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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
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:
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.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
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.
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