Year A — The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16)

Sermon for August 21, 2011
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Bubba II apologizes for his “deadly sin” this week (sloth, you know!) No commentary on the texts, but here’s the sermon. Happy preaching, friends!

(A sermon originally preached at Messiah Lutheran Church, Madison, AL in 2008)

Matthew 16:13-19

I have often wondered why Jesus decided to give Simon-Bar-Jona the nickname Rocky, for that is what the name Peter means. It comes from the Latin “petra” meaning rock or stone. The most familiar English usage is in the word “petrified,” meaning “turned to stone”.

Most of the time people who are nicknamed Rocky are stalwart, unmovable, straight-ahead, no-nonsense kind of guys, like Rocky Balboa. Somehow the name Rocky doesn’t seem to fit Simon son of Jona.

For this Rocky, this Peter, was, to put it bluntly, not very dependable. He was hot one minute, cold the next.

I’ll walk on water, Lord.

Oops, help, I’m drowning!

I’ll never let them take you Lord, give me that Sword.

Jesus? Never heard of him.

Lord, I’ll stand by you forever.

Well, Jesus is dead, I’m going fishing.

Was Jesus making fun of Simon by calling him Peter?

Was Jesus joking when he said that on this rock of questioning, unstable, doubting and undependable faith I will build my church?

Or was Jesus being both more realistic and more daring than we can ever imagine?

When Jesus picked someone like Simon bar Jona to be the backbone of the church, Jesus picked someone remarkably like us. We are all probably more like Peter than we would like to admit.

We grow hot and cold in our enthusiasm for God; we are often confused about our faith, about what it means to be a follower of Jesus; we continually stumble on our journey to Jerusalem.

There are TWO great confessions of faith in today’s Gospel Lesson:

One is Simon saying to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

The other is Jesus saying to Simon, “You are Rocky and on this Rock I will build my church.”

Ever since I was a little kid I have found many things in the Bible hard to understand.

Mostly Old Testament stories that conflicted with the science I was being taught in school and stories of God killing people or telling the Israelites to kill people in God’s name, stories that conflicted with the God of Love I believed in.

I have spent my adult life sorting out answers to those questions.

But I have to tell you that the thing that has astounded and befuddled me the most is how on earth God could place the most precious Jewel of Eternity; the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; into the weak and fragile hands of people like us, like you and me.

But, that is indeed what God has done.

When Jesus says to Simon, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church . . . . “

We should hear, “Members of Messiah Lutheran Church, you are Rocky and on this rock,

I will build my church.”

There are many things that come to mind when one says “Church;”

Building. Worship Service. Sunday School Classes and Women’s Circles and Youth Groups and Men’s Breakfasts and Social Ministry Projects and Council Meetings and Offering Envelopes and Annual Meetings and Stewardship Campaigns.

All those aspects of being the church are built on just two things:
1) Our faith in God; and
2) God’s faith in us.

A better way to say that would be that the church is built on just one thing;

the relationship of love that exists between God and God’s people.

God chose to build the church on the somewhat uncertain rock of our faith and our discipleship and our commitment to Christ and the Gospel.

God risked everything by trusting us with “the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.”

I have two grown sons. I did not realize what a tremendous thing God had done in giving us the keys until I had to give my oldest son the keys to the family car when he turned sixteen. But, after a few speeding tickets and small fender benders he began to live into that trust.

God has handed to us the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. God has shown a tremendous amount of faith in us. And let’s be clear. It is not trust that we have earned; it is trust that we have been given in the fervent hope and belief that we will grow up enough to handle it.

It is a scary thought, and a humbling one, to realize that God has put the Gospel, the Keys to the Kingdom, into our hands. It is a thing that is so, so big, and we are so, so small; that we don’t even know where to start.

“It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.”

Those are the first words of what is being called “The Prayer of Oscar Romero.” It has circulated on the internet and printed on posters, etc.

Romero was the Archbishop of El Salvador who was killed at the Altar during Mass by a government death squad.

The words were actually spoken by another bishop, a Cardinal, at a Mass for priests who had recently died, but they speak for all of us about our place in the work of the Kingdom, God’s hand in all eternity, and God’s hand on us.
“It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work”.

Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about:
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

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