October 22, 2017 – What Kind of Stonecutter Are You?

(Pic #1) A man came across four stonecutters and asked them what they were doing. The first replied, wearily, “I’m cuttin’ stone.” The second replied, “I’m earning a paycheck.” The third kept on hammering while he said, “I am in the process of becoming the best stonecutter in the nation.” The fourth looked up with a visionary gleam in his eye and said, “I am building a cathedral.”

For many people, they view their lives like the first mason, who’s “just cuttin’ stone.” Before long, you feel like this: (pic #2). And without a doubt, many fall prey to feeling the daily grind is meaningless, consisting of tasks performed over and over again, without any real progress. (pic #3) In the myth of Sisyphus, we roll the  boulder up the hill, only to have it fall down the other side and then we roll it up again. “Life is just one darn thing after another!”

Or those who view life like the second guy: stonecutting is a way to get a paycheck. (pic #4) I may not like what I’m doing, it may not be meaningful, but it’s a necessary economic transaction. A person’s got to live.

Or the third guy, who is engaged in a quest to be the best. (pic #5) Now this guy is aiming at something higher, right? He’s going to commit himself to excellence, make a name for himself (pic #6). There is much to be said for this, and yet, what do you think, is it meaningful? It is not. If that’s the primary motivator, it is narcissistic, all about me, me, me.(pic #7)

Then there is the fourth stone cutter: “I’m building a Cathedral!”(pic #8) This stonecutter is helping to create something bigger than himself. Now, we don’t build many cathedrals today, so this is just a metaphor for something really beautiful and transcendent. (pic #9) No, this is not a mistake, a family at play. Luther made it clear this is a transcendent calling.

And what on earth, you may be wondering do stonecutters and Homer Simpson have to do with the Ten Commandments??

Well, I’m glad I asked. The Ten Commandments are not rules that we are to follow in the spirit of the first three stonecutters, nor is this the way life should be lived. God’s expectations of you are not about meaningless repetition, personal gain or self-achievement – and there’s nothing wrong with those things, in their place. The Ten Commandments are about building a cathedral, i.e., participating in something of great value that is much bigger than yourself: being a co-creator with God of a more trustworthy world. (pic #10) You see, God is at work in the world bringing forth life, protecting life, and inviting all lives to share in the dance. The commandments are expectations that we will work for life, not death.

Well, that sounds lofty! How in the world would I ever go about doing that??

It’s not complicated, really. The lawyer in Luke summed it all up and Jesus heartily agreed: Love God and love your neighbor. That’s how you co-create a more trustworthy world with God: work toward the flourishing of your neighbor’s life. How can each of us, in all we do, seek the well-being, the flourishing of our neighbor’s life in all the dimensions of his/her life? And that’s the Ten Commandments.

Sometimes we think the commandments aren’t about love, but just avoiding this and that, don’t kill, don’t steal, and the like. You know, how to keep your nose clean. But if that was the case – if it was only things not to do – you could obey the commandments by locking yourself in a room and never interacting with other people. Yay! I never talk to people but I have a perfect score!

The commandments, however, are much more than a prohibition from killing, stealing or lying. Luther helped us to see the truth of that. It means positively helping your neighbor succeed. How many of you have been through confirmation and memorized the meanings of the commandments? Still have it memorized? Let’s look at the meaning of the fifth commandment, “you shall not murder.” What does this mean? “We are to fear and love God so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.”  We want nothing short of seeing our neighbor’s life flourish! And that is a cathedral worth building!

Many people are afraid to add God or faith to their lives, because people are already busy and overworked. They don’t need to add more functions, more things they need to do, to their lives. But what if growing in your faith and in your sense of calling in life doesn’t add more things to your life, but instead adds more value to what you’re already doing? In other words, what if faith and God allow you to see that every day, anywhere, anytime, you’re not just cutting stone, earning a paycheck, trying to be somebody, but you are co-creating with God a more trustworthy world? One that nurtures and protects life? You’re building a cathedral.

Many people think that including God in your life means going to church. So if you want God in your life, you better add church to your life. But what do the commandments say? Love God, love neighbor. And where does that happen? Only when you go to church? Of course not! In life. Out there. In our homes, at work, at school, at play.

Your first and most important neighbors are your own family members. They are a special calling. That’s why I showed the Simpson’s at the watering hole together earlier. But let’s get real. (pic #11) Here is a  picture of little David Zachary Burrack, born to our members, Kristina and Adam (pic #12). No neighbor is more important to them than David, so doing all they can do to create a trustworthy world filled with love and not shame is imperative for them. That means changing David’s diaper is an act of love and it is the Lord’s work! Luther was emphatic about that, by the way.

Luther taught that each of us are called to vocations, stations in life where we spend a lot of time. And in each of these stations, God is at work with us and through us creating a more trustworthy world. As mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters. As neighbors, friends, co-workers, and practitioners of whatever we do for a living. And as members of this faith community, we, too, share in the work to help David Zachary’s life flourish. Our baptismal vows will seal that when the time comes.

My favorite scene in the movie, “Nobody’s Fool,” starring Paul Newman, is to the point. He plays the role of Sully, who is kind of independent and rogue, who has alienated himself from his son, his grandson, and his best friend. Sully learns throughout the movie though that those people in fact need him, that he can make a meaningful difference in their lives. At the pivotal point in the story, a younger woman who has fallen for Sully wants to run off together with him, but he can’t. As she tears up, understanding the importance of what he’s saying, he says, “I just learned that I’m somebody’s father, somebody’s grandfather, and somebody’s friend.” He has realized that he is a stone cutter who is making cathedrals.

But loving your neighbor also means neighbors who are not quite family and friends, but maybe they’re quite close, nonetheless. What does it mean to help the lives of our friends at Casa flourish? What does it mean if one of them is going to be deported – one of their members who was welcomed here as an act of faith? What if some of Casa’s youth are DACA kids? If we are co-creators with God of a more trustworthy world, what role can we play, then, with these brothers and sisters in Christ whom God has sent to us? 800 Christian churches in America are sanctuary churches because they have a calling to their neighbors.

It is a distinctly Lutheran idea that we have been set free by a loving God, set free to love our neighbor. We are set free from our fatal preoccupation with ourselves so that we can be present with our neighbor. It is immensely important to gather here each week to be reminded that life is so much more than a paycheck or personal accomplishment. It’s being a part of the movement of God in the world. And in our freedom, we realize that we’re not supposed to do everything, but that God calls us to do certain things, and let other things go. With God, maybe our “to do” lists will get shorter and we’ll be able to say “no” more often.

As a faith community, our central task moving forward is learning how to let God lead us. How are our gifts as a congregation, and our setting right here on St Anthony Parkway, to be used to help our neighbors flourish?

One of our faith practices to cultivate is dwelling in the world – not Word, but world. Dwelling with our neighbors to look for God’s presence there. To listen to our neighbors that we might know what it means to love them. So go from this place today, knowing you have been set free and sent to be stonecutters, co-creating with God a more life-giving world! Amen.

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Pastor John is Mt. Carmel’s Senior Pastor.

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