1 Peter 2:4-5; John 14:1-3; May 5, 2023; Fourth Sunday of Easter
“All things that belong to love are beautiful; and all things that are beautiful have their source in love.” – Stopford A. Brooke
The hymn that we just sang, Let the Whole Creation Cry, was written by the same person who authored that beautiful quote: Stopford A. Brooke. In addition to being a lyricist, Brooke was also an ordained minister in the Church of England, and even served as the chaplain to Queen Victoria! Later in life though, he had a falling out with the Church in-proper; thinking they had become too rigid in their theology and too dogmatic and dated for their own good. But unwilling to foreclose on his lot completely, he built off his spiritual foundation already in place, reconstructing his faith with those more modern and progressive in thought and practice, and from that time forth, he was restored with God and wrote poetry and hymns.
Chief among Brooke’s rehabbed ideas and lyrical content was that God was not a god-of-wrath, but a “God of Joy.” And that in giving and in receiving, in sharing and in restoring; God’s incarnate presence is made joyfully known to and in all. Going further, he suggested that when the days of our world lead us to feel like we’ve been sold and abandoned; and when the buildings of our history that we frequent and inhabit appear worn down to the stone; God’s story is being told, and there is beauty yet, if there is still love.
When I was a teenager and earned my driver’s license, one of my favorite things to do was to get lost on old back-country roads, driving in directions unknown, imagining what sort of lives were being lived behind the walls of homes not my own. I would think of the trees around the houses; and who they may have been planted by, and what storms and adventures they may have seen and lived through. I would imagine if the home itself had gone through several additions and remodels, if not multiple families and owners; and wonder if the doors and the windows had remembered who their favorite children and pets were. I would imagine all these things; and would dream of the annals of history that the land could tell me about its days long passed and its hopes for the future.
Recently, I started to do this with the next of my generation: with my son, Seth; driving him around old winding roads throughout Bucks County up in towns forgotten by Waze and Google-Maps. I’m not sure he enjoys it as much I do, or as much as I think I remember I did when I was younger, but out of love and sympathy for his old man, he plays along all the same.
One of my favorite experiences when doing this with him happened about this time last year, when we were up near Lumberville, a beautiful one-horse sort of town, with a neat General Store, whose morning burrito I would strongly recommend. We turned down a road running perpendicular to the river, and then came across a clearing of trees where there sat a great white farm house.
A house that you could tell had seen some work over time; for even though there was a new asphalt roof with solar panels, and new wide-plank vinyl siding with those newly modern black-framed windows, the structure, at least half of it, was yet visibly older, stone laid stone-on-top-of-stone, touched up and re-grouted.
We saw a couple of children playing on a tire swing, and two dogs, perhaps a black lab and a west highland white terrier, running through the recently mowed grass chasing after invisible frisbees or maybe a bug or a bee. There was, in short, new life, yet there was also history. A great oak tree with fresh carvings of a heart, and a date, and newly etched initials.
The owner, who was outside tending to a garden planted in the front-yard, asked if there was something she could do for us since we were sitting and strangely ogling. I simply said no, and that we were sorry, and that we were purely admiring her property while imagining and wondering about its history, a game played in my own youthful upbringing.
She smiled and told us a short story about the house and the land being family-owned, passed down from generation to generation. That yes, there was a dispute once about bulldozing it and starting over, and another about selling it altogether, but that ultimately, they decided to keep it; to build off its strong foundation; to love it as it had been loved; and to create new memories and new beauty with new faces of the same family.
“All things that belong to love are beautiful; and all things that are beautiful have their source in love.”
And so, after thanking her, and without trying to overstay our creepy sort of welcome, I drove off, but with a new rear view understanding of what I think scripture is talking about when naming stones that are living.
You see, living stones are not content with remaining unearthed and staying in place; nor do they wish to be scattered across the lot, sold, or forgotten. Living stones are willing to be worked and reshaped for renewed purposes amidst new times and aesthetics.
Living stones then acknowledge their history, yes, they even pay homage to it for they are made from it. But they’re also in want to be used for something different, if not something more modern and progressive in thought and in practice.
Jesus, after all, did not come to repeat the prophetic message. He came to fulfill, renew, and then reimagine it. And here at Grace, in this campaign, and in this house – his house — we are being asked to joyfully do the same just as he, the cornerstone, did before us when reshaping the house of God by taking on our flesh and by preaching a message of love and redemption for all.
So may we trust then that all things, even new things and constructions that perhaps go by different names and appearances than we are accustomed to, are yet beautiful if they are also sourced from love. Especially his love that first loved and evolved with us, ever since the beginning of our history and the first garden and foundation way back in Eden.