The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

CHRIST IS OUR CORNERSTONE!

Delivered 10/29/2000
Text: I Peter 2:1-10
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.


"Christ is our cornerstone!"(1) The motto chosen for this congregation over a century ago, and one recently revived as our word to the world concerning who we are and what we are about in this place we call the First Presbyterian Church of Warren, PA. It was 105 years ago today, October 29, 1895, at 2:30 in the afternoon, that your grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, the forebears of today's congregation, gathered outside in Pennsylvania's autumn chill to see the exciting event pictured in that photograph, the laying of the cornerstone of this building.

For what it is worth, the natural law that insists that anything that can go wrong WILL go wrong, and at the worst possible moment, Murphy's Law, was operative even back then. You see, according to the account reported in the Warren Evening News,(2) the celebration was originally scheduled for late August, but as Pastor J. W. Smith (who served this congregation at the time) noted in his address that day, "Things have conspired to delay us until it is now nearly the first of November." He continued, "Owing to the lateness of the season our services will be less elaborate and prolonged than they would otherwise have been." The newspaper account did NOT report, but we can comfortably presume, that a sigh of relief swept through the crowd.

As preachers tend to do when a congregation is gathered before them, Pastor Smith preached, and, according to the newspaper, "His splendid address was delivered in his usual eloquent manner." He said,

An occasion of this kind suggests Christ, the chief cornerstone. This is a Christian church. It is a temple of Christ. May he be and ever remain its cornerstone. There are carpets woven so that the figure permeates the entire texture. To remove the image is to ruin the fabric. May Christ be so interwoven with the teaching, worship, and work of this church as to be forever inseparable. Palsied be the hand that shall ever lift itself in this structure to pluck a star from the crown of Jesus. Loyalty to him is the foundation on which we build.
Eloquent, indeed.

What is involved with our saying, "Christ Is Our Cornerstone?" An amazing amount, actually.

In a remote province of Galilee at the high point of Roman power, this young man appeared. He had been raised in the home of an artisan, a carpenter, and had learned that trade himself. He had only the elementary education of the village synagogue. He had no political or financial backing. His itinerant ministry of teaching and healing was of short duration - three years at most.

Despite being popular with the people who heard him, he ran afoul of the religious establishment. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had on earth, his coat, while he was dying a few feet above them. When he was dead he was taken down and laid in a borrowed tomb through the pity of a friend. Not long after, his followers said that God raised him from the dead. But except among those who believed in him, the event passed without notice.

Now, two-thousand years have passed. And what a change. The centuries themselves now are measured from the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. For Christians, Christ is the cornerstone of the church - he is the hinge on which the door of all history swings, the point at which time and eternity intersect. As this second millennium draws to a close, nearly a third of the world's population claim to be his followers.(3)

But by any secular standard, Christ is not only OUR cornerstone, he is also the cornerstone of Western culture. Art and science, politics and economics, marriage and the family, body and soul -- all have been influenced and often radically transformed by Christian influence.

To be painfully honest, the name of Jesus has not always been rightly used. The same Jesus who preached love was used to justify the hate of the Crusades, the inquisitions, the witch trials. The same gospel he proclaimed has underwritten both democracy and the divine right of kings. Often persecuted - even today - Christians have frequently persecuted others, including other Christians. Several years ago, a poster appeared with this inscription: "A Modest Proposal for Peace - Let the Christians of the World Stop Killing Other Christians!" Amen!

Several authors have written books through the years on the condition of this planet if Christ had NOT come. Henry Rogers was one of those and his work was called The Eclipse of Faith.(4) In it he imagines that some powerful hand has wiped the influence of Christ out of our civilization, as a hand would clean a blackboard in a schoolroom. Rogers represents himself as going into his library to find no trace left of the life or words of Jesus. All had vanished. The law books that provided protection for widows, children, and the poor showed pages blank except for the numbers at the bottom. Chapters had important paragraphs missing turning them into meaningless jargon.

Suitably alarmed, he turned himself to his histories of art, and where "The Transfiguration" and "The Last Supper" had been, he found empty spaces. He pictured a tour through the great galleries of the world and found frame upon empty frame that had once contained the work of the great masters. As a lover of architecture he envisioned the beautiful cathedrals of Rome, Paris and Milan; he saw what was once Westminster Abbey. In each case the only thing remaining was a huge, gaping crater of a cellar. After all, they had been constructed in the design of a cross, and without the one who had been sacrificed on the cross, there would have been no call for constructing a building in the shape of one. He considered the greatest poems of Dante and Milton, of Wordsworth and Tennyson and again found empty pages and, indeed, empty books. Finally, Rogers realized that, if Christ had not come, the beautiful philanthropies, the missions, the hospitals, the schools that have had such a magnificent influence both at home and abroad, would all perish, as if shaken down by some cosmic earthquake. It was a shattering view.

