God is not done with us yet!

This was the message heard at St. Paul’s UCC in Eureka, SD this morning. I used the following scriptures: Acts 7: 55-60, I Peter 2: 2-10, and John 14:1-14. The title was “Stones” though it should have been what I put as the title of this blog. I have included the prayer that followed. I don’t usually do this, but today it felt like something that fit. Hope you enjoy and can take something from it.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I had one of the greatest English teachers ever. She was also my German teacher, and I thought she hung the moon. She was young, pretty, smart and so nice. And then she got married to some farmer from Eureka named Anderson. I felt a lot like the youngsters in the play, Our Town, when their teacher got married. I didn’t think it was quite fair to be a teacher who gets married and leaves her class behind. Ms. Bentz, as she was known to our class taught us a story that I have never forgotten, and even taught a few times myself over the years.

The story was called, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. In that story, a town in a rural area, much like ours, has a tradition, and a superstition that goes with the tradition and that tradition is a stoning. It is hard to understand why anyone would have a tradition of stoning someone. But this stoning was all about the corn crop. They had a saying, Lottery in June, corn come soon. We couldn’t possibly understand such a practice in our day and time, but it was in the story. I am guessing that the author wasn’t really writing about the stoning, but instead was making a pretty intense exaggeration to explain something about traditions.

Now in turning back to the idea of stoning someone, we read in the passage in Acts about the stoning of Stephan. From what we read today, Stephan is one of the early Christians, and the first to die for spreading the good news of Jesus life and resurrection. He is a very persuasive speaker, and apparently riles the Jewish leaders and is eventually stoned for blasphemy. During the stoning, Paul watches.

I picked up some stones out of my front yard. I wonder which sort of stone would be best to use in a stoning. Would we take the largest because it could do the most damage, but then we would have to get pretty close to the person, so maybe that wouldn’t feel so good? What about the smallest. It would be the easiest to throw, so we could stand back more, but how much damage could it really do? Of course we might want to take the middle one because it might be a little of both, but would it really work the best? I have never been to a stoning, so I can’t really say what would have been the best rock to use. In The Lottery, Shirley Jackson really adds a bit of gruesomeness to the end by having one of the town’s people pick up a rock and hand it to the young son of the woman who drew the slip of paper that meant she would be the one stoned. I think that was the point when I stopped reading.

Stoning someone or something is really a horrible act. I remember having to do that to a gopher when it wasn’t dead in the trap. It was maimed and needed to be put out of its misery. I pulled out the trap and drug it home. I threw it into the shed where my dad was working and told him that was the end of my trapping days. I didn’t care if the county was paying a dollar a tail. I didn’t care if they put holes in the entire pasture; I was not killing another animal.

So if we aren’t using these stones as weapons or as a stumbling block as Peter mentions near the end of the passage we read earlier, what other function could they have? I Peter tells us that you build on stones. Before cement blocks or poured concrete, houses were often built on foundations of stone or a mixture of stone and concrete. Stone is a hard solid substance that bears weight and the bigger the stone, the heavier the weight can be put on it. But Peter isn’t writing about physical stones that we see here today. He isn’t explaining about the stones used on Stephan. Peter is writing in a figure of speech saying that Jesus is a living stone. Peter means that Jesus is a firm foundation, something solid that we can trust to hold us up through hard times. And even more Peter is saying that as Christians we can become strong for others around us. Peter says that Jesus is the cornerstone, the basis of Christian faith, yet Jesus called Peter the Rock, and said the Church would be built on him. Peter did take up that role. He stepped up and became a real leader in the early church working diligently to show us the way to Jesus.

The gospel lesson for today couldn’t be clearer about what that way is. How do we go about getting to Salvation? How do we reach the ultimate meeting with God? One of the texts I checked in for today said that the reading for today is a popular funeral passage. I guess when you look at the, “in my father’s house are many mansions,” and “I go and prepare a place for you” it pretty much makes sense. Here is scripture that reassures us about what happens to us after our physical bodies have reached the end of the line.

