May 7, 2023 – Fifth Sunday of Easter – Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; Peter 2:2-10: John 1:1-14

I’ve got stones on the brain this morning.  Just to be clear – that’s different than having rocks in my head!  I’ve got stones on my brain because of how many references there are to stones in today’s readings.  Help me find them.

Take a look at the first lesson from Acts.  How do stones figure into the first reading?  They are the method of execution for Stephen.  Stephen was one of the original seven deacons chosen by the apostles in the young Christian movement, tasked with caring for the community’s needs.  But apparently Stephen was also a Spirited preacher – which caused him to run afoul with the Jewish authorities who put him to death.  Stones were the way they killed him.  (Place first stone on pile.)

Look at the psalm.  Can you find the “stone” reference?  The psalmist calls God a strong rock, or in other translations, a rock of refuge.  (Place second stone on pile.)

Now look at the lesson from 1st Peter.  Find the stone references there – there are a few.  Jesus is a living stone.  I confess that I find that reference a little difficult to understand.  How can a stone be alive.  But then again, if we didn’t know any better, we would say it was impossible for a dead person to be alive.  So I can suspend disbelief here and go with Christ as a living stone.  (Place third stone on pile.)  Then in the very next line, we are called living stones.  (Put fourth stone on pile.)  We’ll come back to what that might mean.  In verses 6 and 7, Jesus is called a cornerstone.  (Place fifth stone on pile.)  As I understand it, the cornerstone is traditionally the first stone that is laid in a building, the rock upon which the weight of the entire structure rests.  That’s Jesus – our foundation.  And then in verse 8, we read that Jesus is a stumbling stone for those who do not believe.  (Place sixth stone on pile.)

Do you see what I’ve done here?  Have you ever seen something that looks like this?  You can find little stacks of stones like this in lots of places these days – along hiking trails, on the beach, in National Parks, and certainly, on social media posts.  They’re called cairns, from the Gaelic word meaning a “heap of stones.”  People have been piling stones on top of one another since ancient times.  In the Bible, there are references to piles of stones marking special locations, including places of covenant and places of burial.  They’ve also been used for centuries – millennia even – as navigational guides, waypoints or directional markers along a trail.  Some of the cairns you see on trails today are still for that purpose – many small cairns, however, have been constructed for let’s call it “artistic” purposes or even just for photo ops.  These modern cairns are a sore subject for many people.  Environmentalists worry that removing rocks from the landscape disrupts the surrounding ecosystem and could contribute to soil erosion.  I, personally, find them an eyesore, not unlike graffiti – human-made structures disturbing the natural beauty that God created.  Also for some reason, I find them a little creepy when I come across a place where many people have built these little shrines – although I will confess that it was oddly satisfying practicing piling up these stones for my demonstration cairn.  But outdoor guides warn they can be dangerous on trails as they might unintentionally lead unsuspecting hikers astray.  In some National Parks, particularly those who have very old cairns that really do serve as waypoints (as in Acadia, for example), rangers routinely take down these new cairns to prevent people from getting lost.

This brings me back – finally – to the living stones reference from 1st Peter.  The author writes that like living stones, [we must] let [y]ourselves be built into a spiritual house.  What if we were to think of that spiritual house – of this spiritual house – as a cairn?  And of course I’m not really thinking about the building itself, but about this community of people.  What if we conceived of ourselves as a cairn – a waypoint on the journey of faith, a marker that shows others the way to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ?  A guide to keep people from getting lost in their spiritual journeys.

We’re a cairn, a waypoint that shows the path forward in the kingdom, when we live generously.  I suppose I shouldn’t tell you this because there may be some of you who have yet to give to our special world hunger appeal, and I don’t want to say anything that would put a damper on your giving, but let’s just say that I will be dyeing my hair red for Pentecost!  I should have set a higher challenge amount.  I underestimated your generosity!  Because God has generously given to us along our way, we are free to respond generously.  In a world where many get lost in an endless quest of acquiring more, we’re a cairn of living stones when we show the path of generosity by giving our money – and ourselves – away.

We’re a cairn of living stones when we let part of our lawn revert back to meadow, as we are doing along the south side of the church.  When others see our property, they will know that, in our walk of faith, we take seriously our calling to care for God’s creation.  Living on a planet that seems to be on a path of destruction, perhaps we will inspire others to follow a better path.

We’re a cairn of living stones when we welcome new friends among us, whether it’s folks who are looking for a new church home or people who have recently moved into the community or those who know someone here – those who, for any reason and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, have entered our spiritual house.  In a world where people seem increasingly isolated, hospitality and welcome are signs of the kingdom way and we are markers along its path.

We are cairns of living stones when we, by our actions and by our witness, mark the way of Christ.  And that is our purpose.  We have been placed here in this community by Jesus, our trail guide, so that we can lead others on the path that leads to life.  But never forget that we, too, benefit from travelling this path.  Through the grace of the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we receive more than we need, we find ourselves recipients of a beautiful world in which to live, and even on the days when we feel lost, through his love we find our way . . . and our welcome home.





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