The theme of the 10th Annual Winter Conference of the Anglican Mission in the Americas was “Build up the Highway,” encouraging all of us to join the journey. The reference is from Isaiah 62:10 that includes ‘clearing the debris’ from the roadway. This was brought home clear to me on the final day of the conference when Bishop Philip Jones from St. Andrew’s Church in Little Rock, Arkansas exhorted us to ‘remove the stones’ that hinder our mission.
His message was an exhortation concerning the stones that need to be removed to carry out our mission. The first stone, the stone of the resurrection, has already been removed. This is the most important stone because without it being removed our reason for being Christian would be rendered irrelevant and powerless. Through many witnesses who encountered Jesus in the Scriptures, we know that the stone has been removed and Jesus is alive and empowering his Church.
The second stone to be removed is the stone of a hard heart. God promises His people a new land, calling them from among the many countries where they have gone. Speaking through the prophet Ezekiel he says, ” . . . and when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. And I will give them one heart and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”
The third stone to be removed is the stone of silence. When Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the religious leaders wanted Jesus to quiet the crowd that were worshiping him. Jesus said, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
The fourth stone to be removed is the stone of maintaining the status quo. Jesus didn’t preach his greatest messages in the synagogue. Rather, he encountered people on the road, at the marketplace, by the lake. Zacchaeus was in a tree, not a church, when he met Jesus.
The fifth stone to be removed is the stone of hypocrisy. What is hypocrisy? A form of godliness without the power. This is one of the main reasons why non-churchgoers stay away from church and church people. The good news doesn’t necessarily result in good behavior or good actions.
The sixth stone to be removed is the stone of isolation. There are no solitary Christians. Christianity is community and those who isolate themselves are not growing in the common unity that is the Church. It is impossible to be connected to Jesus and disconnected from his body.
The seventh stone to be removed is the stone of perplexity and confusion. Many people are perplexed and confused because they have a limited understanding of God’s desire to have a relationship with them. They do not have a clear understanding of God’s grace toward them. Philip Yancey states it like this: You can do nothing to make God love you any more; you can do nothing to make Him love you any less. God’s grace and mercy goes beyond what we can comprehend. Bishop Jones said, “We are worse off than we can ever dare to hope; we are better off than we can ever dare to imagine.”
The eighth stone to be removed is the stone of small thinking. God wants us to see beyond what we can think or imagine. Isaiah writes (49:6b), “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (49:7b) “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
The ninth stone to be removed is the stone of condescension and condemnation. This stone must be removed if we are to reach those who are different from us. James says (2:8), “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” We are not to be ‘casting stones’ at those who fail but rather removing stones that separate us.
The tenth stone to be removed is the stone of complacency. When we ‘go through the motions’ we have become complacent. We remove complacency when we ‘rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.’ This requires a radical commitment to each other and the call Jesus has put on our lives.
More to come…