CMCL Sermon — May 18th, 2014 — Love Rocks

The following was Susan L. Gascho-Cooke’s sermon presented on May 18th at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster. This sermon is reproduced here with her permission; I have added the “tweet this” and underlining.

Love Rocks

Susan Gascho-Cooke
May 18, 2014
John 14:1-7
I Peter 2:1-10

In today’s passage from John, Thomas is once again my hero! A few weeks ago, we re-read the story of Thomas asking Jesus to show him the wounds on his hands – because he so deeply desired to believe it really was Jesus. He could not just pretend he believed, despite his doubts. (John 20:24-29)

Here he is again, the anxious voice speaking up and asking what I, too, want to know. Jesus is saying some of the most beautiful words of the Gospels: Don’t you know that my father’s house has many rooms, and there’s a room for you! I’m going to go and prepare a place for you — You’ll know the way. Don’t worry! Believe me!

There is so much beauty to this passage – this notion that there’s not only room for everyone, but there is a room for everyone in God’s love. It’s the difference between a hotel with the “Vacancy” sign lit, and an invitation from someone to live in their home in a room prepared for you. Maybe Jesus grew up hearing too many stories from his mother about the travesty of inns turning people away, so he knew he’d make sure that never happened to anyone else if he could help it!

But that’s not what Thomas got caught up with – he wasn’t daydreaming about the amenities in his room. He was stuck at figuring out how to get there. “Actually, Jesus, we don’t know where we’re going, so how can we know the way there?”

One of my worst navigational stresses is when someone says at the end of a set of directions: “and once you get there, you can’t miss it!” Well, in my experience, actually you can miss it, especially if you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for. I can just feel poor Thomas’s blood pressure rising –“It all sounds well and good, Jesus, but you need to spell it out!” And once again, I find myself profoundly grateful for Thomas. Speaking up.

Then Jesus answers, “I am the way.” He doesn’t give directions, or even say, “Follow me.” He says, “I am the way.”

This assertion often gets trampled on the way to the sentence that follows: “No one comes to the Father but by me.” And then the whole story gets used to bash people over the head with the notion that the only true way to God is through whatever expression of Christianity they espouse.

If you stop and look at the way Jesus lived, the way he spoke — it simply doesn’t match the exclusionary conclusions that much of Christianity has based on this verse.[1] The way Jesus showed was a way of love – honest, challenging, sometimes tough love, but a love that turned things upside-down: making enemies and strangers into neighbors, making the last first, bringing the unclean and the disempowered to the table, erring on the side of compassion above religious law when the two contradict each other.

As a Way to God, this has nothing to do with what building you worship in or whether you believe the right doctrine about this or that. This is a Way that’s both much harder and much easier than the traditional, exclusionary reading.

Jesus is saying, “Don’t try to make me what I am not – I am not a rule, a test, a law, an answer (even the “correct” answer). I am a Way – I am a Way to Love, my Way IS Love. In that is truth and life and yes; what other true way to God could there be but Love?

In 1 Peter, the author is making a similar argument, I think: those who would try to reduce Jesus to something to build their own structure on will only find themselves frustrated. It says, “Christ was the stone the builders rejected,” a stone that became an obstacle. I’ve always thought this had to do with stubbornness turning down a perfectly good stone (because obviously the Son of God would be a perfect stone!) just because they knew it was new and not old or traditional.

But I wonder, why does a builder reject a stone?

I’m no mason, but I’m guessing that people who build walls are pretty practical – if you’re building a brick wall, you’re going to need a pretty uniformly shaped and sized object to make the cut and be incorporated into the wall. So, why would the builders reject Jesus?

I have this mental image of masons picking up a round river stone, or a jagged remnant, or a perfectly cut but hexagonal stone and just knowing, without even having to think about it, that this kind of stone just won’t work in their kind of wall.

It strikes me that this Jesus, who declared himself to be a Way, probably isn’t any more excited about being a wall or a building than he was about being a rule or a doctrine. If Jesus is going to be the cornerstone of some kind of building’s foundation, it’s going to be some crazy kind of wall, the likes of which you’ve never seen before, or it’s going to be the cornerstone of a whole different way of organizing rocks for some useful purpose that’s not going to look anything like a wall at all.

So I got to thinking, if we’re supposed to be precious and living stones, aligned in some purpose with Christ as cornerstone, what might it look like? I’m sure there’s a powerful sermon to be preached about how we make up the walls of the historic church in which we keep our beloved traditions safe. There’s much I’m grateful the church has preserved, but my gut says that there’s some amazing other ways to be living stones in this life and in this world.

The passage said that Jesus was often an obstacle that tripped people up. I’m guessing we can all think of ways that being living obstacles in the path of some kind of destruction or violence would be acts of incredible faithfulness.

As I was trying to think outside the box of ways Jesus might have hoped we’d be living stones in homage to him, I thought of two stories. The first is from an unlikely source – the old TV show, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”[2]

You can tell by the title that it’s a show that isn’t afraid to laugh at itself.

