Saturday, August 20, 2011

A, Pentecost 10 Proper 16 - Matthew 16:13-18 “On This Rock”

Matthew 16:13–18 (ESV) 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, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

On what type of rock is best for building the church? What type of rock is Peter?

Rocks come in many different shapes and sizes, textures and degrees of hardness! One can picture a good rock as a huge block of granite – too heavy to move easily. With much toil does one move it and reshape it with tools to build a structure.

Or just as big are great big blocks of sandstone, beautifully layered with warm colours, hard to move like granite, but much easier to shape into the blocks needed to erect a building.

Some rocks are jagged and sharp. They cut the feet and hands of those who climb over them. Especially if they're encased with sediment and shells as a result of massive compression. Then again they might be smooth and slippery after being constantly washed in a stream or in the ocean.

Smaller smooth rocks make great marbles, manhandled by children and rolled down the hill for fun. And even smaller ones are good for skimming across the water. Or these stones stood on have the power to marble and manhandle us, toppling a person off their feet to the ground.

A rock can be so hard it can barely be crushed, but after doing so one might find blue metal inside to make a bitumen road solid enough to carry heavy machinery. Or it might be so easily powdered into mineral which can blow away as dust, or perhaps after being contained and mixed with water and left to set, the powdered rock can be used in bricks or concrete.

So what type of rock was Peter? On what type of rock did Jesus Christ build his church?

Simon Peter, Simon the rock, made the bold confession who Jesus is, saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." This son of Jonah, was then told before the disciples, the church was to be built on him. And the gates of hell would not overcome or consume it.

Yet Peter had just been the one whose faith was sinking when Jesus invited him to get out of the boat and walk on water. He was one of the twelve who didn't understand the feeding of the five and the four thousand, and was criticised by Jesus for their faithless understanding when he said, "Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." (Matthew 16:6 ESV)

Peter, this pillar of the church, seemed to crumble and fall at every moment of testing. It seemed like Simon Peter was no match for the gates of hell because in the very next breath Jesus turns to Peter and says, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." (Matthew 16:23 ESV)

What type of rock is Peter? A building block or a stumbling block! Hadn't he watched or been aware? Had he not risen to the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees? Didn't he rise to the occasion cutting off the ear of Malchus when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus? Didn't he deny Jesus before the roster crowed? What type of rock was Peter when he ran from the court and wept bitterly over what he had said?

Peter was the man who stood up at Pentecost and proclaimed Christ crucified in a sermon which brought three thousand Jews to baptism in a day. And even after Jesus' death and resurrection, Peter's reinstatement and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit just prior to Jesus' ascension, we find the Apostle Paul having to chastise Peter for crumbling under pressure from the circumcision party of Jewish believers.

On what type of rock was Christ building his Church? And how was the gates of hell not going to overcome one who seemed to be so easily rolled out of the way or blown away like dust?

What is the best type of rock for building the church? What type of rock are you? Are we any different to Peter? Are you so tough you can't be cracked? Or are you so fragile and brittle you're crushed and blown about like dust? How is the church today not going to be overcome by the gates of hell?

When Paul addressed the church in Galatia he speaks of his reprimand of Peter (or, Cephas) saying…

…when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?" (Galatians 2:11–14 ESV)

Paul does not say this to grandstand over Peter, but carries on using the incident to make the critical point…

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in our endeavour to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:15–21 ESV)

The church is built on faith. Not on Peter's personal faith, because out of the mouth of Peter came things that caused Christ and Paul to condemn him. Rather the church is built on faith not of flesh and blood but of that given by our Father in heaven. And this is the faith given by the Holy Spirit which leads us constantly to the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Daily reinstating us as Jesus first did with Peter on the shores of lake Galilee after the resurrection.

What type of rock are you?

Whatever you are, allow yourself to be one which Christ can use in the building of his church, his kingdom. It matters not whether your are hard or soft, smooth or jagged. Jesus is the master craftsman and he seeks to craft himself in you, regardless of your weakness.

After all in our earthly use of rocks, it's their weaknesses which allows us to exploit them for their strengths. And Jesus seeks to use us in our weakness and brokenness as the building blocks of his eternally fortified church and kingdom.

In next week's gospel reading we hear Jesus reprimand Peter telling Satan, "to get behind me". Jesus goes on to say, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24 ESV)

This week ask yourself "what is my cross? What does a cross actually represent? What did the sight of a cross say to a Jew? What is Jesus telling you, the rocks of his church, to do when he says, "take up your cross and follow me"?

Let us pray: Lord, move us to allow the Holy Spirit to mix and mould Christ in us with the substance of his word and the waters of daily baptismal repentance so we are built into the kingdom of heaven. Amen.