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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 7/19

          Did you know that they can’t find the cornerstone of the US Capitol building in Washington?  It’s true I guess.  The cornerstone of the Capitol  was set by George Washington on September 18, 1793, a beautiful late summer day by all accounts.  There was an inscribed silver plate attached to it to commemorate the day and there are a number of artist’s renditions depicting this historic event showing Washington kind of overseeing things, wearing a Masonic apron and holding other tools of masonry.  But since then, due to the settling and sinking of the building into what was rather marshy soil, and due to subsequent construction and alterations and renovations, no one is quite sure where this original cornerstone actually is now. 

It must be there somewhere, beneath the sandstone and marble, the pillars and the dome, but from what I read, efforts to find it, and there have been quite a few, all have been unsuccessful.  Some claim that a piece of the stone has been found, but not everyone agrees that it is authentic.  For others inclined to intrigue and conspiracy the fact that Masonic rites were involved in the cornerstone ceremony adds further mystery to things.  Did someone steal the cornerstone?   It could be the subject of a Divinci Code kind of book, who knows.

          Cornerstones are important though.  They’re symbolic for one thing, and because of that ceremony and ritual and dignitaries are often involved when the cornerstone is placed.  But a cornerstone is more than symbolic; it is also the first piece of the foundation of a building and while I don’t pretend to know anything about building structure, I think the idea is that all the other stones are set in reference to this one, so it does influence the entire structure.

          Using architectural imagery, the author of the letter to the Ephesians calls Christ Jesus the cornerstone of the household of God.  The apostles and the prophets are the foundation, but Jesus represents the cornerstone and that has always been the case.  I wonder sometimes though, it those of us who are part of the church these days haven’t lost sight of Christ Jesus, the cornerstone or if we’ve forgotten where the cornerstone is, kind of like the missing US Capitol cornerstone.  If so, Ephesians is a good reminder for us and on the one hand it is a hopeful reminder, but on the other hand it’s rather discouraging.

          It’s hopeful because as this letter was written, it seems to reflect on a division within the church that had largely been overcome.   What today’s part of the letter describes is a church that was making progress toward unity.  They might not have been there yet, not completely, but there seems to be progress on the Jew vs. Gentile question that’s raised in many of Paul’s earlier letters and in the book of Acts with the answer to the question being that one did not have to adhere to all the laws of Judaism in order to be a Christian.  That issue, that had been a source of division, was less relevant or staying with the cornerstone imagery, the Gentile wall and the Jewish wall were linked by the cornerstone of Christ.   

          Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone; that’s the reminder.  Faith in Jesus is what is important.  Believing that in Jesus God is revealed is what is important. Believing that in Jesus we find forgiveness and welcome is what is important.  Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone and in him we find hope.  We find hope that we can be who he wants us to be because he has made us righteous.  He has placed us in relationship with him and that relationship is relationship with God a relationship that is not bound by time or the span of our life. 

In Christ we also find peace, peace with God and with each other, because focused on Christ all those other things that separate us fall away; all those things we thought were so important fall away.  The Jews and the Gentiles addressed by this letter came to see that perceptions about who was closer to God and why, didn’t matter because together, in Christ, they could all draw near.  That’s the hopeful part of this reminder.  The Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians in Ephesus had found or rediscovered the cornerstone.      

          What history would tell us though, is that it wouldn’t be long before the cornerstone disappeared again beneath the marshy soil of all manner of things that become more important than they should be.  It wouldn’t be long before other walls and additions and renovations to the household of God began to obscure things creating a rather complicated structure in which it can get harder and harder to locate the cornerstone as concerned as we get with whatever the latest issue is.  That’s the discouraging part of the reminder.

          We live in a world where it has become easier and faster to communicate with each other but it doesn’t seem to help much when it comes to settling issues that create divisions.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about the American Revolution and that time period and back then it could take several weeks for any kind of correspondence to get from America to England, England to America such that by the time it got there events had often transpired that could make much of the correspondence meaningless or irrelevant.  Communication between parties with differences was pretty difficult and that did effect the progress and conduct of the war and related diplomatic efforts.  These days of course, such delays don’t happen; communication with anybody in any part of the world is pretty much instant. 

          Optimistically it would seem that all of that should make it easier to communicate and reach understanding and to come to agreement on issues that create division in the church and elsewhere; but instead it’s more like the opposite has happened.  It’s become easier to hide behind walls of division or to remain isolated in our part of an increasingly complicated structure.  It’s become easier to communicate differences, but no easier to promote understanding and unity.  It’s become easier to view those we disagree with as being far off and of course we’re always pretty sure that whatever our side of the issue is, it makes us the ones who are near. 

          To deal with differences within the church, to enhance communication that enables us to move forward together, we first need to locate the cornerstone…and unlike the cornerstone of the Capitol building, it’s not that hard to find.  Christ Jesus is the cornerstone.  He is found revealed in scripture…not only in the gospels, but especially in the gospels.  His words and his actions reveal what we need to know about God.  Paying attention to Jesus’ words and actions we find that the things that have kept Christians separated from other groups of Christians, the things that separate one group of Lutherans from another group of Lutherans, the things that separate one member of a church from another, those things usually turn out to be things that Jesus didn’t seem terribly interested in.  But Christ the cornerstone winds up buried beneath those things.

          Christ Jesus the cornerstone is also found revealed in the sacrament of Holy Communion.  There we receive Christ himself, his real presence as a real part of us.  There we approach the altar, no longer far off, but near, kneeling or standing side by side, maybe right beside someone who you disagree with on all those things that Jesus didn’t care much about.  And that’s OK, as long as we all agree that Christ Jesus is the cornerstone.

          We still sometimes have trouble finding the cornerstone, but in the case of Christ, he still keeps finding us.  To use the other imagery in today’s lessons he is the shepherd at work gathering his scattered sheep.  He comes to us, he keeps giving himself to us, giving us another chance to bring walls together, joined together by the cornerstone which is Christ Jesus himself.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
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not me
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