, bring it with you next Sunday.

            These stones are just something "touchable" to help us make connections to aspects of our lives, as well as to "theological" stuff that may not be easy to grasp. Just now, with your stone in hand, I want you to think of some times in your life when you have felt rejected. Perhaps it was as that little kid who was always last for ball teams. Maybe it was a time when love slipped through your fingers, and someone you cared about turned away.

            I happened to think about when I was kicked out of my first Rock band. The groupís name was "Time," and they told me it was time for me to go - mainly because, as a bass player, I had a guitar but not an amplifier. Knowing why didnít make it sting any less.

            There are reasons for rejection which have to do with things we have done or failed to do. We arenít hired because we donít have the right qualifications. We didnít make what we wanted to join because we didnít have a good try-out - we flubbed, or didnít practice enough. You know. Sometimes we donít know why, or we do and thereís nothing we could have done different. Perhaps you were rejected for just being you, or for what you believe.

            Didnít Jesus once say, "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man" (Luke 6:22)? In other words, when you are rejected because of Christ... Anyway, your reasons for rejection donít have to be that "pure." Just get in touch with what it means to be rejected, the feel of rejection, if you will. I think few of us donít know at least something about this topic. Weíve tasted it.

            Of course, within every rejection lies the seed of something more - right? I may have been tossed out by that rock band, but I did go on to play in another group (made up of the remnants of the group that kicked me out, by the way). This time I had an amplifier, and was a better player. Striking out at love isnít the end of the book, even when it hurts a lot. Failure can even be for the best in many situations, for we go on to succeed in ways weíd never have imagined possible.

            Back to that stone. Think about your experiences of rejection and, in some way, place them into this stone in your mind. Iím not talking some "new age" mumbo jumbo. I just want you to, when you feel this stone in your pocket, be able to be reminded of your rejections. Let it be a "touch stone," to connect you with a fragile moment in your life. Such experiences are not worthless, you know. Itís so often through them that we proceed to better things - our "passions." Our "fragile" stones sometimes become "living" stones, as we rise from our rejections. That, by the way, is a theme you will hear over and over in the coming weeks.

            Letís add another element to these stones in our hands. The 118th Psalm has been an important song in the life of the church of Jesus Christ. It is a scripture repeated in a variety of ways in various settings of the New Testament. Perhaps you recall that the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem at the beginning of that fateful Passover long ago is remembered in the gospels in connection to this Psalm, as the people on Palm Sunday cried out its words of festival "Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord" (v. 25-26).

            More important is the note of rejection in this Psalm, words the apostle Peter - who himself once rejected Jesus when the going got rough, denying he ever knew him - boldly repeated these words in a moment when he could have been rejected and killed himself (Acts 4:5-15ff). The words returned even later to describe what Jesus was and is doing in the church, a group of misfits who once were nobodies but now are somebodies (1 Peter 4:4-10). Psalm 118 was even quoted by Jesus himself, according to Matthew (21:42-44) and Luke (20:16-19). Letís read those words together, which youíll find at the top of your bulletin: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone" (Psalm 118:22).

            Rejection. Jesus was rejected. He still is. If the truth be told, we are among those who still reject him. Not someone else. You. Me. With your stone in hand, think about the ways you reject him. Maybe itís very mild, like being very passionate about him today, right now in this service of worship, or later in Sunday School learning more of his way, but then going from this place and living as if itís all just a nice fairy tale. Are you passionate about living your faith beyond the walls of this building - out where the church really becomes the church?

            Living the passion isnít easy, for none of us want to be rejected - and thatís what often happens when we care deeply about something which Christ has led us to have a passion for. But the question is, do we care enough to be willing to experience rejection for it? Allow that stone in your hand to be a "worry stone," if you will. When you touch it, let it bother you. Remember your feelings of rejection. Remember how Jesus was rejected long ago. Ponder how you may be rejecting him even now. "The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone." Itís the stone that holds it all together. Start getting in touch with the passion that he is building in you, stone upon stone.

            "Fragile" stones can become "living" stones, as we rise from these rejections with a passion for living in Christ. Youíve a stone in your pocket this week. Whatís your passion?

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Psalms.

©2004 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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