Our apologies here at the Lectionary Lab; we slipped in getting our summer assignments done and missed this post in time for those may have actually been preaching. Excusze-nous!
We’ll be getting back on track and back in form just as soon as possible. So that you’ll know we didn’t completely let down our defenses, here are Dr. Chilton’s contributions for last Sunday and this Sunday. Dr. Fairless has been recovering from a little medical treatment, and will return with fresh commentary next week.
Also, The Lectionary Lab Live podcast will be on the air again for the first Sunday in September…so stay tuned!
Pentecost 11 Proper 16: August 24, 2014
Isaiah 51:1-6; Psalm 138; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
About a hundred years ago, over in east Tennessee, a Church of Christ congregation was given a piece of property upon which to build a church. When the elders went to see a lawyer about drawing up a deed, they were able to persuade him to list the owner as “The Lord God Almighty.” This was fine until a few years ago when the congregation decided to sell the building and lands and relocate to a larger site in order to have a wider witness for Christ. Then the legal system went to work.
Because the property was listed as being owned by one “Lord God Almighty” and not “The Carter County Church of Christ,” they had to get a deed before they could sell it. And to get a deed, they had to show that the previous owner did not exist or could not be found. So the county sheriff was issued a warrant to locate Lord God Almighty. He went over to the coffee shop on the square across from the courthouse, had his coffee and read the paper and then came back and signed the papers attesting that Lord God Almighty could not be found.
Whilst he was having his coffee and crumb-cake, the sheriff happened to mention this little legal maneuver to the editor of the local paper, the next day the headline read “Lord God Almighty not to be found in Carter County, Tennessee.” I’m pretty sure that’s not the sort of “wider witness” the church had in mind.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus says to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.”(Matthew 16:18) Though we know him as Peter, the man to whom Jesus was speaking’s real name was Simon, Simon bar Jonah – which means Simon son of Jonah. In today’s story, Jesus has changed Simon’s name as a symbol of an important change that is beginning to take place in Simon, a change our lesson from Romans calls “being transformed” (Romans 12:2)
Names and name changes are important in the bible. Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Jacob becomes Israel, and later, Saul becomes Paul. All these name changes mark personal transformations, show that the old has passed away and the new is being born. Jesus calls Simon by a new name to signal to Simon that a change is taking place, but it is not a change that takes place quickly, or suddenly, or all at once. It is a gradual transformation. At the time it was almost a joke. Peter means “Rocky.” Who in the Bible is less rock solid and steady than Simon? His changes of emotion and action are almost comically rash and totally unpredictable. And yet, Jesus calls him Peter, the Rock.
And eventually, he becomes a rock, a rock of faith and devotion. It is a name that he lives into gradually and slowly, but after a while, he becomes the person Jesus saw him to be many years before.
When God calls us “Church,” it is not a name we have earned by any extraordinary saintliness. In the same manner that he called the perpetually iffy Simon a rock, Jesus sees us becoming a holy people, names us that even though we’re not there yet.
When Jesus called Simon bar Jonah a new name, it was the beginning of the church. This was a signal that God was doing a new thing. God was taking people who were willing to risk everything on faith and using those people to create, to build a new community, a community of love, a kingdom of heaven.
God has called us church, and God is using us to build the church in this place and this time. Funny thing is, when God builds a church, God does not use materials and methods which would pass inspection in the real world. Anne Lamott, in her book “Traveling Mercies” says –
“I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But when I grew up, I found that life handed you rusty, bent tools – friendship, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said, “Do the best you can with these. They’ll have to do.” Mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.”
As Lamott says, God hands us strange tools with which to build a life and a church, but it is God who is building the church, not us. We are merely workers and tools. We are being built up each day into the holy people God has already declared us to be. Just as Jesus called Simon bar Jonah by the name of Peter long before Simon became a rock of faith; God has called us church and is continually leading us forward in becoming what Gad has already declared us to be.
And job today is to take the tools God has given us, tools like the friendship and prayer and conscience and honesty that Lamott mentioned, and tools like serving and teaching and giving and encouraging and leading and caring that Paul lists in Romans. We are to take those tools and build a community wherein the Lord God Almighty can surely be found.
It is our calling to live up to ur name of Christian church, it is our calling to make this place a place where everyone is welcome and everyone can find compassion and forgiveness and community and faith, and joy and peace and hope and most of all love.
We hold the keys, God has placed them in our shaky hands, God has named us church, God has put us in community and has called upon us to open the doors of the kingdom of heaven and bring the world inside. God has called upon us to make sure the Lord God Almighty can be found in this place.
