"What did you say, Peter?"

Proper 16 (21) - August 23, 2020
- Isaiah 51:1-6
- Psalm 138
- Romans 12:1-8
- Matthew 16:13-20
"What did you say, Peter?"

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." Not even the gates of Hades will prevail against it.  Not even the gates of Hades.  If these past few months are not the gates of Hades, then I don't even want to know what they will look like.  6 months, 6 months of isolation. 6 months of being together only via our computer screens and cell phones,

But not even the gates of Hades will prevail.  

Yet it doesn’t feel that way.  It feels like we have been on a rudderless ship and a rogue wave has capsized our boat.  We don't know which way is up or down any more.  All we know is that if feels like we are sinking.  We are all scared.  We are all scared because we do not know what tomorrow holds.  Frankly though, we have never known what tomorrow might bring but it seems like in these times of so much uncertainty, where the only certainty is that everything is uncertain, it feels even more terrifying.  

Will there be a faith community here at St. John's in a year from now?  In two? In Five?  Are we even viable as a congregation or have we lost too much—lost too many people over these past 6 months? The truth of the matter, I don't know.  I really don't.  I keep thinking back to my installation.  What an amazing day that way.  To have so many of you all gathering inside our congregation, singing, worshipping, being the church.  It was an amazing day.  But I think about all that I promised to do as your pastor.  To care for the people of St. John's—to serve as your pastor.  I think about those vows and I wonder constantly, "Have I made the right decision?  Should we have stayed online?  Should we have gathered together back in May when the restrictions were lifted?”  You all may think I have all the answers and have things together, but I am here to tell you that I have no idea what I am doing most days.  And what makes all my self-doubt even worse, in Matthew 16:8 Jesus says  one of his disciples, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it."  So, I have to wonder, am I missing something?  Will I ever have the kind of conviction that Peter had when doing ministry?

Yet we know, or we will know (spoiler alert) Peter is not the guy who has it all together.  He might look like he does, but he says some pretty dumb stuff—stuff what we will talk about next week.  And Jesus knows this about his friend.  He knows Peter.  He has spent time with Peter.  Intimate time. Jesus knows that Peter has a tendency to not see the bigger picture, but to live in the moment. But more than Peter, Jesus knows a thing or two about humans and some of our not-so-good tendencies.  Why would Jesus make it sound like he is putting all his trust in one single, man—a mere mortal who sometimes says brilliant things while at other times, fails to comprehend the role Jesus is fulfilling as the Messiah? 

The simplest answer here is that Jesus is not saying that at all.  The thing that Jesus is going to build his church on is Peter's words—"You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  That is the foundation on which Christ will build his church. Jesus even says “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” It is very similar to Luther’s explanation of the third article of the creed that simply says, I believe that I cannot believe...but the Holy Spirit has made it possible.  But there is also something going on here that is just so subtle and to understand it, we need to go into the world behind the text for a bit.  

Notice where Matthew places Jesus asking the question. “Jesus asks his questions once they have arrived in Caesarea Philippi rather than during the journey to get there”, as he does in Mark’s account.  It is a subtle difference but one that I notice and other biblical commentators notice as well. “The place matters."

"Situated about 25 to 30 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, Caesarea Philippi was near a trade route that connected Tyre in the West to Damascus in the Northeast. A nearby cave housed a great spring that fed one of the sources of the Jordan River. The cave and spring had long served as a sanctuary dedicated to the Greek god, Pan. Greek inscriptions and niches carved into the rock, still visible today, suggest dedications to other pagan gods as well. In addition to the polytheism represented at the site, signs of power and authority were on display as well. A couple of decades before Jesus’ birth, Herod the Great had built a temple near the spring in honor of Caesar Augustus. By the time Jesus and his disciples visited the region, Caesarea Philippi had been given over to the auspices of Herod’s son, Philip the tetrarch, who established the city as the administrative center of his government. By the time the Gospel of Matthew was written, people were likely aware that the Roman commander who led the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE had returned with his troops to Caesarea Philippi in celebration of their victory. Thus, Jesus’ question—“Who do you say that I am?”—hangs in the air at the intersection of economic trade, religion, and the power of the Empire. It is a question not simply about Jesus’ identity, as if getting the titles right would earn somebody an “A” on a messianic quiz. It is a question about allegiance."

"In what or in whom will the followers of Jesus place their trust? Will it be in the privileges deriving from access to opportunity and wealth? In the worship of a prevailing culture’s latest idols? In allegiance to the dominant power of earthly rulers? Or will they trust, instead, in the One whose life, death, and resurrection reveal the mercy and justice of the living God?"

Peter told us where he was going to put his trust.  "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." In a world of so much uncertainty; in a world where we question if we made the right decision; in a world where people are suffering from isolation, loneliness, and despair at a far greater rate than ever before; in a world were people are afraid to leave their homes; in a world where others chastise these same people who are legitimately afraid; in a world where the only certainty left is uncertainty—Peter's words ring out all the more true.  "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." This is the place that Christ will build and has built his church

I am not afraid that the gospel will disappear or no longer be proclaimed 6 months from now or a year from now.  I am confident that the church is bigger than this virus and that God will not allow anything to prevail against our work.  But I know the church Jesus is referring to is church with a little c or what Martin Luther called the church invisible.  I am quiet certain that many congregations that are around today might not make it.  That makes me very sad but I am okay with that.  None of St. Paul's congregations are around today, yet here we are.  In a parking lot or in our homes, TOGETHER, worship and proclaiming the good news.  

I do not know what the future holds for us, my brothers and sisters.  I don't and I would be lying to you if I said it was going to be a piece of cake.  All I know is that is this: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And not even the Gates of Hades will prevail against the church when we proclaim that message; if we build our foundations on that truth.  That I am most certain of this day. 

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.



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