31 August 2015

Homily on Matthew 21.33ff

            When I was a kid, I loved to discover how things worked. And I got to be pretty good at taking things apart. Whether it was a piece of electronics, or some household object, I could soon have the whole thing in pieces in front of me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite so good at putting things back together.  Inevitably there’d be two or three pieces sitting there. when I was done. I had no idea where they went, but without them, the thing wouldn’t work. Even today, I dread those words “Some assembly required” when I buy something.

            It was a little like that for the Jewish leaders in today’s text. They thought they had all the pieces assembled right. Oh, to be sure, there were always tensions and troubles in their world. How to deal with the Romans…how to interpret strange sections of the Torah, (like that one about a healed leper showing himself to the priests when leprosy was incurable)…Then in the background there was their ancestors’ constantly falling into idolatry. But on the whole, they got the parts together and it all seemed to work.
            Then along came Jesus, and they didn’t know what to do. On the one hand, nobody could deny that he did miracles and wonders: raising the dead, casting out demons—even healing lepers, like that strange passage talked about.
            But on the other hand, he wouldn’t play by their rules. He went out of his way to heal on the Sabbath day. His disciples came from Galilee, a place crawling with Gentiles—all except for Judas Iscariot, of course. Try as they might, they couldn’t figure out what to do with him. He didn’t fit their plans, so they rejected him.
            That’s why he quoted the words of the Psalm to them, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” He knew what was in their hearts. Just as their fathers had killed the prophets, so they would strike at him. Something had to give…so they killed him. But God raised him from the dead, and revealed him to be his Son, and poured out his Spirit on those who trusted him.

            It’s easy to see that from our vantage point. But I wonder how many times we need to hear these same words. We work on building our lives. We try to put the pieces together. Most everything seems to fit. But sometimes we might see Christ as just another piece, and miss how he’s the key piece, the cornerstone. Or in some areas of our life we might try to get by without him altogether.
            I admire those who are able to build or remodel a building. You may know that buildings have two kinds of walls: weight-bearing and non-weight bearing. They both look the same from the outside, but they’re not. Here’s how to tell the difference. Knock the wall down. If nothing happens, then it’s a non-weight bearing wall. If the roof starts to cave in, you’ll know it was weight bearing.
            Where does Christ fit in your plans: for big things like your career and your marriage and the way you see life-issues like human sexuality and race issues and politics…and for little things like your day to day existence? Try the weight-bearing wall test. Take him completely out of the picture for that issue or act. If the whole thing still makes sense without him then, my friend, he is not a weight-bearing wall in your life.  Sooner or later, you will either repent or try to kill him altogether—to remove him from your life.
            But he will have none of it. The Jewish leaders muddled along for another 30 years before their world came completely down. You see, Jesus is Lord. He is the one in whom all things hold together. Through him you were made…indeed, you are central to him, for he left heaven and suffered and died and rose for you.  If he is not central to you, it’s not yet too late. Turn to him and trust him…not just for the big things but also for the little ones.
            He is the cornerstone to life and death. Everything else makes sense only when he is the key to all. Let us stop trying to have life on our terms, with our plans. Let us give our plans and our lives with all their parts into those hands which were wounded for us. He loves us, beloved; he will build of us something true and beautiful and good, for service in his Kingdom: of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.