Pentecost 12 Proper 17, August 31, 2014
Jeremiah 15:15-21; Psalm 26:1-8; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
I heard a story recently about a five year old boy and his Grandfather. Carmen was a notoriously picky eater. Grandpa’s dinnertime rule was that you don’t have to eat everything on your plate, but you do have to taste it.
On this occasion, Grandpa dished up a full plate of everything for all the kids. Looking at his food Carmen asked, “Grandpa, would it be okay if I asked God to help me eat my dinner tonight?” Gramps smiled at this and said “Sure, go ahead.” Carmen bowed his head and said a silent prayer and then he divided up the food on his plate into two piles: a large pile of food he didn’t like and a small pile of food he did like. Then, he ate the small pile and asked to be excused from the table. Grandpa eyed the plate and said, “What about the rest of the food on your plate? You haven’t tasted it.” Carmen said, “That’s okay. That’s God’s part.”
Sometimes I wonder, “Is that the way I divide things up with God?” Do I indulge myself in the parts of Christianity that I like; and push off to the edges the parts I don’t like, assuming God will take care of that stuff? Does my idea of working with God mainly consist of picking and choosing among the pleasant and enjoyable aspects of being a person of faith; all the while leaving the messy, grunt work for God? Those are the questions that lurk underneath our Gospel Lesson.
Today’s gospel follows directly on the heels of last week’s story about Simon proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God; and Jesus responding by renaming Simon – calling him Peter, the rock.
This week, Jesus lays out for the disciples what it really means for him to be the Messiah, the Son of God. It means rejection, abuse, suffering, and death. Peter is not ready to hear this. He takes Jesus aside, and the text says, “rebuked him.” That’s very strong language. He didn’t just disagree, he didn’t just have questions; he called Jesus out, he told him he was wrong, he said, “God forbid it Lord, this must never happen to you.”
And Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
In what amounts to one conversation, Peter and Jesus have gone from praising one another; “You are the Messiah.” “You are the Rock;” to rebuking and condemning one another.
Peter goes from being told he is directly inspired by God, to being told he has his mind on human, not holy things. Instead of being praised as the rock upon which the church will be built, he is called a stumbling block, an obstacle to the Son of God.
Why? Because Peter was not ready to hear the difficult truth that is part of the Good News, he was not ready to think about the downside of the building up of the kingdom of heaven.
Peter is ready to do the part he likes; preaching, teaching, healing, receiving the appreciation of the masses. He is not ready to do the part he doesn’t like; the rejection, the fear, the abuse, the sheer terror and loneliness, death. Even though he was willing to profess that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the Living God, he is not ready to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow wherever that messiah might lead him.
Retired Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz tells a story of a conversation he had with the team Chaplain Walt Wiley. Smoltz said, “What prevents me from living life the way I want to until I’m in my mid-40s and then settling down and living for Christ?” Chaplain Wiley replied, “Nothing, except for one thing. You don’t control your next breath. But you can take that chance if you want to.”
Christ calls us to commitment now, not next week, not next year, or after the kids are grown, of when I retire, or whenever it’s more convenient. Christ calls us to commitment now, today, this minute. And the thing that stops us is the same thing that stopped Peter that day long ago; it’s the same thing that stopped Carmen from eating all his veggies, the same thing that tempted John Smoltz away from the gospel. We are addicted to our own enjoyment and pleasure and are unwilling to give it up, either for the sake of Christ or for the benefit of others.
The Gospel this day calls us to turn our backs on the tempting allure of the pursuit of happiness and to place our lives and our fortunes at the service of the pursuit of holiness. Jesus has laid before us a simple and clear choice in his words to Peter. No, I don’t mean the famous triad of deny self, take up cross, and follow. They are merely commentary on the really important thing Jesus said earlier.
“Get behind me Satan!” Jesus didn’t say, “Get out of my way.” He didn’t say, “Stop bothering me.” He didn’t say, “You’re evil and I cast you into the outer darkness.” No, Jesus said to Satan the same thing he says to all of us, “Get behind me.”
There’s only one right place in this world to be, and that’s behind Jesus.
There’s only one truly satisfying place in this world to be, and that’s behind Jesus.
There’s only one completely fulfilling place in this world to be, and that’s behind Jesus.
Everyone, including Satan, is invited to fall in line. We are called upon to get behind Jesus as he leads us into the world to spread the kingdom of heaven, the unfailing and inescapable love of God. It is not an easy calling, it is not always pleasant, it often seems unrewarding and unreasonable, but it is where Christ has called us to be. Will we get behind Jesus and follow him into the midst of the world’s suffering peoples; abandoning our lives into the grip of God’s love?
Amen and amen.
Amen and amen.