I think that it is critical for Christians always to remember that the head of our faith, the head of the church, the individual that we hold and believe to be God incarnate and the savior of the world, is someone that the world rejected. Rejected. The founder of our faith is someone who was rejected. You would think that the cross would make that clear to us, but it is amazing how often we forget it. We forget that Christianity hasn’t always been popular. Jesus hangs on the cross because he was rejected. When the people had a choice, they chose Barabbas.
Sure, Jesus had a following for a while. He had known popularity; thousands had flocked to hear him preach or to be healed by him, but on the day that it really mattered, on the day when people were asked to choose, they chose Barabbas. When we got to choose, we didn’t choose God. We have to remember that, because as people of faith we are called to be concerned with the will of God. Things like right and wrong, that should matter to us. God’s will for our lives, God’s will for the world, that should matter to us. We should care. Maybe we will never be perfect; maybe we will always make mistakes, but we still need to be able to recognize that they are, in fact, mistakes. God, and God’s will should matter to us. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
But the cross should be an everlasting reminder that sometimes, many times, God’s will is not popular. God is not popular. Jesus was not always popular. Jesus was rejected.
But Peter says that “the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” The cornerstone, the bedrock of our faith, is a stone that had been rejected by others. Thought unworthy, useless, flawed, maybe even weak. It was examined and cast aside by mortals, and yet it was precious in God’s sight. Peter didn’t make that line up though, he’s quoting from Psalm 118. Peter was writing his letter to share the good news of Jesus, but the fact that humans often reject God and God’s will, that was old news. Because you see this human tendency to reject and dismiss things, including individuals, that God values and treasures, this wasn’t a new phenomenon in Jesus’s day, this was human nature right from the get-go. Right from the beginning there has been this huge gap between what God wants and what we want. We have a long history of making bad choices, not just as individuals, but as entire societies. So what that means for us is, and what we must always remember, is that discerning the will of God is NEVER as simple as figuring out or following what is popular. What humans gleefully choose is often the opposite of God’s will. Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat. You just can’t trust opinion polls. Just because something is popular, doesn’t mean that it is good.
Now that has always been a challenge for humans, but I think it is an even bigger challenge for us now in the 21st century in the age of social media, because we are constantly polling everyone, instantly, all the time. Everything is measured in likes and shares. People treat surveys like they are divine oracles. We are surveyed on everything. And we are constantly told, in subtle and not subtle ways, that might makes right. Millions of people can’t be wrong can they? Or can they?
Every week when we pass through the doors of this church, we step out of a world where popularity is everything, and we come face to face with a God who was rejected. Jesus was rejected. So that should always give us some perspective on popularity. At least popularity among us humans. In God’s eyes and in God’s kingdom, human popularity doesn’t mean anything. God can take rejects and turn them into a chosen race and a royal priesthood.
That’s the good news: you don’t need to worry about being unpopular, or having an unpopular religion or unpopular beliefs. Being rejected by the world does not mean that you are rejected by God. That’s the good news.
But here’s the bad news. The bad news is that that means that you actually have to do the work of discerning and learning God’s will. And when you have done that you must find the will and the strength to do what is right and to be faithful, even if it means going your own way and taking an unpopular path. You can’t just go along with the crowd. You have to think and decide for yourself. That’s hard.
But the cross is also a reminder to us that even though the world has a very long history of casting down things that are truly precious, God has an equally long history of raising them back up again. The resurrection, which we celebrate at every service, but most especially at this time of year, is not God’s seal of approval on our good judgements and opinions, but quite the opposite. It is God taking a stone that we had rejected and thought unworthy, and making it the chief cornerstone of a grand new temple and kingdom.