“In 1957, [when] some Buddhist monks in Thailand had to relocate a large clay statue of Buddha, because a highway was being built that would run straight through their temple. When a crane began to lift the huge statue, a loud crack was heard. And at the same time it began to rain.
The head monk, afraid that the Buddha would be permanently damaged asked that the statue be lowered to the ground and covered with a huge tarp. Later that evening, the monk went to check to see if the Buddha was dry. When he lifted the tarp and directed his flashlight toward the idol, his eye caught a slight gleam. Curious, the monk fetched a chisel and hammer and began to tap away at the clay. What he discovered, after hours of delicate work, was a solid gold Buddha—ten and a half feet tall, weighing two-and-a-half tons!
After some research, the monk discovered that—centuries before, as an enemy army was about to attack what was then Siam—the ancient monks had covered the golden Buddha in clay so that it would not be destroyed or plundered. Because all the Siamese monks of that time were murdered, nobody had yet discovered their secret.” [“The Golden Buddha”, Jack Canfield, Chicken Soup for the Soul]
The good news of the Christian Gospel proclaims that, within each one of us, there is a divine essence that is eternal and indestructible, beautiful and valuable beyond measure: the shining image of God.
Yet over time, and under duress, that golden essence gets caked by the muck and mud and mire of our often troubled life in this world, disfiguring our beauty and covering our light.
Some of us may have been tarnished by critical, condemning, and belittling childhood messages, which leave that sparkle hidden under dense layers of shame and inadequacy.
Others may find their divine inner gleam buried deep under the weight of the broken trust and shattered dreams of failed relationships.
Or perhaps it’s just a matter of having become jaded by decades of wading through the dulling stress and sullied grime of surviving in the competitive corporate or work-a-day world—fighting that never-ending battle to make ends stretch thin to meet.
Whatever the means, life in this world can gradually hide that shining beauty which God has placed so profoundly within each of us. And the humbling reality is that, on our own, we simply do not have the wherewithal to combat that insidious soiling process.
We need Help. In order to bring forth, once more, the bright evidence of that precious essence from within we need the insight, the intuition, and the inspired skill of a Master Artist.
The great artist Michelangelo once told a young student of his that, when a rough-hewn hunk of cold, gray quarried marble was placed in front of him, his humble task was, not to try to create something of worth from this weather-stained, unstructured stone; but rather to be able to envision and then release the incredible beauty that was already inherent within that marble, by giving it shape and form and function.
Jesus Christ, the stone that the builders (that is the builders of the temple) rejected – because he wasn’t refined enough, wasn’t beautiful enough, wasn’t fashioned in a way that represented their own image – has become the very cornerstone of our own transformation.
The stone which the Pharisees, and so many since, have stumbled over due to the blindness pride and fear becomes, for those who are willing to humbly believe – those who are willing to surrender the cold, hard stone of the human heart – becomes the very capstone of our lives.
In other words, Jesus Christ –his life, his love and his sacrifice – became the Soul Inspiration and Sacred Model by which God recreates every one of His precious children.
And if – as Peter suggests – you have tasted the goodness of the Lord, if you have surrendered your heart to be re-formed by God’s grace, if you have known the life-changing power of God’s love in Jesus Christ in your own life, then that divine image which remains at the center of your essence should begin to resonate with what we are hearing today. Listen again (and listen closely, because I believe this is so important for us to hear):
You are holy, you are precious,
you are chosen, you are called,
you are, in the eyes of God, vastly important,
significant, and necessary people.
And it is through the Christ in you that
you have become the building blocks
of the new creation.
Christ comes to us, as in the darkness of a stormy rainy night, trudging through the destructive mires of this world to reach out to take us in His tender, healing hands, tugging at the hulking clay of ancient wounds caked on by the harsh weather of this world, gradually, faithfully, artfully revealing the vision of his own image within. Then he takes these precious, reclaimed stones and with them begins to rebuild his own body – the Church – for the sake of God’s kingdom in the world.
Saint Teresa of Avila, the widely revered sixteenth-century Carmelite nun and author of one of the greatest spiritual classics of all time, The Interior Castle, characterizes a life in God’s presence.
In that book, Saint Teresa focuses on Christ’s words in John’s Gospel, “…in my Father’s house there are many rooms…” as reflecting a journey rich in discovery and amazement. Saint Teresa speaks of the human soul in relationship with God as a diamond that shines with glorious light and color.