Historian Philip Schaff has described the overwhelming effect which Jesus has had on the history and culture of the world:

  • "This Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon;
  • without science...he shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined;
  • without the eloquence of schools, he spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet;
  • without writing a single line, he set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times."(5)


Christ is our Cornerstone!

No one would deny that, despite the presence of Christ among us, we still live in a terribly imperfect world. We continue to be plagued with horrible examples of what people do to each other: the holocaust of the Nazis, the ethnic cleansing in Eastern Europe, terrorist attacks on innocent civilians. In the third world today we see governments more concerned about fighting rebels than feeding their starving millions. The news is filled with stories of individual murder, rape, and robbery...all in spite of two thousand years of the influence of the God who loved creation so much as to take on its form to show us ever after how we are expected to live. How much worse could it have been without that influence?

Last year, Newsweek magazine, in an Easter feature about Jesus asked Billy Graham to write of his own personal experience with Christ. He wrote:

Since I first committed my life to Jesus Christ some 60 years ago, I have crossed paths with people who hold virtually every kind of religious and philosophical views imaginable. Often I am moved by the intensity of their spiritual searching and by the depth of their commitment. At the same time, as the years have gone by, I myself have become even more convinced of the uniqueness and truth of the Gospel of Christ.

Is that merely stubbornness on my part, or self-deception? Actually, it comes from a deeper and growing understanding of who Jesus Christ was - and is. The Bible says that Jesus Christ was God in human flesh, that 2,000 years ago God deliberately came down and took human form in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus was not just another great religious teacher, nor was he only another in a long line of individuals seeking after spiritual truth. He was, instead, truth itself. He was God incarnate.

When I seek to point people to Christ, it is because I am convinced that he alone is God's answer to life's deepest problems. I have seen him bring changes in the lives of countless individuals who have turned to him in true repentance and faith...The next generation will have to face the same problems that past generations had to face. And as he has been in the past, Christ will continue to be the answer to all of our problems in the future.(6)

Christ is our cornerstone. And that is not only a clever motto - that is scripture. We read it in our text from I Peter. But we also read, "You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." That means you and I have been offered the wonderful honor of being part of this holy structure as well. We cannot be Christians without being part of Christ's church. Those who claim otherwise are simply mistaken - they can be nice people, but they cannot be Christian!

The text goes on: "But you are a chosen people" - it is no accident that we are here; the God of all the universe has brought us together; "a royal priesthood" - priests are those who offer access to God, and we do it as we open these doors to the world; "a holy nation" not "halo-over-the-head" holy, but "set apart" holy; "a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."

Christ is our cornerstone.

Today is a special day here. Yes, it is an important anniversary in our history, and yes, it is the day you officially install your pastor. It is also Reformation Sunday, that day on the church calendar that commemorates Martin Luther's challenge to the church of his day to get back to its biblical roots. It is a day to remember the wonderful rejuvenations, even resurrections, the church has experienced through the centuries. It is a day to look to the future with hope that the Spirit of the Living God is rejuvenating and re-energizing THIS congregation as we move into the third millennium.

Christ is our cornerstone. Yesterday, today, and forever.

Amen!


1. "Christ Is Our Cornerstone," recently revived as the motto of First Presbyterian Church, was enthusiastically endorsed after being called to the congregation's attention through the diligent historical investigations of Connie and Jim Henderson who have been carefully and lovingly devoting themselves to the task for several very productive years. We are most grateful to them for their efforts.

2. "CORNERSTONE LAID, The New Presbyterian Church Receives its Charge." 10/29/1895

3. Kenneth Woodward, "2000Years of Jesus," Newsweek, 3/29/99, p. 52ff.

4. Quoted by Newell Dwight Hillis, "What If Christ Were Not?" The World's Great Sermons, (Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishing, 1943), p. 200

5. Christianity Today online, http://www.ccci.org/whoisjesus/interactive-journey/impact.htm

6. Billy Graham, "God's Hand on My Life," Newsweek, 3/29/99, p. 65

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