Once upon a time there were two rulers who went into a fierce battle. Now this clash happened 2500 years ago, give or take a bit, and Leonidas, the King of Sparta, had set out to meet Xerxes of Persia – so you have Leonidas the Spartan and Xerxes the Persian in one of the most famous battles in history. Now the Spartan Army was coordinating with the Greek naval forces to fight the Persian Navy, and that meant neither the Spartan Army nor the Navy was available to go into this battle – so Leonidas took only 7000 men from some of the nearby Greek cities to face Xerxes and his huge army of hundreds of thousands of soldiers because they were headed in to take over Greece.
But Leonidas had some helpful information. He knew the area really well, and he took his little group of men to the small mountain pass of Thermopylae. Because the pass was so constricted and was the only way in to the area, Xerxes’ whole army couldn’t get through at one time – they could only go through that narrow pass a few men at a time – and for 2-3 days Leonidas’ 7000 men overtook about 20,000 of Xerxes’ soldiers.
It is said that the performance of these men – the defenders at the Battle of Thermopylae, the ones who stood in the narrow pass – their performance has become a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds.
If they had chosen to battle all those soldiers at once, they would have been crushed. But they figured out how to battle the challenger one at a time.
As Christians, we stand in a sort of narrow pass of today. If we choose to battle everything all at once, we're going to get crushed. But if we trust God, we figure out how to battle the challenges one at a time. We will find that we have more than enough strength and courage.
In our John reading for today Jesus is teaching: Don’t worry about everything. Let not your heart be troubled. Jesus says: “The words that I speak to you aren't just words. I don't just make this stuff up. The Father who lives in me crafts each word into a divine act. Believe me; have faith.”
Faith always has been the mark of God's servants, from the beginning of the world. Faith is believing in things that are real but that cannot be seen by our eyes. Faith is our way of acknowledging all the things that God has revealed, as holy, just, and good. And our way of showing our faith is in the way we live our everyday lives.
We believe that God has a plan, and because we believe that, we don’t have the luxury of worrying about how things will work out because we have to be too busy following the path that is Jesus Christ! We know the way – Jesus is very clear when he says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
Peter calls him the cornerstone of our faith. A “living” stone, he says. And that’s not meant to say that Jesus is hard and rough like a stone; it’s just that Jesus is the source of life and eternal life, and he is strong as stone, invincible and permanent; a source of protection and security.
The folks receiving Peter’s letters understand the beauty and purpose of calling Jesus a stone. They recognize the imagery from the prophet Isaiah who refers to the Messiah as ‘a stone.’ They appreciate the strength of the cornerstone knowing how the Temple is constructed – the Temple with all its majesty and religious authority in their lives. Jesus Christ the Messiah is the cornerstone, on which we are built.
And going on to declare followers of Jesus as living stones themselves, moves us to see that we make up a living temple made up of living parts. Matthew Henry described the church of God as a ‘spiritual house’ built on Christ the foundation. He said the house has strength and beauty, a variety of parts (that’s us), and usefulness of the whole. It is built with the materials of spiritual persons – furnished by grace – held together by the Spirit of God and by one common faith – used for spiritual work, to offer up spiritual sacrifices. This house is built up every day, every part of it improving, and constantly being supplied in every age by the addition of new members. New building blocks, if you will.
And for those who do not believe – who lack faith – they are going to fall over that stone. Actually, over in Matthew, Jesus says: “The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
Do you see that you and your faith is what keeps the living Church from crumbling? You are standing in the narrow pass. Peter calls you a holy priesthood – there’s a lot of accountability and responsibility that comes with that.
Here’s the good news, though. This is not rocket science – not even something WE do! This isn’t essentially about what we can do. It is about what God does for us that we can’t do for ourselves.
Jesus says don’t let your hearts be troubled! That means this is not our troubles, not our worry, not our burden! We simply place ourselves in the narrow pass that is Jesus because nothing can crush us there! We are just drawn into his waiting arms one by one where it is safe.
The only thing for us to do is decide to place ourselves in that space. We decide to trust him with our hearts. Our job is to respond to Love in ways that bring us together – even in a time when individuality is prevalent and separation is encouraged.
We are better together. Even today when we are socially distanced because of a pandemic, we are better together. We are better when we join our hearts – even when we have to do that for a time through a phone call or an email or a Zoom meeting. When we join in music or mission, or ministry or fellowship, we discover that God makes us better, being built upon one another like living stones in the house of the Lord.
God is alive in our midst and begins life anew among us. Even technology-gathered us. When you look with your heart, you will see the very nature of God in those gathered around you. Through scripture we have some helpful information. If we know our environment really well, and we place ourselves in the right space, the enemy can’t get to us all at once. We still have the battles, but we don’t have to be crushed by them. And when we stand with Jesus we have courage against overwhelming odds.
I can’t believe that we will be encouraged to socially distance forever so our work now is to be ready to stand firm, to stand on the Rock that is Jesus Christ. From there – from THAT vantage point – we will feel the confidence of those who follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life – those standing in the narrow pass.