The Touchstone; An Easter Message


touchstone

The following was the Easter Message for 2012.   It was delivered at Asbury Church in Chesterfield, New Hampshire to a pack crowd.    In celebration of this most Holy time, I post it again today.  

Shalom, Scott

****** 

There is a Romanian legend of a young man who was raised in the poorest of circumstances.   When he was a small child he was one of six children born to very poor fishermen on the shore of the black sea.    Existence was day to day and much harsher than any of us can imagine.    When he was barely four, a sickness swept through the small village that he called home.    In a matter of weeks he was the only one of his family that was left.

His life was even harder from that point on.  He jumped from home to home, and he relied on the generosity and charity of strangers.   Some of the families who took him in were kind and loving.   Others were not.    Some saw the growing boy as cheap or slave labor to make ends meet.   Although some showed whatever hospitality they could afford, others treated him harshly.

He dreamed that one day he would find the way out.  

As he grew and became stronger, he became the apprentice of a blacksmith.   The smith was kindly and taught the young man all he knew.   It wasn’t long before the pair was known as the best blacksmith in the region and most brought their work to them.    Although they were busy there was still never enough.   They were poor and money and food were always scarce.

He dreamed that one day he would figure out how not to struggle so much.

After some time the old blacksmith died, and left the shop to the young man.   The smith had long ago started to see the young boy as his own son, and it was his dream to insure that as his passing the young man would be taken care of.  The young man now owned the blacksmith shop, but he found himself working harder than ever.

He would put in long hours, and work until his back ached and he could barely walk.   Over the years he found it harder and harder just to have ends meet.  No matter how hard he tried he just never seemed to get ahead.

He dreamed of the time when things wouldn’t be so hard.

One night, the young man was so tired when he left he didn’t notice a hot coal that had fallen out of the stove and onto the floor.   As he locked the doors and made his way down the street, he didn’t know that ember was starting to smolder.   That night the blacksmith shop burned down.

In the morning, he wondered why God had hated him so much.   He wondered why God had made his life so difficult.   He wished he had the answers.

Depressed and nearly destroyed he found his way to a local tavern and decided to drown his struggles in ale.    It was long before the young man was on his way to being drunk.    He sat in that barstool cursing his fortune, cursing his birth, and cursing his God.

It was while he was in the middle of his cursing that a stranger walked into the bar.   By the way he was dressed the young man assumed the stranger to be one of the sailors or fisherman that worked the dangerous Black Sea.    The stranger sat down beside the young man, and it wasn’t long before he started sharing the stories and legends of the sea.

It was that night that the young man learned of the legend of the Touchstone.

According to the sailor, there existed a magical stone with an incredible power.   If you touched that stone to anything metal, the metal would instantly turn to Gold.   Legend has it that an ancient God had used that stone to build a heavenly palace, and accidentally dropped it somewhere along his way.    Legend had it that it existed somewhere around the shores of the Black Sea.

After several hours the two called it an evening and went their separate ways.   Sadly, the young man couldn’t shake the idea of that stone.   A few hours later, and while it was still night, he hatched a plan.   

•             He knew he had to have the touchstone.

•             He knew that it would be his way out.

•             He knew that with it, that life wouldn’t be so hard.

•             He knew that with it, he would not struggle.

At first light the next morning, he arose from bed, and silently went to the rubble of the burnout black smith shop.    After a few minutes of searching through the charred remains he found a tall metal pole, the size of a walking stick.    That night, and without telling a soul, he began his search for the touchstone.

He started in his own village center.  With his eyes locked on the ground, he took each step with deliberate caution.    Every time his eye spotted a rock or a pebble on the ground he touched the metal stick to it, and watched to see if it turned to gold.   He did all day long and only stopped when he was too tired to continue.   When he awoke the next day he did the same. This went on for weeks, and months and years.

Soon he became the laughing stock of the village.  He tried to tell them of the power of the touchstone but it just made things worse.   When they saw him, they pointed fingers and laughed.  Children threw rocks.   He longed for the day when he could prove them wrong.

One night after a long day of searching had left him exhausted, he found a quiet alley to fall asleep in.   While he was deep asleep a band of children snuck to his side and stole away with his metal walking stick.   When he awoke he cursed God again, for making his life so difficult. 

•             If only he had the touchstone life would be easy.

•             If only he had the touchstone he wouldn’t have to struggle so hard.

