Sermons

To Build and To Bless; Rev. Dee Ledger, November 7, 2021

Years ago, when Frank and I traveled to Jerusalem, one of the places that we visited was the Western Wall, also known as the Kotel.  The Western Wall is one of the only remaining parts of the Jewish Second Temple, which was renovated and expanded by King Herod around 37 BCE.  Parts of the wall are over 2000 years old.  The Western Wall is considered special because this wall was closest to the Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the temple.  And it is special to Christians because Jesus knew both the temple and the stones with which it was constructed.

Historically, the Western Wall has been a place of prayer and reverence.  It is also an architectural wonder given the time in which it was built.  The average stone weighs between 2 and 8 tons, though some stones certainly weigh more.  Constructed of limestone, these massive stones were carefully quarried and set into place using what would seem to us to be prehistoric methods: a series of pulleys, wheels, and logs, manual cranes, as well as vast amounts of human and animal labor.  Interestingly, you will find no mortar between these stones; their substantial weight alone held them together.

Between the cracks and crevices of these huge stones are the countless prayers of pilgrims, including the prayers that my husband and I took along on our trip from our two churches at the time.  Birds nest and sing in the small gaps along the stones, and, in some areas, higher up, small plants and moss reach out to the observer and cascade down the temple sides.

These temple stones are living stones, alive with the prayers, the promises, and the deep passions of a people.  An Israeli song observes,

The Kotel – moss and sadness. The Kotel – lead and blood. There are people with hearts of stone; there are stones with human hearts.” [1] These temple stones have human hearts.

In scripture, the man known as Peter also talks about stones with human hearts.  He commands, “Come to [Jesus], a living stone…and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…” (1 Peter 2:4-5). We are to be living stones, gathered around the living Christ, the cornerstone and foundation of our faith.  All of our stones together form a spiritual house—the metaphysical place where our prayers and our hopes for this world meet and are met, shaped by God.

To allow ourselves to be built into this spiritual house means that we are not simply residents; we are not passive recipients; we are not watching the current episode of thy kingdom come on Netflix or AmazonPrime, disengaged from community.  And yet, we are also not the primary, or principal actors.  We are actually a people acted upon.  We offer ourselves to be quarried and chiseled, shaped and fitted together by God’s own hand and hopes.

Of course, we do realize, don’t we, that we are not just talking about temples of the past, or churches of the present, but a kind of spiritual dwelling—that we create together, which, in turn, creates our future?  In our psalm, we hear:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
  those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
    the guard keeps watch in vain.

Are we letting our Lord, our Jesus, and our God build our souls internally and externally?  Are we brave enough and bold enough to get out of the Master Architect’s way and hand over the blueprints to the One who has been imprinted on our souls since the beginning of time?

Our role is to be open enough, receptive and wise enough to let the Holy Spirit do with us what the Holy Spirit deems necessary.  We need to surrender ourselves to that holy movement, and commit ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s direction.  If we are the least bit a control freak, then we need to listen deeply and let go a little.  The Holy Spirit is the project manager, God is the architect, and Jesus is the blueprint that lays himself as both foundation, cornerstone, and capstone.  We are God’s building blocks.  God directs the work, using our best participation,  our loving presence, and yes, our deep passion.

A while back, Israeli archaeologists found what they believe to be the quarry where the stones from the Temple were retrieved.  There are a few quarries found near Jerusalem, but this quarry appeared to have stones that matched the massive size of the Temple stones.  Have you considered where our own “living stones” come from, the members and friends of this church?

We come from places near and far, from places and times virtual and analog, from circumstances and stories as varied as our living itself.  We are a diverse group—brought to this place to become a new reality for one another in God and with God.  We are not simply to be here for ourselves; we are to be here for others, one living stone placed together with another, and another, and another…

A story:

A woman of immense wealth dreamed he went to heaven and was met by the angel Gabriel, who proceeded to give her a tour of the celestial city. First, she saw a palatial estate that belonged to her former maid. Then Gabriel showed her a mansion, where her former chauffeur lived. Finally, Gabriel gave her a sneak preview of her home – a shack in the back of the maid’s palace.
Taken aback, the woman protested: But I lived in a palace on earth!

The angel Gabriel replied, I’m sorry. This is the best we could do with the material you sent up.[2]

What kind of material are you “sending up”?  Does God receive your best or the leftovers of your consideration and attention?  Even so, God wants all of You, even the parts of you that you think are imperfect, worthless, or meager.   If that’s all you’ve got, send it up—but if your only sending leftovers of your love, your praise, and your heart, don’t be surprised if there are “gaps” that need a bit of work to stand the test of time.  Here’s the wonder:  God can work a miracle with whatever “best” we offer; our amazing God can call forth our best for God’s purposes to behold.

Here are Peter’s words: “Be a holy priesthood…and offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ.”  And these are mine:  Let your stone be a living stone, not dead weight.  Let all of your prayers, all your messiness, and all your passion be laid down for the one who gave his heart and his very life to us first.  Let your temple be his Temple, let your stones of living faith be gathered by the One who gathers us all.

In another week, we will be offering ourselves, pledging our time, talent, gifts, and prayers and laying them all upon the foundation of this church, one stone upon another to create something of which we only have a glimpse.  Like the Western Wall, we do this with the trust that our living faith will continue to be a blessing, to meet needs we cannot even see nor fathom, and to be living testimony that, with God, we do not need to see the end in order to make a beginning here and now.  Let us continue what Jesus once began, what our ancestors continued, and what our beneficent God will bring to completion.

Amen.
 

 

 

[1] Yossi Gamzu

[2] http://homileticsonline.com