Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Generations and Cornerstones

Wednesday, May 10
Presbyterian Center Chapel

I hate it when people preach about buildings, and often using this passage. Buildings are so 1950s. It’s 20-freaking-17 and we’re going to talk about this cornerstone concept. And buildings. I hate myself. But it turns out infrastructure is a real thing still, so here goes.

Not being in construction or engineering or architecture, I had to look this up. Using a stone to anchor a corner is a big deal. The cornerstone has to have an exact 90-degree angle. You might need to flip it around or try another stone to find that right angle.

Buildings made of stone are beautiful and sturdy. A solid foundation. After all, the author says, this is the “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

This time in the early church is about building identity. A solid foundational identity as a people of faith means one’s Christian identity can handle the onslaught of challenges. Typical human measures for a stone in a building find that stone wanting, but by God’s measure, that stone is so perfect it becomes the cornerstone. You can’t build a building without a cornerstone.

Jesus is the living stone, and so are the people hearing this letter, to be “built into a spiritual house.”

When I first saw the Gothic cathedrals in New York, I found them amazing. Rockefeller Chapel, at the University of Chicago, is incredible. But of course these sorts of buildings are not usually found in my native west coast, unless they have been recently reinforced and brought up to code. In earthquake country, unreinforced stone buildings are a terrible idea. They are too rigid to hold up safely when the ground moves. They are brittle.

What happens when the church uses the world’s standards to measure itself? Living stones become overly rigid, unable to shift with the changing landscape of ministry.

If I were to stretch generational theory to the limit and maybe beyond… I read an article focused on Generation X, born roughly between 1960 and 1980, of which I am a member. We are fewer in number than surrounding generations, and, in the church and the workplace, generally caught between the mutual obsession Boomers and Millennials have with each other.

To paint broad stereotypical strokes, the particulars of which can apply to anyone, since there are exceptions to every rule, at this point in the workplace, while Boomers are obsessing over their legacies (which often means buildings or endowments) and Millennials are being flexible and adaptive (and feeling superior about it, looking down on the very institutions that make their lives possible), Xers are exhausting ourselves by doing the work, making sure everything runs, so all of us get our paychecks. The Xers are Jan Brady. The plain one who doesn’t have the time or energy to think big thoughts, and is constantly trying to translate between Boomers and Millennials so the workplace can function day-to-day.

Gen Xers and those who operate like us are so wrapped up in the valley between two very visible shiny crests that we have lost the critical edge that seeks transformation. We are the son who stayed behind to work the farm, because who else was gonna do it, and grew bitter and cynical because we have worked through more recessions than preceding generations, have very little to show for it, didn’t get participation medals, and feel passed over and unrecognized between two genuinely gifted generations.

Living stones are flexible, chosen by God even when society rejected them. But when we mistake the world’s measurements for what makes the best stone, we can become brittle. We can mistake actual stones, physical buildings, endowments, for living stones. We can worry about this building instead of the living stones this building serves. We get trapped by the fetish for legacy, wrapped up in the preoccupation for adapting, and our own self-pity because without us the place would fall apart, and forget people are thirsty, hungry, imprisoned, enslaved, worried about their healthcare leaving them broke. Instead of allowing ourselves to be built, as living stones, to be flexible and grateful and faithful, we end up trapped by our own rigidity.

The author of 1 Peter says:
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;

once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:10).

Who the hell cares about an actual building when people are terrified and hungry? We have received mercy. We are God’s people. Maybe we don’t have to be the ones to save American institutions. Maybe we have already been freed. We have a church to serve. Amen.