Summary: Contrasts the notion of Christ as foundation with Christ as Capstone, leading us up towards God.

Sermon: 28th March 1999 (My very first sermon before beginning at Theological College)

"The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes"?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When a Parish sends one of its congregation for training towards the Priestly Ministry, it is a time for great joy and great pain.

Joy, because we can see it as evidence of the vibrancy of a parish that provides such inspiration and allows the call to vocation to come through to a member of our congregation...

And Great Pain, which is what you unfortunately have to be subjected to now. So, let us pray: May my words be now and always acceptable in your sight, open our hearts to the message containing in your Scripture in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

"The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes"?

Today, of course, Palm Sunday is a major day of celebration: the end of the Lent Period, and the remembrance of that great triumphal entrance into Jerusalem - we heard this morning the joyful cries of the people of Jerusalem - Hosanna to the Messiah, the King of Kings.

Palm Sunday is a bittersweet day, where we see Jesus finally getting the honour and glory that his ministry fully deserved, yet at the same time, he road steadily onwards towards his death and his sacrifice for us. It provides a small highlight of joy, coming as it does between our Lenten preparations, and the sorrow associated with His Death and Passion, a day that accentuates the blessed relief and sure knowledge that Easter Day gives to us.

Palm Sunday is therefore a day which brings into sharp focus all of the contradictions which Christ’s Ministry on earth presents to us. The majority of the crowd brandishing palm leaves and making a public display were expecting a very different kind of Messiah: a military messiah, a rightful king, who would liberate the Jews in the same dynamic manner as his ancestor David. They had become so preoccupied with this image of a knight on a shining white horse that they failed to notice the other Christ, the anointed one which was promised to us in the writings of prophets such as Isaiah: the suffering servant, the rider not on a white charger, but on a donkey: a warrior armed not with a sword but with fire.

Christ was never under any illusions about his fate as he rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, and spoke many times, both in this Holy Week and for a long time before about his impending sacrifice. Christ clearly understood his role as the atoning sacrifice for us all, as illustrated in this parable we hear tonight: how the wicked tenants wilfully destroy the landlords son, in the vain hope of picking up the inheritance; whereas if they had responded warmly to the landlord’s son, they would probably have been allowed to keep the harvest; for all their wickedness, the landlord did not appear to want to evict them.

Jesus then caps off this highly autobiographical parable with the key lines: a quotation from Psalm 118: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes"?

The theme of Psalm 118 is concerned with the knowledge of God’s unfailing love, through all trials and tribulations. This key verse identifies the Psalmist’s personal delivery from his enemies, and his elevation to the cornerstone, the capstone or most essential part of a building: the bit which keeps the arch together. However, as the Psalm was also used extensively during the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles, the significance of this verse had become elevated from the purely personal onto to a more national scope: the Messianic overtones of this verse would not be lost on his audience; particularly one which had welcomed him into Jerusalem as that capstone.

Christ now returns this verse to the personal, and indeed much further within the personal; as he uses it to speak directly of our relationship with God. When I first turned to this passage, I regarded as many people do, that Christ formed my foundation, and it was on this foundation that I built my life: a bedrock of solid scripture, as Nigel would do doubt be delighted to hear, upon which I could flourish.

However, whilst examining this passage, I became aware of Paul’s writing using this analogy; in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul does not describe Christ as his foundation; that role is far more earthly; this living temple made of human stones (perhaps a bit like the Halifax Building Society Advert) is based upon our Church: ’the apostles and saints’. According to Paul, all believers were Saints of the Church, so what I feel he is expressing is that our body of fellowship is our firm foundation; and we, us, every one of us, are the stones of this edifice, and the pinnacle of it all, the capstone, is Jesus Christ our Lord; and together we make a tower rising up to the glory of God. Without Christ as the Capstone, we would all fall.

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