Tenth Sunday after Trinity August 8, 1999
460, 467, 466
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, who is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End of our every endeavor, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
What’s so special about a cornerstone? Did you ever wonder that? The question occurred to me while I was preparing this service. On occasions like this, where church buildings or property are being dedicated to the Lord, Jesus is often compared to the cornerstone of a building. You’ve all seen a cornerstone—usually it’s a large stone at the top of a building’s foundation, in a prominent corner, very often with an inscription carved into it. But is a cornerstone architecturally important, I wondered? It doesn’t bear any more weight than any other stone in the foundation. It’s not like the keystone at the top of an arch, where one stone bears the entire weight of the structure. So I looked it up, and what I found out might surprise you. In classical architecture, the value of the cornerstone lay not in its weight-bearing abilities, but in its geometry. The cornerstone is painstakingly shaped and crafted to be absolutely square and true. Once that stone is laid in the foundation, every other stone will be checked against it. Every wall, every line, every pitch, slope and angle in the entire structure will be built upon—and judged upon—the basis of that perfect cornerstone.
We are not laying a cornerstone here today—not a physical one, anyway. Groundbreaking for our future house of worship on this site lies yet in the future. But in very real sense we are gathered here to reaffirm our commitment to our Savior. Today we are saying, “Jesus Christ—and His Gospel—will be the standard according to which everything this congregation does will be carried out.” That is why it is especially important for us today to understand what David meant in the words of this afternoon’s text. Let us join David in confessing:
How often and how beautifully King David prophesies the coming of the promised Savior. But perhaps none of his prophesies gives as accurate and graphic a picture of the antagonism between Christ and the Jewish rulers than this one in the 118th Psalm. David says, The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. Who was it who rejected the cornerstone? The builders! Not amateurs, but professionals, people who should have known a thing or two about architecture. Who was it who rejected Christ in His day? The priests and the rabbis, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Religious people—the very ones who should have known better, who should have led the flock to their Good Shepherd. Instead, Jesus had to say of them, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! 38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. Mat 23:37-38.
Are the “builders” still rejecting the Cornerstone today? You know that they are. We have the mainstream mega-churches, with thousands of members and dozens of programs; they fulfill every conceivable need of their members—except for forgiveness. We have the Pentecostal churches who put the spotlight on the so-called “gifts of the Spirit”—speaking in tongues and miraculous healing—and thus take the spotlight off of Jesus Christ. We even have the liberal Lutherans, who boldly appropriate the name of the Reformer, and proudly sing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”—but who can’t seem to make up their minds whether or not Jesus really rose from the dead! One wonders if there was ever a time in history when the Cornerstone has been more scornfully rejected by the builders than He is right now!
Before we get too self-righteous, however, let’s examine our own attitude toward the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ. For you know, He’s not just the Cornerstone of your church, He’s the cornerstone of your life as well! As Paul said, “In Him we live, and move and have our being.” Act 17:28. So what about you? Is every line and angle of your life measured according to Christ, the Cornerstone? You married people—what about your behavior toward your spouse? How does it measure up to the Cornerstone? You children—what about your attitude toward your parents? Does that square with the cornerstone? You Christians—what about the thoughts that pass through your minds, what about the words that pass over your lips? Are they true when compared with the Cornerstone? Don’t pass over these questions lightly! The writer of the Book of Hebrews asks a chilling question: How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? Heb 2:3.
Certainly we’re guilty of not always giving our Cornerstone the prominent place He deserves in our lives. As a matter of fact, if it were left up to us, we would have long ago rejected Him completely. Thank God, it was not left up to us, nor up to those so-called “builders”, either! For this Cornerstone, though rejected by the builders, was selected by the Lord.
There is a legend which grew up around the building of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (not the Temple of Solomon, but the one which was rebuilt under Ezra, after the return from captivity). It is said that that there was one oddly-shaped stone which kept cropping up. Many times the workers tried to place it into the Temple wall, but it never seemed to fit. It would always have to be taken out and thrown on the junk-heap again. Finally they came to the most crucial stone of all: the one which joined the archway over the main entrance. It was here, in this place of greatest honor, where the oft-rejected stone found its perfect fit.
