Scattered Stones

1729636748_d103074d46_zLast week we heard from Pastor Alan Dyer as he brought God’s Word to us from the twelfth chapter of Mark; he challenged us with the story that’s often called “the widow’s mite”—when Jesus lifts up the example of a destitute woman quietly putting two pennies into the offering basin right next to the charity of much louder and abundant givers. Rev. Dyer wondered what it would look like for us, too, to give all that we have to God: living faithfully in small ways like the widow and like a prayerful friend Alan had made—not seeking to be noticed for our faith and actions in big, showy ways.

In the next passage, Mark 13, which we have to wrestle with today, Jesus and his disciples leave the temple for the Mount of Olives. Jesus has turned over tables and exposed the power-mongering of the temple leaders, but as he exits the doors, his companions, the disciples, can’t help but be overcome by the greatness of the building they’re leaving.

The sheer size of the temple befits the place that it holds in the imagination and spirituality of Jews in the first century. These good Jewish men, the disciples, are like tourists in the big city, gawking at the skyscrapers, eyes wide at the shiny stones. “Look, Jesus, aren’t these enormous buildings amazing? Look at what people have done!” They’re enraptured by the shiny objects; hypnotized by the bright stones.

Jesus says right back to them: “Do YOU see these big stones and impressive buildings?” “Are you really looking deeply and closely at these monuments to human achievement?” “Do you recognize what it is that you’re taking in?” “Do you see the significance of these buildings?”

Then Jesus drops the hammer: “They’re a mirage. They don’t have staying power. Those shiny, impressive stones will be completely scattered, nothing will be left of them.” Isn’t this what he’s been trying to tell the disciples throughout their conversation in the temple? The shiny buildings are exactly the same as the impressive scribes who have long robes and strut about with their lofty prayers. These great structures of stones and scaffoldings of societal power, built up to touch the sky, they aren’t permanent, they’re not worth investing in; “not one of these stones will be left on top of another. All will be thrown down.”

This isn’t a new story. We see echoes throughout Scripture, throughout history, and in our lives still today. It says something about what it means to be a fallen person, part of the people who love darkness and love to seek our own glory.

Way back in the eleventh chapter of Genesis, the people of the world in pre-history have the same idea: let’s build a tower that reaches all the way up to heaven, then we will be like God. We will get to choose who ascends the tower. We will get to choose who are the slaves. We will have the power. We will be in charge.

I hardly have to remind you of the people who have said those same things throughout the world over the last few days. Terror attacks in Paris and Beirut, regimes throughout the Middle East from which thousands are fleeing—we get to choose who lives and who dies, we are in charge, we say who can come into our buildings of shiny stone.

I cannot tell you why bad things happen to good people. But the good news is that God draws the boundaries of who fits into his kingdom, God chooses which stones HE will accept. The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. God takes scattered stones, displaced people, and brings in those outside the boundaries to dwell in his strong tower, to live in the house he builds. He chooses the widow and her pennies, the refugee and his family, the single mother and the ex-convict.

There was a Frenchman in World War II who knew this well, his name is Andre Trocme. He was a pastor in a rural French town and during the Nazi occupation of France, he encouraged and organized his neighbors to shelter Jewish children and families seeking safety. Pastor Andre urged his people to “do the will of God, not of men.” Convicted by God’s call throughout the Old and New Testaments to look out for the persecuted and to provide shelter to those who had nowhere to go, 3500 people were saved through the little town of Chambon in the five years that they faithfully chose to resist the evil that surrounded them. Despite raids, threats of capture and punishment, and the example of friends who were caught and sent to camps, the people of Chambon continued to gather up the scattered stones of refugees’ lives. These scattered stones, these frightened, disgraced people, were put back together as they passed through Chambon.

Now the French people are responding to evil again just the way that Trocme followed Jesus decades ago. As refugees have flooded Western Europe from the Middle East, this nation accepted them, giving shelter to those who have nowhere to go. Their love and their courageous witness, accepting these scattered stones, made them a threat to evil and to darkness. Accepting scattered stones challenges those who have put their trust in towers of Babel, in shiny-stoned buildings where people set themselves up as their own lord and king.

Over the weekend, the City of Light fought back against darkness, knowing that “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”[1]

There are plenty of scattered stones still today; shards of lives littering the streets of Paris; stones are scattered anywhere that refugees are trying to find a new home, anywhere that people are trapped in place under an oppressive regime, anywhere that bombings take place but the media coverage is nil. Scattered stones aren’t just in faraway places, and they’re not just international incidents. There are the scattered stones of a terminal diagnosis; of a crumbling marriage; of a life that feels lonely and directionless. These broken dreams are the shattered pieces of the way we thought that life would look.

I’m reminded of that scene near the end of Beauty and the Beast—when the last petal begins to fall from the enchanted rose, a sign of the last chance the Beast had to learn how to love. As you’ll remember, at the same moment, the Beast—spoiler alert—has taken an arrow in the chest to save Belle. As the rain pours, the stones of their life together scattered everywhere, the Beast is miraculously healed. He is made new. Through no power of their own, Belle and the Beast’s lives are put together again. The scattered stones around them are gathered up by a greater power and made into something new.

The God who is Jesus makes it his business to gather up scattered stones, scattered people, and then he uses those very stones, dull and chipped and irregular, to build something truly beautiful. Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.[2] Live like Jesus is telling the truth. Live with disregard for power structures and for shiny objects. Search for scattered stones – God does his work in the most obliterated places.

On Easter morning, God moved the stone that held Jesus in the tomb. God has not stopped moving stones. We gather on Sunday mornings because that’s when God showed the world that he is a God who brings life out of death.

[1] Martin Luther King Jr.

[2] Psalm 127:1

artwork via

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