“It is that we consider our soul,” she writes, “to be like a castle made entirely out of a diamond, or very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling places.”
It’s akin to the vision of the New Jerusalem that is later revealed to John where the angel said to him:
“Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb,” [which is the Church of Jesus Christ]. “It shines with the glory of God and with a radiance like a very rare jewel…as clear as crystal.” [Revelations 21:9b]
By allowing ourselves to be remade into Christ’s image – individually through intimate relationship with him and then building strong, loving and faithful relationships with each other – we become his body in the world; the Church.
We become a home for the homeless; a refuge for the alien and the stranger, sanctuary for the widow and the alcoholic, a healing respite for the couple trapped in a stagnant marriage, hospice for the patient dying of cancer.
We become home for the teenager rejected by his peers, home for the child who is disabled or mentally challenged, home for the single mother who needs extended family for her children, home for the factory worker downsized by his company, home for the brilliant scholar whose heart feels cold and gray. We become the household of grace for the young adult who feels irrelevant and the senior citizen who feels ignored.
We become an “Exclusive community,” as former PCUSA moderator Susan Andrews says, “not because we shut people out, but exclusive because we welcome everybody in. Exclusive because of the distinctive values, because of the Unique Lord and Savior, who shapes our lives: values of unconditional love and acceptance; values of eager tolerance that encourages us to look for the gold hidden beneath the common clay…” to reveal the beauty inside the cold marble; to see the diamond shining from within a rough exterior. To see the possibility and wonder of living stones through the eyes of the Divine Artist.
Let me share one final story, again from Susan Andrews, “At a recent family retreat in our church,” she says, “we played a wonderful game of softball. But this game was of a mutant variety—the `softball’ was almost as big as a volleyball and the odd assortment of bats included one for T-ball. The youngest player was five, the oldest player about sixty-five, and there was a wide spread in between.
Everyone was welcomed and wanted on the team—fat or skinny, slow or fast, “successful” or not. Everybody got as many pitches as they wanted in order to hit the ball, which is a good thing since it usually takes me about five or six swings to connect! One little boy hit the ball about two feet, and could easily have been thrown out at first base, except that the catcher “accidentally” fumbled the ball and didn’t throw it in time.
Then it was Sarah’s turn. Because of a genetic disorder, Sarah’s brain doesn’t always connect with the action that is needed. When it was her turn to bat, her father helped her swing, and when the hit came she started to run—but in the wrong direction. What happened next,” Susan Andrews says, “was amazing! As a single organism, every person on the field swung into action. They called to her, they helped her, they all did what they could to lead her to first base.
But when she went straight from second base to home plate—nobody corrected her. Instead, we all cheered for the run she had just scored. The man next to me said softly, “It really does take a village to raise a child.”
I stood there with tears in my eyes as Sarah basked in the affection of the crowd. On that ball field, we had become the body of Christ, an alternative community with distinctive values, values that declare to the world that each child of God is precious, that each child of God is, at the core, pure gold.”
They say it takes a whole village to raise one child. But sometimes all it takes is one special child to raise a village.
“As you did it for one of the least of these,” Jesus told his disciples, “so you also did it for me.”
That’s what it means to be living stones for the sake of the kingdom of God in and through Christ Jesus.
Let’s pray together:
Most Merciful God, we pray for those, today, who do not realize how precious they are in your sight. We pray for the lost children of Syria, whose hope has been obscured by life-long suffering, whose sense of intrinsic value and self-worth have been so profoundly marred by the blood and muck of war. We pray, O Lord, for their release and redemption. We pray for their salvation. We pray that you would mobilize human hearts in compassion for their tragic plight, reaching out to them with the light of your healing love.
And we pray this morning, Lord, for those people in Italy whose lives have been buried under the rubble of earthquakes and aftershocks. Whose security and stability has been shaken to the core. We pray that, by your grace, others would aid with their rescue and recovery and help them to clear a path to regain a new sense of peace and prosperity.
We pray for those in Indiana, and other places in the Midwest, whose lives have been so devastated by tornados. For those in Louisiana who have been traumatically impacted by mass flooding and in California by wildfires.
We pray for all these we have named, O God, as well as for those closer to home – whether they be suffering grief, illness, loss or some other pain – whom we hold in our hearts during this time of quiet prayer.
All these precious children we now lift up to you, Merciful God, for a special measure of your grace. Through Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray, saying, “Our Father . . . Amen.”