•             If only he had the touchstone everything would be okay.

For a couple of days he wasn’t sure how his search would continue.   He found himself searching through junk yards and in dark alleys.   He needed a new walking stick.   Although he never found another pole, he did stumble on a link of chain that he fashioned into a circle and draped around his neck.   Finally his search could continue.

This time he headed to the shore of the sea, and with each rock, pebble or stone he saw he would bend down, touch the chain around his neck, and drop it behind him.   As you can imagine this was tedious work.   It hurt his back; all that bending.   It hurt his knees; all that walking.    It was boring to boot.

Eventually he decided to kill time by singing while he worked.  He wrote a song about the touchstone;  “I will find it on the beach, all the gold then within my reach”.    For years he walked around the shores of the black sea singing that song.

After a small eternity, he became convinced that he should have found the touchstone by now, and he convinced himself that he had circled back around and was checking the same rocks over and over again.    As he stooped and touched the chain, he decided to throw the stone into the water to avoid checking it twice.

Every single day it was the same.   That same song rattled through his head.   He let his mind wander.   He touched the chain and tossed the rocks.   With each passing day it was the same routine, until one night when he grew so tired he couldn’t continue.

He decided to call it quits for a night and found a quiet place to sleep at the threshold of a store that was close to the water.   As dawn arrived, he slowly awoke and gathered what little possessions he had.    As he was about to begin his search, he caught a glance of himself in the reflection of the store window.

He couldn’t believe his eyes.   His chain was now made of the most sparkling of gold.   He looked down, picked up the chain, and saw the incredible gold as his finger tips.

He was ecstatic!   He started to jump and dance.   He started to hoot and holler!

He had found the touchstone!  He was going to be rich!  He was never going to struggle again!   Hallelujah!  He had found the magic pebble.

It was in that moment that he stopped dancing.   He had realized the unthinkable had happened.  In the monotony of his search, in the regular and wandered thoughts, he had picked up the legendary stone, touched his chain, and cast it into the sea without thinking.     The touchstone was lost forever. 

As people of faith, the miraculous moment of Easter is our touchstone moment, and for people who haven’t quite figured out what they believe yet, it can be.

I debated for quite some time over the last few weeks on how I was going to structure the services and the messages of Easter   Part of me kept saying that I should play it safe and just tell the story.   In the end, it certainly is enough and would have fallen in line with everyone’s expectation for Easter.

Yet, thinking about all the new and old faces that would grace our sanctuary on Easter morning, I realized that there could be someone here with us this morning that is struggling in ways that I cannot begin to imagine.

Your faith journey might be like the young man in the story; one setback after another.   You might find yourself wishing that the journey wasn’t so hard, the answers so elusive, or the distance to travel so great.   Maybe you are on that search looking for the divine key to turn the regular and everyday into Gold.

You find yourself wishing things were different.   Maybe you’re like me; wishing you didn’t have to spend your life constantly putting and removing your foot from your mouth.  Maybe you find yourself wishing that the careless words or actions of yesterday could be taken back.   Maybe you spend your time wondering why forgetting or forgiving is so darn hard.    Maybe you spend your time wondering– if God loved us so much – why he would make this journey so tough. 

In the end, there are no answers that any of us can provide –from the pulpit or the pew – that will fix everything. 

We don’t have the answers, but we have the touchstone.  It is right before us for the taking – that by definition is the Grace of God.   We have it in our grasp, but all too frequently we absentmindedly and nonchalantly toss it away, as if we are casting stones into the ocean.

I pray that each of you, at some point today or in the days that follow, realize, embrace, and celebrate the Good News of Easter.  For in this moment everything resides.  

Easter is the moment when we remember, celebrate, and claim God’s greatest treasure:  God’s promise of redemption.  Whatever you believe about the resurrection and its historicity, that “resurrective” truth forms the foundation of this moment.

God has given us through the miracle of Easter, the promise that says he has the power to redeem.   He can through his Grace, make things easier, turn defeat into victory, he make the bad into good, hopelessness into hope, darkness into light, the everyday into gold, and death into life. 

Reach out and grab a hold of the power and the promise – grab a hold of the touchstone – with both hands, and be careful what you cast into the sea.

Thanks be to God, for this Easter Moment, Amen.

(CCL, Flckr.com, Babrainette, 2012)

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