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Pentecost 12A Sermon
Matthew 16: 13-20
August
23, 2020

 

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Matthew 16:13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 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. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

I kind of wish that the gospel lesson for today was assigned on one of the Sundays that we are outside for worship. That setting would really lend itself to re-enacting this scene where Jesus questions his disciples about who people say that he is before Peter confesses that he believes Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Jesus and the disciples are in Caesarea-Philippi, and area located almost in modern day Syria, north of the Sea of Galilee. The disciples would have seen pagan symbolismpresent all around them. Sometimes called, “Paneus,” it was the center of the worship of the Roman god Pan - the god of the wild. He had the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, and the torso and head of a human. He was recognized as the god of fields, groves, and wooded glens; because of this, Pan is connected to fertility and the season of spring.Paneus was a rich, fertile place – water flowing from nearby Mt. Hermon brought rain and even melted snow through this area, providing a spring for rich life and growth to happen. In the midst of desert-like area surrounding them, the disciples are in a beautiful setting which, according to the locals, is provided for them by this playful being called Pan and his companion, the mountain nymph named echo.

When we gather for worship outside we are no longer surrounded by the familiar appointments of this sanctuary. There is no altar or pulpit with paraments showing Christian symbols. There areno crosses, no pews or hymnals. Oh sure, we try to make it church-like with the keyboard, flowers and bulletins, but for the most part, we are in foreign territory. There is the school and playground which attract most of our attention. Cars, bikes and walkers buzz by, sometimes ignoring us, and other times looking at us like we are the ones out of place. Our church sign invites them to join us, but none have taken us up on that invitation, nor the flyer I put on neighbor’s doors when we first started our occasional outdoor worship services.

Since this worship is not in person and outside, I ask you to pretend with me that we are out there … and let’s ask the question, “Who do you think these people say that Jesus is?” Living in such a pluralistic society, we would probably get 12 different responses from 10 different people! Folks who are out and about in the community on a Sunday morning at that time range from folks who don’t believe in God, let alone in Jesus as the Son of God, to people who believe but are SBNR – spiritual but not religious – to folks who believe in Jesus in their heads, but it is not important enough to make regular worship a priority for them, outside of important days like Christmas and Easter. I am sure we would also find some folks who are more faithful than we are and attend worship with their Christian community on other days or at another time than our morning service. Or maybe, during these “Covid times” they are able to log into the video of their congregation’s worship any time it is convenient for them, like many of you aredoing this week.

Jesus praises Simon for his answer – that he believes Jesus is the messiah, the son of the living God. He then changes his name to Peter, which means, “rock,” and promises to build his church on his foundation. An interesting proposition knowing what we do about Peter. Next week we will hear Peter admonish Jesus for foretelling his death only to be referred to as Satan; and we all know about the three times that Peter denies knowing Jesus during his trial before his death. But Jesus sees the best in him and promises the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever the church binds on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever the church looses on earth shall be loosed in heaven. That is heavy responsibility to be left to people like us, who regularly judge others unlovable rather than extend the grace and mercy that God regularly extends to each of us. But that is what Jesus does, knowing that in the end, the son of God will be the ultimate judge of us all.

According to the words of Paul in our second lesson, we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship. We are not to be conformed to this world; we are tobe transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect. The world would like us to keep our faith in here … in this building, on a Sunday morning for an hour or so and not be bothered by it or allow it to inform or guide our lives out there. The world would like us to be out of sight and out of mind, but that is not the Christian calling.

In the Third century, a Jewish Rabbi namedSimmlai developed the 613 commandments of the Mitzvah. There are 365 negative commands, corresponding with the days in a solar year, and 248 positive commands to correspond with the number of bones covered in flesh on a person’s body. The Mitzvahis more of a teaching tool than a list of literal rules to follow. The number 613 symbolically takes the numbers of days in a year added to the number of bones in your body and says that every day with every part of their beings, Jews should be observing the Torah. In the same way, Paul reminds us that to confess Jesus as the Messiah, Son of the Living God means that every minute of every day and with every bone in our body we are transformed by the love and grace of Jesus Christ.All moments and every action have the potential to be holy moments, whether we are by ourselves, with our spouses, families or friends, at work, or taking a walk in our neighborhoods.

Paul calls on us to be living sacrifices. That is an interesting call – usually sacrifices are things like sheep, birds, animals or other things that we kill or get rid of. But considering our whole bodies as living sacrifices means leaving behind the personal aspect of ourselves in order to consider what it means to be part of a community of believers. Just as one body has many members, Paul says, so also the church has many folks who devote themselves out of love to following our messiah. This is the rock upon which Jesus builds his church.
It was pointed out to me this week that after our worship last Sunday one could witness this very thing in action among the 50 or so folks that gathered on the parking lot. After the postlude each of us did as our gifts led us to do – some began taking down chairs and putting away the orange cones immediately; others went over to Bishop Kelley to offer words of peace for Marline’s death. Still others went straight home out of caution for staying safe and healthy. Still others wanted to visit with folks that we are only seeing in person once a month now. That was a holy time as we lived out the calling to be the church in a place outside of where people typically think IS “The Church.”

I commend you this week, friends, to confess Jesus as the messiah, the Son of the Living God – not only in those words, but by loving your families, neighbors, strangersand everyone with the love that Christ first showed to you. The world will want you to conform, to ask what’s in it for you and to guard your own individual personhood; but the spirit is calling us to transformation, to renew our minds and to show all of the world what is the will of God. May our confession be the rock upon which this church stands and breaks down the gates of Hades! Amen.