Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on May 7, 2023

Posted by on Sun, May 7, 2023 in Easter, Sermons

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 7, 2023

Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) had just made his first set of plans for the restoration of St. Paul’s Cathedral when one week later the Great Fire of London destroyed more than half the city, along with St. Paul’s. He became the architect for the ‘new’ building which took ten years to plan and another 40 years to complete. Wren visited the Isle of Portland, known for it’s remarkably hard stone, yet strangely easy to cut, and which was used for buildings all over the world. As an architect and master builder, Wren went to the quarries himself to look for the stone, knowing just what he needed for all of the various parts of the cathedral. As he walked along Wren marked specific stones for which purpose and location he intended or needed them for. (Hold this in mind, because stones feature throughout our readings today.)

In our psalm we hear “Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for you are my crag and my stronghold; for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.” The words comfort amidst uncertainty and persecution. The psalmist trusts God’s steadfastness, “In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge … Incline your ear to me; make haste to deliver me.” And finally having cried out for help, he calms and makes one more prayerful request; “Make your face to shine upon your servant, and in your loving-kindness save me.”

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear how Stephen, by then a deacon of the early church, is stoned to death for defending his faith. Among those wielding the rocks is the man we will come to know as St. Paul of Tarsus, who was called Saul before his conversion. As they were casting stones Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And then in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Stephen’s unshakable faith to the very end is far stronger than any of those raining rocks down on him.

Our epistle is from Peter, whom Jesus named ‘Rock’ (Petros in Greek), and he reflects on Christ as the living cornerstone, and ourselves living stones as well. Writing to (most likely) Gentile Christians in what is now Turkey, he says, “Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Peter’s original readers would have once worshiped idols carved from stone — lifeless, powerless on their own. Is Peter calling out the comparison between those stone idols and the living Christ, living stone? For Peter, Christ’s church is built of many into one spiritual house.

One spiritual house, one community—it’s always about community with Christ. For all of the talk of stones it still not about the literal building but about the spiritual one, the gathered body in his name. Jesus tells us we get there through him, he is the way, the truth and the life. How? Many of us use GPS apps on our phones as a marvelously helpful combination of a map and electronic voices directing us to our destination. Until you’re out of range or out of power. Then it’s trying to recall how many rights and lefts, miles or blocks. When my mum’s dementia was getting worse she got lost on an errand, and was determined not to have to tell us. She’d driven there many times and that day couldn’t find her way home. So she turned on the cell phone (we’d pestered her into but was never on) and called a cab, though not to give her a ride home—giving the driver her address she asked him to drive there very slowly so that she could follow him to her home. Neither verbal directions nor driving her would’ve helped her find her way. That cabbie might be surprised to hear himself as the Jesus figure here, but that’s what Jesus does; he leads us himself! Jesus could have pointed and said ‘that way to the Father’ but instead he goes there himself before us. “How can we know the way?” Peter asks. Then Philip; “Lord, show us the Father.” Twice Jesus repeats, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” and thereby Jesus himself is the pathway, the way. 

It is Resurrection lesson in this Easter season, and one of the most frequently chosen readings for funerals as well — for the same reason; it is a comfort and promise for us and for those we love and miss who have gone. Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Follow me and I’ll lead you home, he says. We are reassured in our fear, trusting him to have gone before us. One can follow Jesus even if we don’t know the way, if we struggle with the ‘where’ part, and are oftentimes unsure. 

He says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” 

Many dwelling places, where Christ welcomes the Thomas’ and Peters and Philips of this world, the Nicodemus’ and Mary Magdalenes, the Samaritan woman, Marthas, Marys, and the endless variety of all of us. We are called to follow; there is room for all of us on his way, and we need not fit some prescribed holy ideal. There is no one right way to be a Christian, no highly rated Amazon kit to buy so we all look like perfect followers of Jesus. 

We are called to be living stones, each unique, each chosen for oneself, and as such we honor God’s creation of us. What sort of cathedral might it be if we were all the same? When I read about Christopher Wren marking those stones I can’t help but hear the end of our Baptismal rite, when the Bishop or Priest takes the oil and makes the sign of the cross on the forehead, saying to us by name, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.” Marked with a cross, as Christ’s own for ever. It is the Resurrection truth and life, signed yet again.

How might we picture ourselves as marked by love, known by him, called by him? Ask me to describe myself and I might list as many things I don’t like about myself as ones I do—maybe more. How we see ourselves is an accumulation of our experiences, good and not so good. How God sees us is as beloved children, a perfectly created gift with all of what we need to answer Christ’s call. I’m probably not alone in wishing I was more this or that, better or smarter, stronger, wiser, more adept, with different gifts or talents. Yet this is who God made us to be and it is our call to take our God-made, God-purposed, God-marked self and follow Christ. How do you suppose he would describe you? Can you describe yourself in those loving ways? They say preachers sometimes preach the sermons they need to hear themselves; that’s me today, and perhaps you’ve heard something of yourself in this too. 

In the three remaining weeks of Eastertide I have a request; pray, giving thanks to God for the unique creation you are, for the living stone with a special purpose, with special gifts only you can bring in answer to God’s call. Give thanks for being blessed and marked as Christ’s own forever just as you are, because he has need of you. Give thanks for being, as Peter says. “chosen and precious in God’s sight.” 

Each of us are a living stone marked for a purpose in this church, the great and beautiful spiritual cathedral of Christendom. Watching images of Westminster Abbey yesterday reminded me of the vast number of stones in all different shapes which go into building such a holy but earthly place. How much more are we as living stones needed to build the spiritual house in all it’s glory? Can we use the metaphor to appreciate what God has created in us? Are you a keystone in an archway, a stair tread, buttress, threshold? Perhaps the sill stone holding steady the stained glass or lintel protecting it? The stones holding fast shoulder to shoulder connected for an enduring and secure wall, one solid under the feet of the faithful and the faithless alike, or perhaps a stone of the steeple’s rising? Imagine, and give thanks. Much as we may love this earthly home, our lives, families, communities, we know we don’t get to stay in it forever; this is not the last of our life nor does our love stop here. We are en route to what Jesus called his Father’s house with many rooms or dwelling places. So Jesus speaks of this life knowing it is part of our greater spiritual odyssey; a passage or crossing which we entered by birth and will leave by death, yet that is not the end. Jesus said “I am the way” —and by his life, death, and resurrection, he shows us the way to home.

© 2023 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

Post will be removed at 10:30 AM on Wed., May. 7, 2025.