For seven seasons, every show began with a campy voiceover, saying: “In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone must stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.”

It’s a major theme in the show: Buffy, the teenage protagonist’s struggle with her chosen-ness — the gift and the burden of being a savior, of being able to do what no one else can. In the finale of the show, (I’m trusting it’s not a spoiler if you give away the ending of a show that’s been off the air for over a decade, right?) Buffy and her friends are up against a greater danger than ever and she knows that she, alone, is not going to be enough this time. As she and her friends wrack their brains for a way through the impossible, Buffy has an epiphany. She comes up with a way to break the spell that made her, and all the slayers before her, special. She challenges the assumption that there can only be one Slayer. And through some unlikely television-plot antics, she’s able to unleash her powers, so that every girl who could have been a slayer, was a slayer. It’s a divine and feminist and loaves-and-fishes move if there ever was one – refusing to accept that there’s only enough for one.

In the same way a parent finds out instantly at the birth of their second child that their love isn’t a finite sum of which each child gets a portion. No, suddenly, you’re completely, equally, in love with another at no loss to the first. Love simply, naturally, automatically expands to encompass the new one.

What Buffy realizes is that the contrivance was that someone once convinced everyone that only one person should have the power she had. She restored the order of things by making it available to everyone. It was no miracle that all should have what she had — it was a sin that all had been excluded from it until then.

You might be wondering what this has to do with Jesus and living stones, but I think it’s an inspiring version of what can happen when you think outside the box.

I tend to think that a huge part of the message of God showing up as a human is to remind us that we can participate in great love. What if we thought not just, how can we be stones who file in an orderly and stable manner into a wall built upon Jesus as the cornerstone, whom we’ve conveniently mortared into place to justify the building of whatever structure? What if we instead thought, “how can we come to life wherever we are? How can we be inspired and infused with the Love of Christ – to be obstacles, or building blocks, or simply rocks that cry out when a need presents itself, in whatever way the kind of rock we are is suited to?

I think God longs for us to realize that we can be powerful conduits and forces of Love in this world — that most of the discernible differences in life happen in the care and concern of one ordinary person reaching out to another ordinary person. There are extraordinary people with seemingly extraordinary gifts who can make extraordinary contributions from time to time, often based largely on where they find themselves. Great tales are told of them, for good reason.

But most of life happens on the micro level, not the macro. And the more we can claim ourselves as worthy vessels of Love, the more Christ there will be in the world.

In closing, I’ll share the other story I thought of in light of being living stones in the Way of Christ, the rejected rock. This one is the story of a movement called “Love Rocks!”[3] This is a true story. Less than a year ago, two little girls near Portland Oregon were killed in a senseless car accident. Abby and Anna are their names. Their parents, Susan and Tom, struggled to come up with some way of reclaiming the lives of their daughters, so that their names would not only bring sorrow and pain, but also joy and comfort.

They remembered that on Susan and Tom’s wedding day, their daughters Anna and Abby, who became step-sisters that day, had made “love rocks” for their parents as gifts. These were rocks with a heart and a loving message painted on them. Remembering these gifts, Susan and Tom decided to make love rocks in the spirit of their creative and loving daughters. They take river rocks and Mod Podge hearts onto them and give them to people who might need a smile or affirmation. Susan always has a bag in her car, and a handful in her purse, ready to give away.

Mostly, they give them anonymously, though, hiding them on doorsteps or windowsills or tucking them in unexpected places, to inspire joy to strangers who might (and goodness, don’t we all???) need some cheer, or a reminder of love when it feels none too clear. For the vast majority of the Love Rocks they put into circulation, they have no idea who the recipient will be.

Abby and Anna’s family hopes that Love Rocks will catch on — that their daughters’ lives will be known for these tokens of homemade, heartfelt love, rather than for the tragic story of their deaths. But they’re also acutely aware of the power of a loving gesture themselves — the power of the reminder of love in unexpected places and dark times. They experienced it themselves in the outpouring of love and support from their own community following the girls’ deaths. In their small town community, Love Rocks have caught on.

It seems to me another beautiful token of Easter — love breaking through the cracks of something broken; life coming from death. Yet another way to make/be living stones; another Way; a very different wall being built by the power of many hands and much love, one living, loving stone at a time.

May love rock! Amen.


[1] I had the great privilege, during seminary, of studying under Dr Thomas Thangaraj, a theologian from southern India, who is very passionate both about non-western Christianity, and about ecumenism and interfaith respect and dialogue. Although I cannot give justice to his words here, I must give him credit. He preached whenever he could on this John 14 text, trying to provide a countering voice to the exclusivism it usually supports.

[2] Created by Joss Whedon, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” aired from 1997-2003; the finale, “Chosen,” aired on May 20, 2003.

[3] Susan Dieter-Robinson — http://love-drenched-life.com/love-rocks/

 

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