How to Make a Cornerstone

Tunnel vision. Flop sweat. Ears ringing. That strange sickly feeling of “I don’t know what I am doing.” This evening’s passage from Acts 4 takes me straight to that moment; do you know the one? When the floor drops out from you, your stomach lurches, and the creeping realization that you’re stuck oozes its way across your body. I’ve had a few of these moments in my life. There have been swims in the ocean where the riptide is so strong I don’t feel I have the strength to get back. Auditions so disastrous I feel like I could never show my face again. We’re not even going to talk about my experience taking the SAT -- Stuckness, and panic. Phew, shake it off with me.

This moment within Acts embodies stuckness, as I see it. Peter and John are out teaching and preaching, which upsets the priestly rulers in Jerusalem. After being jailed for an evening, they are brought before the high council. I see high, vaulted ceilings, I hear that sort of echo where every word gets magnified. Peter and John are pinned – “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Here is the moment where anything could happen, where a misstep or misspoken word could cost Peter his life. And yet, scripture tells us the Holy Spirit leads him to one clear moment of recall. Here Peter references a cornerstone, and by doing so, creates one. “The stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.” Let’s trace this thought a bit, build some logic around it together. This is not the first instance of this passage in our Bible. Peter has heard Jesus say this same quotation in Matthew 21, and we can presume he is familiar with Psalm 118, in which the original language appears as a Psalm of Thankfulness for Victory.

The original placement in Psalms reveals a physical, tangible realization of the word cornerstone. Defined as “A stone that forms the base of a corner of a building, holding two walls,” cornerstones imply strength and steadfast support. We can see that   in Psalms -- the passage is chock full of references to tents, altars, and houses. There’s an earthy quality at play here -- this is a cornerstone to stand on and know it will not crumble underfoot. The Psalmist clarifies in verse 23 that “The LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Whether referring to a physical stone or representing the Psalmist’s safety, either metaphor here refers to stability and strength, a gift from God for safe haven and continued survival.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus takes this idea and develops it further: “Jesus said to them, have you never read in the scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes?” Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” So! This cornerstone is largely interpersonal, referring to the kingdom of God as it relates to people who act justly or unjustly to others. This cornerstone is to be considered, moved, and restructured for the work of justice to occur. This cornerstone has the capacity to hurt and oppress people, handle with care.

Let’s head back to Acts. Acts 4:11 says “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Immediately we’re in new territory. The stone is Jesus, clear as day. Jesus-as-cornerstone refers to the salvation we all need. This new extension of the metaphor is not just an echo of the other two stones, but a development, a God-is-still-speaking moment. This cornerstone holds us upright, the strength in our spines when nothing else makes sense.

Think again to those moments of stuckness that you have survived and passed through over the years. Take yourself, just for a bit, to that place of stress and worry, far beyond the comfort of this room. Breathe into it, name that feeling, and then ask yourself what you have. One more time, breathe into the simple question, “What do I have?” If I may offer my opinion: You have a God who adores you. You have a seat underneath you. There’s air in your lungs. You have the care and protection of your Broadway family to your left and right. Open your eyes.

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Salvation. Huh. All sorts of theological constructs come to mind. Who gets to go to heaven? I grew up in a Conservative Evangelical community in which this passage meant that only Christians receive the gift of salvation, and only Christians get to go to heaven. I can’t make that same claim today. The mystery of God, this table laid out before humanity MUST speak of grace, hope, and salvation for all. I could not look my Muslim sisters or my Jewish brothers in the eyes if I believed the simple, narrow read of the word “salvation” here. A look to the Greek offers us the verb soteria in its place, a noun that is also translated in the New Testament as “deliverance.” Other applicable translations of soteria include welfare, and safety.

Aha. There we have it.  This evening I’m leaning on the cornerstone of deliverance, as Peter stands drenched in his flop sweat, searching for the right words to free him. The Jesus Peter is calling down from heaven is the one who knows his friend Pete has his back to the wall. This is far from a theological treatise. The word deliverance allows this particular cornerstone to speak to Peter’s immediate need, full of the Holy Spirit.

But what do we do with all of this? What’s the POINT? Scripture has given us three possible cornerstones to start the discussion. And. Beloved Broadway UCC, we can choose our cornerstones together. If we need Psalm 118’s steadfast stone of victory, we can hold onto it as the winds rage. If we need Jesus’ reminder to act justly, we can hold fast to Matthew 21. In our time of anxiety and need, Peter calls down Christ who delivers us. And as scripture shows us, the idea of what a cornerstone means to us can change.

Broadway, what an opportunity you have right now. I don’t sense stuckness in this place. This is the definition of unstuck.  There may be a little nervous excitement in some corners as Broadway continues to grow. I invite you to feel the strong foundation underneath you, just as Peter claimed deliverance through Christ. Name your cornerstone for yourself. Does it hold you tight and wrap you in warmth? Does it liberate others around you by providing safe harbor for those left behind by the world? How does your life define itself as a living reminder of the great hope YOU provide, by simply showing up?

Over the next months and years, this congregation gets to reestablish and reclaim its values, as this community walks forward together. There may be moments where these values differ among people -- It may require some heavy lifting, it may require establishing some new norms as we go, but scripture has shown us today that there’s more ways than one to make a cornerstone. Amen.