Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, especially to you Carl, and to all of you family and friends gathered here today.
The text from God's Word upon which my message today is based is from 1 Peter 2:4-5. “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
There's a spot in this house that's going to seem very empty. In our 10:30 service, I will always look right over there and expect to see a small, white haired, bespectacled lady, intently looking at me and listening to my sermon. That was Elsie's spot. She loved being in church. The words of the psalmist could have been hers: “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house, the place where your glory dwells.” (Ps. 26:8)
I will think about Elsie every time the Christmas season arrives. We have a stack of her starched, crocheted snowflake ornaments in our Christmas decorations at home. We don't put them on the tree. Instead, we lay them out at random on our furniture at home, as if it's snowed inside the house. Every time I walk by those snowflakes, I will think of Elsie.
I will always remember quiet conversations with her, her brief replies, and her dry sense of humor. But one thing new I learned about her after her death. I don't think she ever told me about her being such a rock hound and lapidary. Carl related the time when they were moving and the entire back of their pickup was filled to the brim with mom's rocks and jewelry making equipment.
Elsie was one of those people the Scripture calls “living stones.” She was “built up as a spiritual house.” She was baptized into Christ and given faith in Jesus as her Savior. By faith in Christ, she became a part of this spiritual house called the Church … not a building, but a people. That faith was nurtured as she was brought to church and Sunday School, until her confirmation day, when she publicly affirmed the promises God first gave to her in Baptism.
As a living stone in this spiritual house, God made Elsie to be a part of a holy priesthood. God calls us as priests to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. What are those spiritual sacrifices? The sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving, and a life dedicated to serving our neighbor in love. None of us do any of that perfectly, that's for sure. We all sin daily and deserve nothing but punishment. That's why our spiritual sacrifices are acceptable to God only through Jesus Christ. At the cross, Jesus offered himself as the perfect sacfrice for the sins of the world. Sins forgiven, we now can offer our spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable in God's sight … but only because of Jesus, who has made you and me acceptable in God's sight.
While she was with us here, Elsie was a living stone because of the Rock which she trusted in, Jesus. “Thou wast their rock, their fortress and their might,” we sang in the hymn. The text calls Jesus a “living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.”
Jesus wasn't much to look at during his earthly ministry. Although he was God in the flesh, he looked like just any other man. Many years before Christ's birth, the prophet Isaiah, said, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Is 53:2-6)
Like a stone that doesn't appear to have any significant qualities, Jesus was tossed aside like a common piece of gravel. He was brutally executed and died an excruciating death on a cross. But that was very means by which God the Father chose to save the world. God the Father chose his Son from eternity to be the Savior of us all. In the Father's sight, the Son was infinitely valuable. He was a chosen and precious stone. This living stone Jesus became the Lamb of God at the cross … a perfect, spotless, unblemished sacrifice for the sins of the world.
The death of Christ death brought forgiveness and eternal life to those of us who will someday face our own death. And there is no one here who will escape death. At the same time, all who are baptized into Christ's name and who trust in his finished work at the cross receive the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.
You can count on this because of another rock, this time not a living one. Jesus was placed in a tomb the day he died, which we call Good Friday. But three days later, Easter morning, the women who came to visit his tomb discovered something which surprised them.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise." (Luk 24:1-7)
The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of the resurrection to eternal life of all who are baptized in Christ's name and who trust in his saving promises. Listen to what St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 15: If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1Co 15:19-26)
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” You see, we still struggle with that enemy on this side of the veil. Ever since Jesus rose from the dead, death has been a defeated enemy. But it still has plenty of ammunition to throw at us, the arrows of sorrow and grief, the bullets of fear and anxiety, the missiles of sickness and suffering. But when Jesus returns as he promised, all of that will be done away with. St. John, in the revelation he received, heard a voice from the throne of heaven saying, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Rev 21:4)
And then what did St. John see? Something that would make any rock hound rife with anticipation. A great city shining like jasper. Foundations made of jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysopase, jacinth, and amethyst. Gates of pearl. Streets of gold.
But all those rocks will fade in comparison with the presence of that Living Stone who was rejected by men but who became the cornerstone of the Church. Elsie is enjoying his presence in heaven right now. Jesus Christ is the foundation stone upon which all other living stones like Elsie have been built and made to be a part of the Holy Christian Church. Those living stones will rise again in the resurrection on the last day, because the Lord of the Church – Jesus – is the resurrection and the life. He said, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”