In France’s northern Burgundy region, Guédelon castle is being built entirely by utilizing methods that would have been employed in in the Middle Ages. (NPR, October 1st, 2023) With stones chiseled into shape by stonemasons and metal nails and implements forged onsite by blacksmiths, a garden filled entirely with plants indigenous to the region in medieval times, and a bell calling everyone to lunch, just as it would have hundreds and hundreds of years ago, this castle – an ongoing construction and education site that sees 300,000 visitors a year – might be seen as a window into the past. Yet if you ask twenty-four-year-old Simon Malier, who makes furniture for the castle, or other young people who are part of the 100+ person staff onsite, the work they are undertaking is life-transforming in the present tense. As they labor with their hands, they learn about themselves and their connection to the elements with which they work, and this undertaking could not be accomplished without the collaboration of a community, and they are sharing what they are doing with others in ways that transform those lives as well. Simon Mailer, the twenty-four-year-old furniture artisan I mentioned, first visited the castle when he was four-years-old with his grandparents, and knew then that he wanted to someday work with his hands.
We, too, dear Church, are called to participate in the new ancient work of sharing the gospel of Christ’s love and mercy with the world. We, too, are called to discover the the ways in which this age-old message lives and breathes for all of us – young and old – today.
How do we build Church with a capital “C” that includes Redeemer, New Paltz but understands ourselves to be a part a larger vision for the gospel of Christ’s mercy, love, and grace being shared throughout the world and throughout the millennia? How do allow ourselves, like the apostle Paul – who in today’s first lesson shares the story of how his own faith as an influential Jewish leader was enlarged by Jesus, who revealed to Paul that God’s mercy and grace were intended for all people, both the Jews and the Gentiles; how do we allow ourselves like Paul to have our vision of what God’s Church can look like enlarged beyond what we thought it could be?
Jesus reminds us through the parable told in today’s gospel that God will find a way to carry out to build God’s kingdom of love and mercy and justice. Quoting Isaiah, Jesus reminds us that the stone that was rejected will become the cornerstone, and we understand as Christians that this cornerstone for us is Jesus, who does not reject or neglect but seeks to protect so as to effect change in our lives and through our lives and the community of the Church for the world.
So what might congregations, seeking to build our lives and witness on the cornerstone of Christ, and taking a page from Paul enlarging his vision beyond the community to whom he thought God was exclusively involved; what might congregations seeking to live like Christ in our communities as Church with a capital “C” look like?
Maybe, we could take a page from another Medieval institution - monasteries – seeing how they were the center for regions of people, providing not only spiritual nurture, but a place to come for food, medicine, and support for a wholistic nurtured life. Of course, through the advances of science (let us remember that God is active in the sciences!), through the advances of science we know so much more about medicine and these miraculous bodies in which reside but for a little while. And we know so much more about the world – enough to know that what happens anywhere in the world – be it in New Paltz or China or Ukraine or Canada affects our lives here n advice-versa.
But maybe we could take a page from the monasteries of medieval times and find creative and practical ways to support healthy whole person and whole community living. Think of ourselves as a parish rather than a congregation - planted where we are for the sake of God nurturing a region - parish - through us. And what does parish life look like? For some churches this might include developing a parish nursing ministry while for others like Redeemer, New Paltz it might mean providing space for community partners, to amplify the good they do through blood drives, life-alert screenings, education for older adults in the Life-Long Learning Institute, music studios offering music lessons, and offering meeting space for AA and the Margaret Wade Lewis Center for Black History and Culture.
Maybe being a parish in modern times, living like Church with a capital “C,” involves both enacting ministry ourselves and recognizing that it is ministry to partner with others doing carrying out works that reflect the glory of God.
Maybe in this way we can avoid the pitfall of simply trying to re-live history from the past, and instead build a present and future that reflects the justice and mercy of Christ that is gathered in the apostle Paul and that seeks to gather all of us into the fold of God’s kingdom being revealed here on earth.
Yes! What joy there can be in building something with our hearts and hands! Teachers and administrators know this joy from working with students; social workers and therapists from watching how lives can be transformed for the better; those working in finance or law by seeing how lives can be improved and enhanced by their efforts. And we as Christians can know this joy from watching how God in Christ shares the gospel through our lives and the community of church for the sake of the world – that all of us have the potential, with God’s help, to live out lives that reflect the glory of God.
Now, indeed, through Christ, are all invited before the mercy seat of God to receive loving reconciliation through Christ, and to participate in carrying Christ’s love to the world. Like that ancient castle being built in France, giving space for people young and old to be connected to the things within and around themselves that really matter, our church – Redeemer, New Paltz; Christ’s church at Redeemer, New Paltz – and all of us as the people of God called to labor on Christ’s behalf for the world - have the opportunity to build a living present on the ancient foundations that have come before us. And most of all, upon the cornerstone of our lives, that is Christ Jesus. Amen.