For some reason, I thought this line appeared at some point during the Holy Week readings, but as it is, the only time we who follow the Revised Common Lectionary will be hearing it this year is on Easter.
Yet this phrase informs the whole Holy Week leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus, and particularly what happens through God's raising of Jesus on the third day. The stone, which didn't look like much, which was mis-shapen, mistaken, mis-heard, the stone that rolled the wrong way down the hill, that didn't quite seem to fit the tomb, those stones from which God would raise up children, all these stones were rejected. Those in charge, the builders, didn't happen to think the stones would fit, or that they should properly be included in the plans for such a magnificent building.
Not only did the rejected stone end up being used, but it became the most important stone of all, on which the entire edifice was built. What this edifice is, who the builders were, who the stones were, is all part of the Christian faith tradition, and important questions to wrestle with. But for now, simply, I'm hearing the stone that was rejected, and marveling at how it became a cornerstone.
It's hard not to read myself into this line, and perhaps a bit perilous at the same time. We all experience rejection, and few are probably really spectacularly happy at being rejected. I fear reaching out to people whom I think might reject me, because that has happened plenty. I'm cautious of putting my written work out there in the fear that it might be rejected, which is pretty much what generally happens to written work for which people seek publication. I'm self-conscious about talking about a faith in a loving and graceful God that challenges the view of God and Jesus presented by many who go by the name "Christian," even though sharing that graceful vision of God is more vital now, more life and death, than ever.
The stone has been rejected. Accounted unworthy by those who are supposed to know what is worthy and what isn't. Rightly tossed to the side, and thankfully out of the way.
I would not be the only person who has been at some point rejected, in many ways, not least of which by the church. I have also been accepted in many ways, by many people, and not least of which by the church.
But instead of the rejection stopping the stone, it becomes the cornerstone. It risks everything and comes out ahead. I don't know if I'm that adventuresome, or just wish to hold on to what I have, modest as it might be. The stone could have stayed stuck.
The time comes to risk it all does come, and at that point, rejection cannot be a defining issue.
I've been questioning lately whether that time is coming for me. My job, at which I'm gratefully accepted, will not last forever, and I must find new employment in the next 6 months. Plenty of time not to have that end come as a shock, but I need to get serious about ministry, if that is to become the calling in reality for which I've been called, educated, and sent into a land of limbo. This is not so different from a lot of people who have been affected by the down economy of the last 3 years. To have employment has been a blessing that I am not unaware of.
Many of us, no matter our sexual orientations, have faced this challenge of being rejected in many ways at many times.
I've recently become aware that a lot more people than just myself have been waiting for years for their first calls to become pastors in the ELCA. A number of these people mention how difficult it has been to piece together a life while trying to retain hope that God indeed is back there somewhere, having something to do with this lengthening road that seems not to be leading anywhere.
In times when you still hear that there's a clergy shortage, we would be hard-pressed to understand why, when sitting as rejected stones next to the road. But perhaps we will become the cornerstones of the new buildings, the new ways in which the church will need to be in the time to come?
Many question, rightly, the place and shape of the church in the years to come. My work church is joining my worship church and another church in a 3-way configuration in which each church will have its own worship space, retain its own identity, and share space. The reason is because each of these churches built their buildings and envisioned their futures with about 90% more people than they have now. The old ways, as the old buildings, are crumbling. New people with new ideas are going to be key in bringing the Gospel to new generations who will not be content just to debate the curtains in the library or whether or not mums should be the flower on the altar Sunday mornings.
What are the words that we stones, whether we've been rejected, included, or are yet becoming, can speak to a church that often seems to stand in stone-deaf silence to the needs of its people?
I was grateful the other day to share an idea for a welcoming church start in an area that has no LGBTQ-publicly welcoming Lutheran churches with the bishop of the local ELCA synod here. He listened patiently, kindly, and said that my idea would be hard to implement. I responded that truth that what would make it a hard proposition is what would make it especially necessary.
Congregations that proclaim their welcome most earnestly, and are often welcoming in many ways, often fall short when it comes to LGBTQ people. That is one reason why there are still only about as many ELCA congregations that are publicly welcoming of LGBTQ people as there were congregations that left the ELCA in order to be particularly unwelcoming or because they felt the ELCA had abandoned its Biblical principles.
What God will make of us stones is yet to be seen. But our church needs us, as it needs every potential leader, ordained or lay, who prayerfully feels compelled to make a difference, because the time for that difference to be made is passing us by.
If we do not wish harsher varieties of Christianity to control the public perception of "Christian" for good, some of us have to start speaking up more, and some of our churches and denominations need to get behind us and figure out how best to use our gifts.
In the meantime, this stone is open to being included, open to listening to other stones that have been or have felt rejected, as well as to pushing his agenda for God's grace and justice onto the builders who need to hear it.
Gracious God of all that we are and all that we can ever be, lift us up to be there for your people who are lost in the night, who wait for you as watchers wait for morning, who feel that you hate them, that your are angry at them, that you wish them destruction, that you are damning them to an eternity of torment for some arbitrary reason. Is this your will, God, that people doubt you because you seem cruel and whimsical? I have a harder time believing that than that you do not exist at all. In whatever way you can, work through each of us to raise up another dear stone who has felt rejected, that we might build up your cathedral of grace on earth as it is in heaven. Through Jesus, the rejected stone who became the chief cornerstone in your plan for reconciliation, we pray. Amen.