"Christ the Cornerstone"      Ephesians 2: 11-22             July 19, 2009

"So we are no longer strangers and aliens, but we are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is jointed together and grown into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom we also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God." (vs.19-20)      
 
A cornerstone is laid at the beginning, in the foundation of a building. You build everything else upon this one cornerstone. And the letter to the Ephesians, using an architectural metaphor, says that Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church.
 
Everything is built upon him. More to the point of Ephesians, a cornerstone is where two intersecting walls meet. In Christ, the walls between Jew and Gentile have been pulled down, and now the two meet in the cornerstone, Jesus.
 
The "dividing wall" referred to draws its symbolic power from the temple wall that separated the court of the Gentiles from the "Jews only" inner courts. Since God was believed to abide only in the inner "holy of holies" of the temple, this meant in essence that the Gentiles were also walled off from God.
 
The Rev. Dr. William Willimon, Chapel Dean and Professor at Duke University builds on the cornerstone metaphor:
"Now at the Chapel at Duke, where I usually preach, the chapel is built in the style of true gothic buildings, with no structural steel, with each stone resting upon stone in the fashion of true medieval architecture. High above the crossing there is something that's called a capstone.
All the soaring arches thrust their weight upward and meet right up there in the center at the capstone. If that capstone, which I’m told weighs over a ton, were removed, the whole building would collapse. To expand Ephesians’ architectural metaphor, if you were to remove Jesus, the capstone of the whole Church, it would collapse."
Dr. Willimon continues, "Awhile back I traveled across the state to speak to a big gathering of clergy. I took a Duke student with me who was thinking about going to seminary. Our meeting began with worship and then I spoke."
 
Now, on the drive back home the student said, "Ah, did you note that, if it hadn't been for your sermon, Jesus' name was never mentioned in that whole worship service?"
 
"Really?" I said. It was true. The prayers and contemporary hymns all talked about "God," then talked about the Creator, the Redeemer, and so on, but they never actually mentioned Jesus.
 
(Now) why is that? Well, that way we can make God over into anything we like if we don’t have to deal with Jesus.
 
Having been made in the image of God, we human beings have, ever since, been attempting to return the favor, making up gods in various images of ourselves. So we make God large, and big, and vague.
 
But then there comes Jesus. Jesus, with his nasty little specifics and peculiar particulars. Jesus, who is not as pliable as we would sometimes have him to be.
 
You know, sometimes folk say: "Well, look, after all, I may be Buddhist, you may be Christian, somebody else is Moslem, but the important thing is that we all believe in God, right?"
Wrong. That's not what Scripture tells us.
 
Christians are those who believe that when we look at this Jew from first century Nazareth, we see as much of God as we ever hope to see. We believe that when he looks at us, he sees us as we really are. Our life is known only in his light. So the whole Church, your faith, your relationship to God rests upon this foundation, this cornerstone. All the upward thrust of our spiritual aspirations meet at this capstone.
 
Jesus is the content of Christian character. The words and deeds of Jesus determine the contours of this faith, the parameters of our life together, the substance of what we believe and who, by his grace, we hope to become.
 
Without those troublesome particularities of Jesus Christ and him crucified, what we call "spirituality" sometimes just fills with hot air and floats off into never-never-land, never touching ground anywhere, never making demands upon us.
 
Though sometimes we Christians wish we knew more about Jesus, more of what he said, more of what he did, I tell you, there are times when we wish we knew less!
 
You can worship Jesus as the Son of God,
                                    or you can reject Jesus as irrelevant,
                                            but you can not make Jesus over into anything you like.
 
To be a Christian is to be about Christ, listening to Jesus, judging ourselves by him, asking for the grace to see him more clearly and follow him more nearly. But without him as that cornerstone, the very capstone of what we're about, then church degenerates into a kind of sanctimonious form of Rotary, and at least Rotary meets at a convenient hour of the week and serves lunch!
 
Without the presence of the living Christ, well, what’s the point? The whole thing collapses into a mess of rather uninteresting musings on things eternal and vaguely spiritual. Why bother?
But the Christian community, the church, is not a social club. It is much, much more. The congregation is a laboratory for the kingdom of God.
 
"We are all family, and no one is to be treated as a stranger or alien. Differences in race, class, gender, economic condition, politics, and opinion exist, but they are not barriers to living in unity in Christ. The congregation is a laboratory for the kingdom of God." ( CommentaryArland J. Hultgren, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009. ), Ephesians 2:11-22,
 
In a TV show about Jesus, some time back, with Peter Jennings and a Professor N.T. Wright, Jennings asked Wright about the possibility of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Prof. Wright pointed, as evidence, to us, the Church. If you don’t believe that God vindicated Jesus, his life, his teaching, by raising him from the dead, well then how do you explain us, the Church?
 
Lots of great teachers left us some great books, a gaggle of admirers, but who left us something like the Church? We believe in the resurrected Christ, said Professor Wright, because we keep meeting him—in word and in worship on Sunday, in those dark nights when we cry out in misery for help and he is there.
 
"The new temple is no building at all. It is a much more fragile structure, a much less dependable structure. It is made of the likes of us. We, you and I, are God's temple! What an astounding thought! We are the dwelling place of God!" ( "When the Walls Come Tumbling Down: Ephesians 2:11-22,"Walter B. Shurden, Baptist History and Heritage, 2005. )
 
Christ Jesus, the capstone, the cornerstone, the very point of it all. He is the church’s one foundation. We grope with mere words to say what he means to us and to the world.
We come to him because he keeps coming to us, he keeps giving himself to us, that we might more freely give ourselves to him and his way, his narrow way, that leads to life.
Jesus himself is the cornerstone. Amen.
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
 
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