Whenever I read the words of the great prophets of the Old Testament, I cannot help but being struck by the directness and the boldness with which the people and the rulers of those days are addressed. In our first reading of today, Isaiah calls the rulers of Jerusalem scoffers and accuses them of making a covenant with darkness and death, and relying on lies.
Nowadays Christians think twice before addressing their government this way,
even if that government or leader deserves it. But the question is as urgent as ever:
Where do we put our trust and where do our leaders put their trust?
It is good practice to start investigating ourselves.
I wonder if you have ever caught yourself trying to fix everything.
Maybe out of perfectionism or a need to be loved, we tried to take care of every detail.
Only to find out that it did not help or that things would sort themselves out anyway.
It is not necessarily wrong to trust in ourselves or even to be smart about it.
But when it starts to resemble manipulation or total control, we should be careful.
The same goes when our attempts to control are at the expense of others.
Healthy self-confidence is when we believe we can contribute to the greater good.
Unhealthy confidence is when we believe we can get everything we like by outsmarting others.
Unfortunately this unhealthy trust is greatly encouraged in our Western Society.
Much of the stock market and banking industry is based on outsmarting others.
All kinds of trade agreements are not meant to encourage trade, but to exclude parties.
Increasingly often, politicians draw votes by throwing mud at their rivals and making false promises. In spite of these serious problems, we tell ourselves to just play their game and call it democracy. But do we really think that these tactics will bring us lasting prosperity?
That they will keep Europe and the United States and some other countries on top of the world? It sounds very much like taking shelter in falsehood. Sometimes it is better to not be politically correct and denounce a few things.
But as Church of Christ we also have the obligation and the privilege to trust more positively. The Lord always offers us a better alternative. Isaiah said: See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: “One who trusts will not panic”. There are a few things we can learn from this.
1. Our trust is not in a whole series of little tricks, or gadgets, or beings, or accomplishments. It is not about how extensive our network is, or how intricate and elaborate our plans. It is a single foundation stone, which allows us not to panic, but to experience peace. This unity is important. The cornerstone is One, just like God is One.
2. It is called a tested stone, so it is not something new. Often we think that we have to follow the latest ideas, but when it comes to trust, something new and untested may make things worse. My daily work has to do with computer programs; I can tell you that there is nothing worse than working with an untested program. Users experience problems that take a long time to solve. Yet testing is often skipped, because this is cheaper on the short term. Todays’ herd of customers rather buys something new with defects than something that might appear old-fashioned, but is reliable. And nowadays many people treat spirituality in the same way, ever looking for something sensational and fresh. So I have news for you. The single most effective thing we can do is to have a good look at the cornerstone that God has already provided thousands of years ago.
3. It is called a precious stone, so it is something to cherish, not to trade in for something else as soon as we have some doubts. It is something that will last a lifetime.
4. It is called a foundation, so we can build on it. Paul writes a lot about this. We can build in different ways, but we must give attention to how we build on this foundation.
1 Cor. 3:13 “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it,
because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” But the main point I want to make is that although there is only one cornerstone, there are other stones that make up a temple. We can contribute, be creative, innovate, as long as we do not become arrogant and cast away the essence and foundation of our calling, to be One with Christ.
5. It is interesting that this stone has a name. It is called “One who trust will not panic”.
It is a constant reminder that we should seek stability and order, and not be motivated by fear. It is also a reminder that if we do not put our trust in God, we will be tossed to and fro on waves of panic and fear. We will seek more and more distraction to fill up this emptiness inside us, this place were the cornerstone should be.
6. Finally, something that bears a name already suggests to us that perhaps we are not talking about a thing, but about a person. And indeed, the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus is our cornerstone. And together with the apostles and prophets He forms our foundation. Note that not only the apostles are mentioned, who came after Jesus, but also the prophets, who came before. Again we see that there is unity. With the prophets pointing forward to Christ, and the apostles testifying of Him.
So what we have here is the fulfilment of a prophecy. But as always with fulfilments, they widen our scope, not restrict it. That Jesus is our cornerstone does not mean that his teaching can be ignored. It does not mean that the wisdom from the Old Testament can be ignored. So if I had to define the cornerstone of our faith, I would say it is Jesus
WITH all that He stands for, with all the wisdom of the apostles and prophets combined.
So the cornerstone is Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross, but also the teaching in John 15. “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
We cannot take Jesus without his commands or without his example.
It is no accident that our Psalm for today is Psalm 119, the Psalm of (delight in) the Law.
This extremely long Psalm extols the virtues of Gods commandments and precepts.
“If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my misery.
I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.
I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts.”
May we likewise delight in the lessons and examples that Jesus has left us.
For they provide the stability and continuity in our life and can actually save us from misery.
There is only one problem with this. The world will not understand.
They will not only ask why on earth you are still going to church, but may actually hate you.
I recently saw a website of atheistic humanists where Christians were viciously attacked.
Jesus would say: “it is because they do not know him who sent me.”
Maybe it helps if we explain that our cornerstone is Jesus with all that He stands for.
We are not just worshipping a dead person, but a living advocate of justice and mercy.
Jesus said: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.”
We are not alone. We have the Spirit of truth to testify to and through us.
And we are part of a growing temple, which is built to the glory of God and for the good of mankind.
The Dalai Lama once said that we may need new ethics, that are not based on religion.
But may we discover, hold on to, practice and explain the ethics that have been there all along. The cornerstone that was rejected by the builders, but forms our precious foundation.
I would like to finish with the words of the Psalm writer (Ps. 119:96)
” I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.”