Jesus Christ was God’s perfect fit for the Cornerstone of the Christian Church. And it truly was God’s fit, too, because unlike that legend, Jesus was rejected once and for all by the Jewish leaders. He was a stone cast out, never to be taken up by the builders again. But God took up that Stone. The Lord selected that perfect Stone as the Savior for mankind, and placed Him into the position of highest honor, That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2:10.
And in your personal life as well, the Lord is the One who has set Jesus to be the Cornerstone of your existence. As David says in our text, The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes!
The word “marvelous” in the Hebrew means amazing, astounding, something that takes one completely by surprise. When was the last time you felt genuinely amazed by something? Can’t remember? Well today David invites your amazement at the salvation wrought for you in Christ! Imagine—that the Lord would exchange His perfect Son for lost sinners; yes, even for wretched and cold-hearted sinners like you and me! It’s like exchanging a perfect brick of gold for a flawed and broken brick of clay. But the Lord knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust. God sent His only Son down the Via Dolorosa, out of Jerusalem, to the killing ground, to Calvary, the place of execution. He pronounced the verdict of “guilty” upon His innocent Son! And why? So that he might pronounce the verdict of “not guilty” upon you! God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, and why? So that He might have the pleasure of saying to you, “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee!” When you are weary and troubled by your many sins, bring them all to Christ, your Cornerstone. You will find pardon and peace in your Savior. You will learn the reason why the Psalmist, in another place, could write, O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. 2 Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. Psa 95:1-2.
Indeed, David in our text for today exults, This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. And well we may rejoice on this day of dedication. For today we are reminded that Christ is our Cornerstone. A Cornerstone rejected by the builders, selected by the Lord, and directing this congregation.
Yes, today let us rejoice in our Cornerstone, the powerful Savior who has brought Ascension Lutheran Church this far. From a human point of view, we may well ask the question that I’ve been asked a dozen times since we closed: how did we ever get this property for this price? How did we ever get almost five acres, with a beautiful and spacious house already on it, for less money than the raw land is selling for just down the road a piece? About a year ago we looked at four acres of raw land in a less suitable location for twice as much as we paid for this place! From a human standpoint, people might say Ascension Lutheran Church was very lucky. But we know better than that, of course. Maybe we should set up a stone to commemorate this day, as Samuel set up a stone to commemorate Israel’s great victory over the Philistines: Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us. 1 Sam 7:12. Well, here we are on our new property, and it is certainly true that “the Lord hath helped us hitherto.”
But we needn’t set up a stone. We already have a Stone. Christ is our Cornerstone. Our lives -both as individual Christians and as a congregation—will continue to be based upon Him. Every line and angle of our church’s future must and shall emanate from our Savior. Let other churches base their future on marketing strategies and the whims of present public opinion. Let the mega-churches blossom and fade. For ourselves, we will rest upon our Cornerstone. For as Paul said, No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 3:11.
Not long ago my former parish of St. Paul’s in White River SD celebrated the 75th anniversary of the congregation. It was a somewhat awe-inspiring occasion for me. After all, that congregation was begun in 1919, nearly 40 years before I was born. World War I was barely over when the foundation of that church was laid! And still, all these many years later, faithful Christians are still gathering there, Sunday after Sunday, to hear the Gospel of Jesus proclaimed in its truth and purity. Let me ask you a question: Where will you be in 75 years from today? Even barring the second advent, most of us will be with our Savior by that time. But perhaps not all. Perhaps some of the very youngest will still be around, and will look back and say, “I was there that day. I was at that first dedication service at Ascension, even before the church was built.” If it is the Lord’s will, we shall go on from here. We shall build the church, and we shall celebrate the anniversaries. The Lord willing, it shall happen. One thing no one can argue with: we’ve got a great Cornerstone. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.