Pick up a stone

Luke 19:28-40
Genesis 31:45-50
1 Samuel 7:12-14

A group of Americans was touring Ireland. One of the women in the group was a real curmudgeon, constantly complaining. The bus seats are uncomfortable the food is terrible It’s too hot, It’s too cold, and the hotels are awful. One of those people who really knows how to enjoy themselves on holiday.

The group arrived at the site of the famous Blarney Stone. “Good luck will be following you all your days, if you kiss the Blarney Stone,” the guide said. “Unfortunately, it’s being cleaned today and so no one will be able to kiss it. Perhaps we can come back tomorrow.”

“We can’t be here tomorrow,” the nasty woman shouted. “We have some other boring tour to go on. So I guess we can’t kiss the stupid stone.”

“Well now,” the guide said, “it is said that if you kiss someone who has kissed the stone, you’ll have the same good fortune.”

“And I suppose you’ve kissed the stone,” the woman scoffed.

“No, ma’am,” the frustrated guide said, “but I have sat on it.”

Stones are all around us, and the Bible is littered with stones. They speak to us. The idea of stones talking comes from Jesus. When he entered Jerusalem for the last time, as we heard today, riding his donkey, the large crowd of his disciples and supporters gave him such a loud welcome that some of the religious officials ordered him to tell them to be, quiet. He replied, “I tell you that if they keep quiet, the stones themselves will start shouting”.

Shouting what? I think a stone shouts many messages.

Pick up a stone, and it can speak to you of grateful memories.

“So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a memorial”, we read in Genesis. Joshua did the same. So do we. Around our church building there are stones to remind us of the enormous debt we owe to our forebears in the faith. As we read in the letter to the Hebrews, “we have this large crowd of witnesses round us”. Outside the front door, a stone reminds us of Wonnacot, who desgined this magnificent church, standing to remind Farnhamians of the presence of God among them. On the staircase we read on a stone of Joseph Johnson, who ministered so lovingly and so faithfully to our ancestors for so many years.

We read in the first book of Samuel, “Here I raise my Ebenezer”. Those five words seem incomprehensible nonsense to many, but there is something precious here, like a jeweller’s stone. Ebenezer means ‘Stone of Help’, and Samuel set it up between Mizpah and Shen and said, “The Lord has helped us all the way”. Shouldn’t we all feel a sense of gratitude that by the grace and mercy of God, we’ve come through thick and thin this far?

Pick up a stone, and it can warn us of deadly weapons.

Offenders were cruelly stoned to death in ancient Israel, and stones were also employed as weapons. The obvious case concerned David and Goliath, but how one justifies the story by claiming that God was with David as he felled poor old Goliath, I don’t know – not everything in the Bible is equally edifying. There’s the old jingle about sticks and stones breaking our bones but words never hurting us, which is, of course, nonsense! Words do hurt, do break the spirit if not the bones.

A husband and wife went out to China as missionaries many years ago. Their little girl of six was left behind in a boarding school where a sadistic mistress made her life a misery. She longed for her parents to return home so that she could live with them. Eventually they were back. Meanwhile, however, they had had a baby boy on whom the mother doted. When mother and daughter met again, the mother said to her, ‘Why, I’d almost forgotten I’d got you!’ This careless remark inflicted so deep a wound on that young girl’s personality that for ever afterwards she felt unwanted and unloved and in consequence had to receive psychotherapy.

‘Almost without exception,’ wrote William McDougall the psychologist, ‘children need to be encouraged in self-confidence rather than snubbed. And sometimes a single remark may have long-lasting effects.’

‘A word rashly spoken,’ says an old Chinese proverb, ‘cannot be brought back by a chariot and four horses.’ In Ecclesiastes one verse is sharply rendered ‘Be not rash with your mouth.’ The book of Proverbs says this, ‘Kind words bring life, but cruel words crush your spirit.’ And, of course, in the Letter of James many verses are devoted to the dangers of an undisciplined, uncontrolled tongue. It is, writes James, a fire, a world of wrong, evil and full of deadly poison. Perhaps he suffered from unkind gossip!
Stones can wound us, sometimes as much as words.

Pick up a stone, and it will remind us of a despised Saviour who became a living Lord.

That picture of a stone rejected as worthless by the builders but becoming the corner-stone, the most important of all, is repeatedly presented to us in the Bible. It’s a picture of Jesus who actually quotes the saying himself. In an important passage in Isaiah about the so-called Suffering Servant it says, ‘We despised and rejected him.’ He was disreputable, making himself of no reputation, as it says in the New Testament.

And he was crucified, the most ignominious death imaginable, and the cruellest. His rejection was complete. But his story wasn’t. The work he had come to do was done on that cross, but he wasn’t done for. He cried, ‘it is finished.’ That meant not that the grim ordeal of his suffering was over, but that his mission was accomplished. He himself certainly wasn’t ‘finished’.

Which brings us to our last stone.

`On the way they said to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But, as Charles Wesley put it in his Easter hymn, ‘Vain the stone, the watch, the seal.’ Christ ‘burst his three-day prison.’ He ceased to be the despised and rejected Saviour and became the Lord who lives and leads. Someone said, ‘The stone at the tomb of Jesus was a pebble to the Rock of Ages inside.’ The stone once rejected becomes the Church’s one foundation, and the Church as the Body of Christ continues his saving work in the world.

Easter, unlike Christmas, isn’t a one-day festival, or even a twelve-day celebration, annually. Every Sunday is Easter Day. This year again, there were criticisms directed at shops for putting out Easter Eggs on Boxing Day. There were also complaints of hot-cross buns before Christmas. Why not? It’s Easter that gives meaning to Christmas.

In Masefield’s play The Trial of Jesus, Pilate’s wife Procula is presented as being deeply troubled over the crucifixion of the preaching carpenter from Galilee. There is a base for this play in scripture, because Matthew tells us that she sent a message to her husband warning him not to have anything to do with Jesus, whom she described as an innocent man. A dream had troubled her. In the play she asks the Roman soldier who has rushed in to report an empty tomb, `Where do you think he is?’ He replies, ‘Let loose in the world, lady, where neither Roman nor Jew can stop his truth.’

If Christ’s disciples keep silent, these very stones shout aloud.

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