1 Peter 2
Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.
Good morning living stones of Brunswick Street and Bethany!
Do you feel like living stones this Natal Day morning? While the Bethany staff are home with our families on this holiday Monday I thought I would connect with those who are about to step out into God’s Creation and experience the wonder and blessing a day such as this can offer. Indeed our Indigenous Peoples all over the world have been teaching us that Creation offers much more than a steady resource for our material needs, that it also gives us a glimpse into the purpose of the Creator. Too often we confuse our covenant with the culture around us; to work hard, play by the rules and become a worldly success. While there is much to commend such a regiment of daily living it is not what we value when our mortal lives come to an end.
Few of us will ask, with our last breath, “Did I remember to mow the lawn” or “Does my home look like the dwelling places I see in those countless home renovation cable TV shows” or “What does my neighbour have that I ought to possess, after all I deserve it more than her/him.” As the Gospels remind us “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these…Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Amen to that!
Over the weekend I spent time “considering the lilies of the field” and witnessing “living stones”. I hope you won’t mind if I share a little bit of that experience. Our kind brother Sid Jackson died last week and we celebrated his life on Saturday. In our preparations I asked his sons, Dan and Mike, to consider the deep connections we make with our Creator in the midst of Creation. One tangible witness to this blessing is a new ritual I have been suggesting to grieving families, finding earth that was sacred to the one we are celebrating and then asking those at the grave to take handfuls of the soil and, as I say, “Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes” those gathered release this reminder of our deep connection to Creation on the casket. It never ceases to amaze me the power of this ritual in grief.
But as we stood on Saturday afternoon in the Fairview cemetery there was an additional consideration being offered, this time by Sid’s son Dan. After all 30 people standing around the grave had released soil from Sid’s garden in Ingonish (Cape Breton) Dan took out small stones from his pocket and assembled them as a cross on the casket. Dan wrote me later that night, “The symbolism was deeply personal for me, and I believe would be for him (Sid) as well; the soil from his mother’s garden that had nurtured their family for so many years. The stones were from the beach on Ingonish Island, his birthplace. His father had loaded them into flour sacks, rowed them ashore in his dory, and hauled them up the hill to help build the family home.” Living stones indeed! The symbolism of stones that had helped build a life being laid out in the form of a Christian cross was powerful and unexpected. It reminded me, and others as well, that life is a gift that cannot be contained by this world. Further, it reminded me of 1 Peter 2 and its message of unexpected grace, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.” As I shared yesterday in the sermon portion of the services we are all “citizens of heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Those small stones reminded me that life is abundant and everlasting, that what we in our culture consider “other” or “less than” are in fact “precious in God’s sight”.
Last night at Brunswick Street Church, at the end of our service, our Prayer leader Heather asked the circle for names and places we should hold in prayer. As the litany of names, places (close and far away) were spoken aloud Hedly spoke up and said, “Please remember the Jackson family, they were in church this morning at Bethany”. I briefly shared a little about Sid, that Dan and his family were in church the day after the funeral.
When I got home last night I had received an email from Dan with another “consideration of the lilies”, “The gladiolus flower that I placed on the casket was grown by his (Sid’s) 90-year old sister Lois, who lives in Ingonish. She was amazed to see this one flower from her garden bloom so early; gladioli usually don’t until later in August but this one was in perfect bloom at the time of Sid’s death, though many others were not even in bud yet. She suggested it be part of the bouquet of flowers from his garden and field and displayed in their mother’s old watering can at the visitation and church.”
Creation can reveal so much that we cannot see without eyes of faith and a faith-filled community to help us discern the Way. Thanks be to God who is so often found beyond our cultural norms and expectations, who is both Creator and Creation to us and others. The stones we reject as different, odd, strange, “other” or foreign are living stones of a living God, who fashions for us unexpected blessings in front of our very eyes. “Let anyone with ears to hear, listen and anyone with eyes to see, behold!” Amen.