"Our Cornerstone," Rev. Fred KInsey
Peter and John, and all the disciples, were building their lives anew, in Jerusalem. Jesus had told them to wait there, the day he ascended to the clouds, and they would receive a ‘new’ kind of power. And after Pentecost, it started to come together. They had built their lives on following Jesus, during his life. But what were they to build their lives on, after he died and was raised, and on the 40th day, ascended to God’s right hand?
In our reading from, The Acts of the Apostles, today, we see Peter and John filled with a new confidence in their building project. A confidence they never quite had with Jesus, in the flesh.
Sometimes, they had asked for power, like when John and James, the sons of Zebedee, who were once part of the family fishing business, asked for special places, to sit, one on either side of Jesus, in the kingdom to come; in their visions of that victorious Davidic kingdom!
Peter had confidence too when he correctly named Jesus as the Messiah, in the midst of that swanky Roman resort town, on their northern border. But all those moments of braggadocio, were short lived, as Jesus necessarily, and decisively, dashed their hopes, and corrected their false expectations. All their dreams of being on easy street, becoming royalty and princes in a Davidic Shepherd-King monarchy were misplaced.
Jesus didn’t even try, really, to let them down easy, but told them boldly, and directly, that these were visions of earthly kingdoms, built on faulty foundations. Yes, they would learn more of the heavenly built kingdom if they continued to follow Jesus. But they should know, his, was a servant-based model. A kingdom and realm that challenged the earthly powers, built on human-made power, with the subversive power of God, built on communities of justice and love, and constructed in solidarity and faithfulness, with communal banquets for the poor, the humble and meek.
John and Peter, once they received Jesus’ Spirit at Pentecost, the spirit of life, in this alternative, sharing, prophetic movement, spoke in a new way, now, says the writer of Acts. They spoke, boldly! Nothing enrages the earthly powers more than bold prophetic speaking, especially when it stirs up, and ignites, God’s people; when it, gives them, hope!
Take Alexi Navalny! He knew full well when he returned to Russia he would be arrested and thrown into jail. Even though it was the Kremlin who tried to assassinate him by poisoning, not too long ago. But because Navalny speaks boldly against the sins of Putin, against his falsely earned riches and the Herod-like power he wields, nothing could be more challenging. Bold speech aimed in the right direction, can have the power of creation itself.
And Navalny is not only popular at home but around the world. His spirit, is much greater, than his fleshly existence. As soon as he walked off his Lufthansa flight, he was arrested and put in a Soviet jail, and apparently, they are trying to poison him again, in there. But world pressure has come to his rescue, at least for the time being. Death and resurrection, takes many forms.
Peter and John are thrown into jail for speaking boldly about the power of, resurrection, forgiveness, and new life; and because all the people of Jerusalem were listening and thousands believed. And the people believed, because, Peter and John healed a man that couldn’t walk, like Jesus had done.
It was late in the day when they were arrested, so the authorities waited until the morning to bring them before the high court, and they asked Peter and John, not about resurrection, but about what power, what name, did they use to do this healing? Because first of all, they couldn’t believe that Peter and John were speaking so well, so boldly, knowing that they were “uneducated and ordinary men.” And secondly, where did they get this power, a power that was so very threatening to the high courts’ existence. This was an ‘existential problem’ for the priests.
But the power, “the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,” the crucified and raised one, Peter, was happy to tell them! If it were, you and I, we might think we were being more crafty, if we didn’t say that, so, directly. We might realize how it could get us in trouble in that situation – you know, if we spoke too boldly. But Peter knew what he was doing. He knew it was an existential problem, and that it could cost him. He didn’t do it foolishly, but confidently. Boldly, as a new servant-leader. This name of Jesus, this power of Jesus, his Spirit, his gift and promise of resurrection for all, was so much greater than any threat, from the offended, confused, high court, that Peter was happy to talk about it, all day long.
And so he did, inspired now, quoting Psalm 118: “this Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders’…” that is, the high court that Jesus had roundly criticized for its worldly thinking and hypocrisy – the same rulers who were caretakers of the temple building. And, “this stone that you rejected,” said Peter, still singing from his Psalm book, “has become the cornerstone,” a new foundation of a living building, the one by whom all “mortals,” of every nation, may find healing and salvation.
And here, the high court had thought, in rejecting him, that they had saved their jobs and positions. But now, the crucified one was clearly back, in a whole new form. The spirit of Jesus had risen and taken residence in his disciples, and thousands of followers.
So, Peter and John were, once again, following their Master and Lord. Only now, finally, it was in spirit and truth, not with eyes closed, but with new eyes altogether, fixed on the for-real prize. Peter and John were building their house, their lives, on the cornerstone, the cornerstone that they too, had rejected, not too many days before.
Yet, that’s how they knew to, share the good news, to invite others, boldly – these priests included. For like them, Peter and John had mistaken Jesus for a rival political power, but they had come to find, that the true Messiah was a cornerstone of a whole new building, of a new power rarely seen on earth, because its origin was from the heavenly realm, the Lord of Life – one who didn’t need to be in rivalry with anyone, or anything, else.
Jesus is the stone that is a stumbling block for so many, who exposes false earthly-powers, but who is also at the same time, the foundation of a new temple, whose stones cannot be thrown down – a new spiritual construction that has no ending. Jesus is that new cornerstone, that new temple. If we follow, we build our lives on this crucified Messiah, the Savior of the world.
For Peter and John, it was existential too. It was life and death. The authorities of this world could order them, to be crucified too, but Peter and John rested in the promise of, life in the new age, the promised resurrection that was already holding them up, and sustaining them every minute, of every day; the foundation and cornerstone that was their rock and their salvation; the new temple that they rejoiced in, and at whose feet they worshipped, and who they could talk about, without end.
Let us build our lives on the sure foundation, the stone that is so often rejected, but which God has made the cornerstone of our very existence. The foundation that holds us up, and lives and breathes, everywhere we go. Jesus Christ of Nazareth, our life and our salvation.