Stoned, Stoners, and Stones
May 17, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
John 14:1-14 Acts 7:55-60 1 Peter 2:2-10
Growing up in the 70’s and going to high school in the 80’s, we were surrounded by references to “stoner” culture even if we chose not to participate in it. Bob Dylan sang that “Everybody must get stoned,” people tried to be cool by owning a copy of High Times magazine, most of my friends could usually quote lines from Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke” movie and just about everyone was familiar with Bob Marley’s Jamaican flavored Reggae music.
That explains the first part of today’s sermon title, “Stoned” and “Stoners” and, for my generation, the third one “The Stones” is simply Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood, better know collectively as, the Rolling Stones.
And, while those are the meanings that my generation would automatically assume for those three words, the meaning of those words in scripture, and what they meant to the writers of the New Testament, is entirely different. But before we get to that, we need to understand the background behind the story of John 14:1-14, where we find the disciples of Jesus are upset because Jesus told them that he is leaving. They do not understand where he is going and, since they have walked side-by-side with him for the last three years, they don’t understand why they can’t go with him this time. And so, Jesus explains it this way:
14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
First, as his followers, Jesus has a powerful message for each one of us and that is, there is a place for you. Let me say that again.
There IS a place for you.
For everyone who has ever felt like a misfit, or has felt like an outcast, or an outsider, or like they were left out, or forgotten, or not good enough, or not pretty or handsome enough, or not smart enough, or rich enough, or old enough, or young enough, or however that you have felt that you were somehow just not… enough, Jesus wants you to know that there is a place for you. Jesus promises his disciples, and us, that he will come back so that he can take us to the place that he is, even now, preparing for us.
But despite Jesus’ assurances, and despite his promise to return and take them with him, the disciples persist in their worrying. Thomas wonders how they can go to this place if they don’t know the way, but again, Jesus explains that he is the way. For most of us, that makes sense. If we get in the car with a friend who is driving us to a place we have never been, we trust that, since they have been there before, that they can get us there. When we get on a cruise ship, or an airplane, we have no idea how ships and airplanes work, or how to pilot them, or steer them, or how to get from where we are to where we want to go. But we trust that the pilot, the captain, and the navigator know those things. If we can trust them to know the way, surely, we can trust Jesus. If we know Jesus, that is enough.
But while this has enormous implications for us as we struggle to feel comfortable in our own skin, why is this important? What difference does it make if we believe Jesus and trust that there is a place for us?
First, it makes a difference in our decision-making process and in how we live our lives. In Acts 7:55-60 we hear the story of Stephen, one of the earliest followers of Jesus that we know outside of the disciples. Stephen was a powerful preacher and was becoming well-known for the signs and wonders that he was able to perform in the name of Jesus. And so, like Jesus, his popularity began to threaten the religious leaders of Jerusalem and they trumped up charges against him and called in some false witnesses against him. But, rather than being intimidated by them, rather than backing down, when Stephen was given the opportunity to speak, he gave a scripture lesson to a room full of religious scholars and in it, he mercilessly rebuked them for resisting God, ignoring the teaching of scripture, and for their conspiracy to kill both John the Baptist and Jesus.
This did not go well. The temple leaders were not pleased.
55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Simply put, the example that we are given in this story, is that because Stephen knew Jesus, and because he trusted Jesus, he had the confidence, and the courage, to do whatever God called him to do, and to say whatever needed to be said, regardless of the cost of doing so. And, even as he was being stoned to death, Stephen prayed for the forgiveness of his murderers. But we still might be tempted to say that Stephen was special. That there was something about him that was different than each of us, and that we could never preach, or do miracles, or performs signs and wonders.
But that isn’t what Peter says and it isn’t what Jesus said. You’ll remember that in the passage from John 14 that we read earlier, Jesus said that the power of Jesus was not his power, but the power of the Father, living in him, that was doing the work. And, in 1 Peter 2:2-10, Peter also explains that the thing that gave Stephen the power and the courage to do what he did, is the same thing, the same Father, that lives in each one of us. He says, …
2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
In our earlier story, we discovered that the religious leaders were, literally, the stoners, and Stephen was, again, literally stoned. But in this passage, we discover that rather that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, we are “The Stones.” Peter says that Jesus is the “living stone” but we also are like living stones because Jesus is using us, building us, into a spiritual house. We are being shaped, developed, and built up, so that we can be a holy priesthood, and offer spiritual sacrifices to God.
Peter reminds us that Jesus was the living stone, and was chosen, by God, to be the cornerstone of his church, but the builders, the church leaders of Israel, rejected Jesus. They stumbled over him because they could neither accept him nor his message. For them, accepting him meant that they would have to change. But because they disobeyed, God chose us as his people, and is making us into his royal priesthood and a holy nation. We belong to God so that we can declare his praises. Once we were wanderers, but we have been called, and are now the people of God.
Think about what that means.
As often as you have been in our church, or wherever your local church may be, or any church, or for that matter, any building that you can think of, name one brick, one block, one stone, that isn’t an important part of the whole. The stones in God’s temple, or our local church, are all important to the structure and function of that building. The collapse of the twin towers in New York on 9-11 didn’t happen when an airplane flew into them. Both buildings survived the impact. But they collapsed when one beam, weakened by the intense heat of the fire, lost its strength, and threw its load onto the beam below it. And that beam, weakened and overburdened, fell upon the beam below it, and so on. Every beam, every brick, and every stone plays a part and is vitally important to the structure and to the function of that building.
And God says that is you.
Jesus want you to know that not only is there a place for you, not only is he making a place for you in his house, but that you are, even now, a living stone, that he is building into a spiritual house. Not only is there a place for you in his house, you are a vital and important part of that house and an integral piece of what God is doing in his church and in the world.
In a world of billions of people, where we often feel like we can easily get lost in the shuffle. God’s message is that you are important, and you have an important, even vital, role to play, and a job to do in his church and in his kingdom.
You have value.
You are important.
Not only are we in this together, but the church has been called do the work of Jesus Christ and you have been called to be a part of that work.
Have a great week everybody.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/_Ww32oH-WF4
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