Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
“But we don’t know where you’re going; how can we know the way?”
That’s a question we often ask of Jesus, but especially now when everything is so up in the air.
We’ve sort of gotten used to this…whatever this is…it’s definitely not normal…And we want to move on to the next thing…whatever that is…but it’s not going to be normal either…It won’t be the old normal…it won’t even be this normal…so what it will be?…We still don’t know…Some answers would be nice…but if we don’t know where we’re going…how can we know the way?
We need some signposts…some way-finding markers…some guides…
If you go hiking—anywhere in the world really—you’ll likely see a cairn somewhere—a mound of rocks piled up—sometimes just to mark that “we’ve been here”—often to mark something of significance…the top of a mountain…a water source…a stunning vista…the place to turn on a trail.
Growing up in Colorado, we used cairns to navigate when we went off the trail and into the woods. We’d build a cairn where we left the main trail…another where we crossed the stream…another when we came out of the trees…And then it was an exercise in faith and observation to trace your path back using the cairns. I remember wandering around, tired and hot, convinced we’d missed a crucial turn…and starting to feel the panic about being totally lost when a little pile of stones would come into view and I’d breathe a sigh of relief, because not only did I know where we were…but I knew where to go next.
Cairns are often more than just piles of rocks…they’re often sacred sites. In the ancient world, altars were nothing more than a bunch of stones piled up. In the Book of Samuel, the first time the Israelites battle the Philistines they are defeated. The second time they are victorious, and after the victory, Samuel takes a stone, and sets it up, and names it Eben-ezer—which means Stone of Help…because up to this point the Lord has helped us, he says. (1 Samuel 7:12—BTW, that what that lyric in some older versions of the hymn “Come, thou font” means… “Here I raise my ebenezer”. An ebenezer is a stone of help…a cairn…a marker. A guidepost. Something we need today.
We don’t know the way to go…but there are a lot of stones in today’s lessons.
Living stones. Corner stones. Stumbling blocks. God is our strong rock, a castle to keep us safe and you don’t imagine that this castle or these dwelling places that Jesus promises… you don’t imagine they are made out of straw, do you? or sticks? No. They are sturdy and secure and probably made of stone.
And, of course, there are also deadly murderous stones that are used in Stephen’s martyrdom—Stephen’s lynching, really.
Stones for life and stones for death.
We always have that choice, don’t we? To use what we have to either build up or to destroy. And how do we make those decisions? How do we know what the right thing to do is? When the world is so complex, and the choices are seemingly so stark?
But we don’t know where you’re going; how can we know the way? And Jesus reminds us that, The Way is not a destination…it’s a way of being. The Way is not a where, and it’s not a when. It’s a who and a how. The Way is not someday and somewhere else…it’s here, and now. He says, “God dwells in me and works in the world. Here. Now.” God also dwells in you…here and now. And in all who follow the way of love and do what Jesus does…
Can’t see it? Look for the signs…Look for the poor being raised up. Look for the hungry being fed. Look for captives being released. Look for help being offered and accepted…look for connections of care being made…This is the Way. Love is the truth. Faith and charity is the life.
These are stones of help that pile up into cairns and guide us as we wander in the wilderness. These are the eben-ezers that point the way as the we travel between the living reality of the resurrection, and the fullness of time when all things are reconciled to God who is love.
Where do you see God at work in your lives? Where are your stones of help? The cairns that mark your way back to God…and back to one another. Stacks that marks where a friendship formed… Where once we gathered—and will again… Markers where losses are grieved…where help is offered…were laughter is shared The places where bread is broken, wine poured out, where couples are committed to one another, and children are raised, where the sick are tended, and the dying honored…These are living stones.
These are the cairns of our common life. Markers of the way. The way of Jesus. The way of love.
You are living stones…you are markers—signs—guides—for one another and for so many others…living stones stacked up and built into a spiritual house…a mansion with many rooms…many dwellings. Placed together and raised up so that others might find their way. Telling what we have seen—what we do see—of God acting in the world. And showing with our actions—showing with our lives—how we have been transformed because of Jesus.
We are living stones. We mark the Way of Love with our lives. The world may not know the way…but we do…
We may not be able to see very far ahead…but we don’t need to…we just need to see to the next cairn…the next marker…because Jesus is going ahead of us…we just need to listen for the shepherd’s voice and follow where he leads….building up—with our words and our lives—the living stones…the stones of help—that mark the way of love for others to follow.