The Rev. Mary Vano
St. Margaret’s, Little Rock
October 2, 2011
Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21: 33-46
Back in the spring when I was still at my former parish, my colleagues and I had designed an Easter postcard that we were really proud of. If you’re not on Facebook, bear with me and use your imaginations, because the card was designed to look exactly like what you see on your computer screen when someone “requests your friendship”. There was a profile picture, in this case a familiar icon, and the words “Jesus of Nazareth wants to be your friend.”
Yes, we thought we were really clever by making it look just like Facebook, until we realized that perhaps it looked a little bit too much like Facebook. Facebook had actually just moved into offices down the street from us in Austin, and one of our lawyers told us we could potentially be sued for copyright infringement! We had to abandon the idea.
But if I can’t show you this image, I can at least offer you this compelling idea: What if Jesus showed up in your Facebook?
Something I’ve noticed about friendship requests on Facebook is that they can sometimes be a little awkward. Of course I’m delighted when someone I know connects with me, but on occasion I get a friendship request from someone I sort of vaguely remember, but don’t really know. And the fact that they’re trying to connect with me suggests to me that perhaps they know or remember me better than I remember them. So, I end up having a feeling of embarrassment and this awkward internal argument as I look at the computer screen contemplating whether to click “Accept” or “Not Now.”
So, Jesus of Nazareth wants to be your friend. Do you know him? Or does he know you better than you remember him? Do you want him to see all your posts and pictures? Would you accept his invitation, or avoid him?
The apostle Paul, we know, avoided Jesus and persecuted his followers, but by the time he writes the letter to the Philippians he says this, “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” The surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Knowing Jesus is different than knowing about Jesus. We can probably all say that we know his story – how he was born in a manger, lived as a humble carpenter, ate dinner with tax collectors and sinners, created quite a stir, was executed, and resurrected. In short, how he saves us from death by conquering death, and shows us the pathway to life. But as much as we know about Jesus, the task of knowing Jesus always seems to be before us.
In today’s Gospel, and last week’s as well, Jesus seems to be chastising the chief priests and elders of the temple for this very reason – as much as they know about God, they do not know God. If they knew God they would have heard his voice in John the Baptist’s – but they are deaf, because they have stopped listening. If they knew God, they would have seen his presence even among the outcasts and the sinners – but they are blinded by their own ego.
So Jesus comes to reveal the heart and the passion of God more clearly than anyone before or since, and invites us to know – not just know about – but to know God. He calls us back to the word of God and says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” So, even while the world is blind and deaf and can no longer recognize God, God will take what the world rejects and build our redemption upon it. Jesus Christ, the very incarnation of love, will be rejected and sent to the cross, but even so, he will become the sure foundation of our salvation.
Christ knows us, and the invitation is for us to get to know him – and in knowing him, to build our lives upon this cornerstone. So, what does that mean? What would it look like to build our lives upon the cornerstone of Christ? Perhaps one thing we could take from today’s parable… those wicked tenants had forgotten that they were stewards – that they were there to take care of the vineyard on behalf of the landowner. The more deeply we know Christ, the more fully we remember that nothing in this world belongs to us – we are caretakers – here to care for this earth and its resources for the sake of the whole world.
Being good stewards is one way to build our lives upon this cornerstone, but as we know Christ more fully, we will see even more opportunities. Remembering Paul, the value of knowing Christ Jesus surpasses all. It surpasses all because in knowing Christ, our knowledge of everything else changes. This is Paul’s argument in his letter. Paul, who is sometimes prone to bragging, makes it clear that under the law he was blameless. He was a member of God’s chosen through his circumcision, by being born into the right kind of family; he knew the law, he knew the language, he was zealous and righteous. He knew he was saved, because he followed all the right rules. But knowing Christ changed everything that he thought he knew.
He claims this as a loss, and I’m confident that it was. What he was once certain about, he could no longer follow. And yet that certainty was replaced by freedom. Knowing Christ gave him a new and expanded vision of the world. Knowing Christ will change how we see the world. Christ will change how we understand and interact with the people all around us. Perhaps most importantly, knowing Christ will change how we perceive ourselves. The questions of who Jesus is, and who we are as Christians are inextricably intertwined – for who we know Jesus to be is directly related to how we respond to Christ in faith.
This is how we build our lives on Christ the cornerstone, by knowing Jesus, and allowing that relationship to shape how we spend our time, how we spend our money, how we vote, how we interact with people, how we care for the world… the list goes on.
Knowing Christ is the quest of faith. Paul saw it this way too, writing, “Not that I have already achieved this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” He goes on, “Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
The heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus has been extended to you. Jesus wants to be your friend. Will you accept?