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Cornerstone of the Kingdom
Mt. 21:33-46

Why do people come to church? Why do we come to church? I find this an interesting question, irregardless of the times we are in? It was a good question back in the days when it seemed that all churches were filled to capacity, when, as one retired bishop noted, churches could not keep people out even if they tried to board up the doors and windows. It remains a good question in times when churches are not filled, when churches are not bursting at the seams, when Sunday Schools are less noisy because there are fewer children to make noise. Why do people go to church, and why do people not go to church?

I can give a number of answers that have been given to me as to why people go to church, but I have learned that there are more answers to this question than can be listed in a sermon of reasonable length, much less if we were to discuss the implications of these answers.

Some people come to church because of family tradition, custom, or habit. Some come for friendship and company. Some come for music. Some come to give their children a good moral background. Some come to find some basis for a meaningful life. Some come to find the answers to the questions of life. Some come seeking some great revelation that will make sense of it all. Some come to serve. Some come for encouragement. Some come for forgiveness. Some come for tradition. Some come for entertainment. These are some of the reasons people come to church, and there may be other reasons that are important and decisive to a person's decision to come to church. I also have a hunch that the reasons that people do not come to church, besides infirmity, exhaustion, other commitments, or lack of interest have to do with feelings that church is not their place, that church has no meaning for them, that church does not offer fellowship, enlightenment, guidance, comfort, forgiveness, renewal, or meaning.

I am an individual, an ordinary human being with my gifts and graces, my strengths and weaknesses, my knowledge and my ignorance, my sins and my forgiveness, called and set apart by God to proclaim what I know of God by experience, tradition, scripture, and reason. Some people consider that statement to be arrogance and egotism, but I believe it to be a statement of great humility because all persons are called by God to live and serve and obey, to give and share the great truth and message that has come to us on earth from God on high. My basic understanding of why we are here in church is because each of us has been called by God to unite in this body, this congregation, not in mere information, but in communication, not in mere fellowship, but in communion, and Holy Communion at that.

Let me go back to the beginning of this sermon. Why do people go to church? What does the church have to offer? It is true that churches offer company and fellowship. It is true that churches do offer tradition and music and educational opportunities. Beyond these vague generalities, churches are different. Churches can be small or large, quiet or noisy, exciting or dull. With all this variety, there is one basic factor that unites all churches and differentiates all churches from all other religions, philosophies, organizations, or gatherings. That one basic factor that makes a Christian church a Christian church is the message and tradition, no matter how well or how poorly presented, of the great good news that God Almighty, God who calls the universe into being, has sent the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, into the world to break the chains of destruction, chaos, confusion, stultification, death-bound sin, and ignorance of the intentions of God for God's creation, including us.

Let me try to explain this message. As human beings, we tend to look at the world from a human view point. We struggle to survive as physical, emotional, intellectual beings, often forgetting that we also have a spiritual dimension that permeates all that we do and all that we are. We tend to think of God as we think of our selves, in terms of control, fear, indifference, and jealousy, forgetting that we are also creatures of love, sympathy, courage, persuasion, and justice. How we think of God has much to do with how we think of ourselves and much with how we act and live.

Consider the Ten Commandments. Most of us think we know about the Ten Commandments. God gave Charlton Heston, excuse me, Moses, some stone tablets with a list of "Thou shalt not's" which limits and controls human behavior, imposing a burden on human life and makes religion a matter of obeying rules. Let's look at this again. Once there was an oppressed people that God led into freedom. In order to give guidance and direction to this people, God revealed the law as salvation from the consequences of being lost and trapped in chaos. It was revealed that God who saved them from oppression is God who reveals the Ten Commandments. God reveals that salvation is not transferrable. God reveals that God cannot be represented or contained by any material object, such as an idol. God reveals that the power of God is so potent and dangerous that the very name of God is not to be used carelessly, without respect, or without reverence. God reveals that the people are to have regular access to God through worship, but that the worship of God is to permeate into every aspect of life by refraining from all that is hurtful. Take one's parents seriously. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not covet what belongs to another.

It is indicative of human beings that the Ten Commandments are often understood as restrictions rather than guidance and liberation, as a way to earn God's approval than as a gift from God for being truly human. In this way, the Ten Commandments are valid and relevant and meaningful today as they were five thousand years ago as they present us with clear warnings about what is destructive and harmful, beginning with the declaration of God that God is God of all with no other gods before God. This is always the most difficult commandment.

What is God like who sends us commandments? Jesus told a story when He was in Jerusalem. Jesus said there was a landowner who planted a vineyard, placed a wine press, built a watchtower for security, and leased to tenants. When the harvest came, the owner sends slaves to collect the rent, but the tenants beat and killed the servants. Finally the owner sent his son whom the tenants killed, thinking they would get the son's inheritance. Then Jesus asked what the people thought the owner would do. The people said the owner would put the tenants to death and lease the vineyard to others who would pay the rent. So it is that humans expect retribution and punishment from God for rejecting the prophets and leaders God sent, for killing the son God sent.

Then Jesus asked if they recalled in the scriptures about the stone the builders rejected was made the cornerstone, the Lord's doing amazing to our eyes? Yes, we reject the salvation God sends us, even the Son of God, but God is not bound by our rejection. God makes the rejected Son, Jesus, the cornerstone of the kingdom so that through Jesus Christ the world might be drawn together in the unity of God's love and power and grace and truth forever.

The love of God through Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of God's kingdom, God's rule. On this day, more than twenty thousand Christian denominations unite in celebrating Holy Communion, recognizing that in our differences is the one central truth of Jesus Christ who told His followers to remember Him by receiving bread and wine, symbolic of the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, a tangible and visible reminder of the reality of the presence of Christ in our church and our souls and our lives, and as a taste of the heavenly banquet to which God calls all persons. The reality of the presence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God is truth and spiritual law and grace and hope that more than meets all the many reasons why people do and do not come to worship, but it is the answer to what God calls us to be. Amen and Amen.