Sermon at Christ Episcopal Church in Pontre Vedra Beach, Florida
You have probably read about the Lambeth Conference and heard about it from Bishop Howard. Most of the bishops who attended went to England or elsewhere in the British Isles for a few days before Lambeth started. Each one was invited to visit a local diocese, meet the bishop(s) and have an opportunity to learn something about the churchâs life in that place. I was in Salisbury, England, together with the bishops from the Sudan, for there is a long-standing companion relationship between the Province of Sudan and the Diocese of Salisbury.
The major occasion of our visit was the 750th anniversary of the Cathedral of Salisbury â their new cathedral. On the Saturday we were there, we visited the site of the old cathedral near an old hill fort outside of town, and then walked in procession a couple of miles into the middle of the city of Salisbury. We ended at the west wall of the cathedral, where a statue of a Sudanese saint and martyr was dedicated and placed in a niche. Canon Ezra was killed in a crossfire during the Civil War in Sudan, on Good Friday in 1991.
That massive cathedral in Salisbury is built on the flood plain of the local river, which waters vast expanses of meadows that provide grazing and have supported the townâs economy for centuries. The cathedral was built over many decades, and a massive spire or tower was added a good deal later. By happy accident, rather than intentional design, the spire was built over the only place that has a deep enough bed of gravel to support its weight. If it had been built at either end of the massive cathedral, rather than in the center, it would have collapsed long ago.
What kind of foundation lies under your church? Around here there probably isnât much river gravel, and certainly no granitic bedrock. Itâs more likely to be sand, or mudstone, or a fragile kind of limestone. The leaders here had a lot of gumption to build a new and heavy building on such a light foundation. But if you think about it, your courage to lay this foundation comes from the living stones in this community, the ones that have built a sold foundation over the last 57 years. When those stones are linked together they can produce a deep and abiding anchor for this community, and their rootedness in the bedrock of Christ gives them the strength and vigor to support your boldness.
When Jesus tells Simon Peter that he will be the rock foundation of the church, itâs said with great irony, for he has seen Simon waver, sink when he tries to walk the waves, and launch off on wild goose chases. Peter even runs off in the ultimate crisis of the great drama of the passion. Yet it is of wobbly stones such as he that the church builds its human foundations. Yes, Peter does turn out to be one of the foundation stones, and so do Paul and Mary Magdalene, and the other apostles, and the saints both named and unnamed. Each one, as rocky as we may be, contributes to the strength of the foundation when we are linked together and when we are rooted in or well cemented to the bedrock.
When Jesus asks his students what people are saying about him, heâs inquiring about that connection to the deep foundation, the ultimate bedrock of God, God who was before there was rock. Peter responds that he is the anointed one and human son of the living God. Well, who do you say that Jesus is? Is he the human and divine bridge to the eternal reality we call God? In a very real sense, Jesus is our cementing connection to the bedrock of the living God. Like this building you dedicate and celebrate today, the community it serves and supports can only stand tall and strong if itâs well anchored. Like living plants, and the vine of which we are a part, that foundation gives support and orientation â it keeps us turning toward the sun/son, both the light which is not overcome by darkness and the son of the living God.
This foundation through Jesus to God, is a starting place, roots if you will, that can support and nourish. Yet our connection to the bedrock is not supposed to keep us so fixed or fixated on one place that we cannot go and grow into the world of Godâs creation. In other words, we are not meant to spend our lives stuck here. This building is a tool, not the fullness of the Reign of God. The ministry that is all of ours by virtue of our baptism is meant to draw us into the wider world, offering others the ability to connect to the same foundation. The surprising discovery offered here is that rootedness in God is possible everywhere â when we carry that foundational connection with us and within us.
That foundation is meant to set us free, free from the prisons of fear and scarcity and worry that our neighbor is out to get us or steal from us. That bedrock connection is strengthened as we know ourselves beloved of God, created to bless the world around us. That is indeed what forgiven means â that we have been set free to recognize that weâve been created in the image of God and âgiven forâ the world, to love God and our neighbors as ourselves, and that nothing can separate us from that love and our welcome into the presence of God.
Weâre meant to be living stones that can help to build that connection for others. I was with the Bishop of Jerusalem yesterday, and he spoke repeatedly about the image of Christians being living stones in the land of the Holy One. Weâre also meant to be stones like that, stones who can serve to connect and reconcile the world to God.
There was a small news item in the paper I read this morning, that told of a woman stoned to death in Somalia. She was a victim of rape, but she was charged with adultery and put to death by burying her up to the neck in the earth and then pelting her with rocks. Jesus met a woman like that and he delivered her. He loosed her bonds on this earth and set her free to be a living stone for others. Where were the living stones in Somalia? Where are the living stones around here who can loose people for more abundant life?
And yet, it may be that her death, and Canon Ezraâs death, and the deaths of others like them around the world, can become rocks on which to stumble or stub our toes, to bring us up short and remind us that Godâs work is not finished and needs our participation. In Godâs economy, nothing is eternally lost. Peter became a foundation stone, even though his ability to follow through on his intentions was pretty unpredictable. The lonely injustice of the death of a woman in Somalia or a catechist in Sudan reflects the lonely and unjust death of Jesus on the cross. We claim that God is always working resurrection, but we wonât find it unless we claim the possibility, unless we search with urgent eyes. The living stones are meant to cry out for a healed world where no one dies an untimely or unjust death, where no one is consigned to a prison of hunger, fear, or oppression, where together we can build up a spiritual house that may eventually become the City of God.
Will we stones be instruments of death or instruments of life? Living stones, connected to the bedrock through Jesus, are able to set people free for life. That is what weâve been bound together in the Body of Christ to do. This beautiful worship space and the vibrant community here are meant to grow stones that will roll on out there and set Godâs people free. May God continue to build a deep and strong foundation here, and set us all free to do his work in the name of Christ.