But, oh the but of the message, there is always that but…. I don’t happen to believe that we are supposed to be looking at this as a funeral, end of the road sort of passage. See, I don’t think that we are still here, together in this place and time to just sit around waiting for the end. As much as it might be easy to say things like, I am tired, I just want to wait it out until I can cash in my chips for the mansion that is waiting for me, the fact that we are all still here, tells me there is more work to be done. My mother had a saying that I think of every time I am driving on the Interstate, and I make it safely past another semi-truck. She always said, “If you are still here, I guess God isn’t done with you yet.”

The gospel of John lets us know that Jesus said he is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that no one goes to God the Father except through him. He also says that anything we ask in his name he will do. Now I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that maybe he doesn’t mean for us to ask to win the Lottery as in the modern cash kind. I am thinking that the requests he had in mind were more like asking for the strength to carry on the work of the church.

Between this weekend that we are in and the one coming up many of the schools in the area are holding their graduations. If I heard the answering machine in the office correctly, Dan and Karen are missing today because they are at the graduation of Michael and Jeffery this weekend. No I didn’t hear that correctly, they are sitting in the front because that was last week, and they are home from the track meet where we have heard that Jeffery did quite well, great! I feel badly that I didn’t do something in the bulletin or more in the service for that. Just because we don’t have high school graduates in the pew doesn’t mean that we can’t celebrate or recognize the fact that there are graduates in our lives.

Though most of us think of graduations as an end of the year and end of a school career, the term used in the announcements is Commencement. Commencement means beginning. It is really the beginning of the rest of their lives. Jesus didn’t tell his disciples and us that he is the way and the truth and the Life so that we would sit around waiting for the day that our mansion is finished and ready to be occupied. He tells us about it so that we take the time to share that fact with the rest of the world.

I started out today telling you about Shirley Jackson’s story, The Lottery. It is a gruesome and pretty ridiculous story by modern standards. But the bottom line is that they were following an old tradition. They were not willing to change. They did things that way for so long… I don’t want to be harsh, but I want to say this. We are a church without a Children’s Sermon and Sunday School, and a youth group and even without any high school graduates. But we are still here. We still have a purpose. Yes we sold the parsonage, and now we are giving up a piece of the sanctuary to put an office inside the church, but we are still here.

I don’t want us ever to think of ourselves as stones in terms of cold hunks of rock that doesn’t move. We need to think of ourselves as living stones, a spiritual rock, a pillar that is a foundation in the community. I really believe that God isn’t done with us yet. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe that. But I also believe that we need to shake up our prayer concerns a bit to include a request for a stronger guidance, a stronger push to help us know what is our new purpose if it isn’t what it used to be. Amen!

Good and Gracious God;

We come to you today asking, asking for directions. We are not ready to pack our bags for the mansions that you speak of, but we aren’t really sure what tasks you still have in store for us. Help us to find those tasks, Lord, we are willing, but we are also uncertain about where and when and how.

Now we ask that you would bless all those who are gathered here today. Bless those listening through the tape ministry. Bless those who are away to be with family or friends, give them good fellowship and safe travels back to us.

We also ask that you be with all of those on our prayer concerns, heal their pains, ease their sufferings. And hear us as we offer our own silent prayers………Now let us join in the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, Our Father, who…Amen!

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. christinelaennec
    May 19, 2014 @ 16:03:48

    An excellent piece. Funny – Kathy at Lake Superior Spirit has also recently written about our purpose in this life. I pray to God to use me as He wills – and to give me the strength to let go of my own ideas. I have to pray that several times a day, usually! 🙂

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  2. Glenda zimmermam
    May 18, 2014 @ 20:20:57

    This was a wonderful sermon, LuCinda, and it really made me tear up which won’t surprise you. I am still not 100 percent but I am truly praying that God isn’t through with me yet. I did not go to church today so I am counting your sermon as my attendance. Thank-you so much for keeping me in your prayers and you are all in my prayers as well. Everyone here says hi and they are all doing good. Well, almost everyone. Thanks be to God!

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    • lucindalines
      May 20, 2014 @ 17:04:00

      I must have missed this comment earlier. I am glad you are commenting as we are keeping track of you this way. Weather is better here, but not super hot. We are expecting you to bring the heat home with you.

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