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the sermon for

the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

27 August 2017

Matthew 16:13-20
The church is erected not on our divinity, but our humanity!

08272017Well, this morning, it's one of "those" passages, again! Matthew, chapter sixteen! The first three verses – 13, 14, and 15 – are all, pretty much, the same in Matthew, Mark, Luke. Even the last verse – 20 – isn't much different among the gospels. But those three in between – 16, 17, 18... They stand by themselves. Unique, exclusive, the Matthew's gospel! Especially verse 18...

And I tell you, says Jesus, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church...

And I tell you, says Jesus, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church...

One verse that appears nowhere else in the New Testament. And that's amazing, considering how important those words have been to the life of "western" Christianity. You see, this is the footing, the foundation – at least, scripturally speaking – for all things papal! This is the reason there's a pope!

For Luther, this passage was all about Jesus. He was – he is – the "rock"! The Messiah! The Son of the living God! It wasn't Simon son of Jonah who was important, who mattered. It was what Peter said! Of course, for Luther's opponents, for the church in Rome, this mouthful of words was the reason for the power and the primacy of the bishop of Rome.

And I tell you, says Jesus, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church...

Even after all these centuries, after all these generations, we protestants, still, find it difficult not to imagine the glory and the grandeur of the Vatican. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel! The Pieta of Michelangelo! St. Peter's Basilica, itself! All works-in-progress at the start of the Reformation!

And I tell you, says Jesus, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church...

Matthew 16:18 ! On one side was Rome! The kingdom! The power! The glory! On the other was... Well, on the other was all this!

This time through, however, I didn't want to think about all that. I just wanted to focus on the verse, itself. I wanted to think only about Simon son of Jonah. Not the myth, but the man. At least, the man as he's pictured by Matthew. And I have to tell you, in the first gospel, he's hardly a hero. Two weeks ago, it was Peter... on the sea... beside the boat... Jesus called him, "You of little faith!" Next Sunday, Jesus will call him, "Satan!" A stumbling block! His mind set on human, not divine things! He's the one – in Matthew – who's called out in the garden, in the night in which he was betrayed! "Peter! Can't you stay awake with me for just an hour!" And of course, there were the denials. One. Two. Three. And then, the cock crowed.

You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church...

Truth is, the way Matthew saw it, Peter was anything but a rock. Well-meaning, yes. Best of intentions. But flawed. Imperfect. Inconsistent. Peter was human. So very, very human. Not a shining example, at all. More like the person we see in the mirror, first thing in the morning. But what if...

What if that's the point Matthew wants to make? What if that's what Jesus means when he says what he says, this morning? What if Jesus means, precisely, Peter, the one of little faith! Peter, the stumbling block! Peter, the hindrance! "On THIS rock, I'll build!" It changes the image entirely! But stop and think about it, for a moment. The church is hypocritical only when we don't take our humanity seriously! We're phony, fake, only when we think more of ourself than we should! We're not Peter, the superstar. Peter the icon, the idol. We Peter, the sarcasm, and Peter, the irony. We're everything but what we think we should be! Everything but strong! Anything but dependable!

But what if that's what Jesus means? What if Jesus isn't talking about building his church strength, but on weakness? And what if Jesus isn't talking about building his church on wisdom, but on foolishness? What if the church isn't built, so much on efficiency, as it is incompetence? And what if we're not so much a collection of movers and shakers, of the brightest and best, as we are just people? Plain. Ordinary. Run-of-the-mill. No better and no worse than Peter. No better and no worse than seven hundred billion others.

"On this rock – on this brokenness, on this neediness – I will build my church!"

What if the one quality, the one asset, we possess as god's very own is humility? Humility! What if THAT's the counterpoint to our pettiness? You see, we don't have anything to boast, to brag about. Because it's not we – it's not us – doing the building! It's Jesus! Just Jesus! We aren't asked for permission! He's not looking for our cooperation! And that changes everything! It makes a difference in what we believe! Believe about ourselves! Believes about god! Believes about one another! And it makes a difference in how we live! Live with ourselves and with god and with others!

In bondage! Captive! Unable to free ourselves! That's how we begin worship, each Sunday morning. Sinners in thought, word, and deed! By what we've done and haven't done! Loveless! Lost! In the real world, that's really no way to begin! It's not the best foundation to begin with! But that's the way it works, here, in this place! We don't stand on inerrancy or infallibility! We don't look for progress or evolution! Here... in this place... at this time... we are about three things and three things alone. We are about love! We are about Jesus! And we are about depending on, relying on, staking our lives on those two things. On love and on Jesus! And it's those three things that allow us, that encourage us, to see ourselves as we really, truly are! Allow us and encourage us to become who, what, we already are... a people... as just people...

"On this rock I will build!"

"On THIS rock I will build!"

"On this rock I!"

So, it's been an important passage for us here in the church in Europe! Matthew, chapter sixteen, verse eighteen! But not for the reason, we might assume! It's not about setting our sights high, so we don't fall short, don't miss the mark. It's about lowering the bar to let others in! So that they – like us – have a place! So that they – like us – can, finally, belong! The church doesn't exist for perfection! It never has! Neither does it endure for excellence! We don't try harder! We don't do better! Harder or better than we did, yesterday! Harder or better than anyone else! Here... in this place... we, simply, are! And that's enough! That's more than enough! We, still, have our good intentions and our best interests. But when push comes to shove, we know we're just like Peter! Even with Jesus near, we get frightened and we doubt and we get in the way. We crash. And we burn. And when we do, god is there to put out the flames and pick us up and put us back on our feet to do it all over, again!

Like I said back at the beginning, it's hardly efficient and it's far from effective. But it is the way god does it! God looks at Peter – god looks at us – and god says, "On this – on these – for better, for worse – I build my people!

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the sermon for

the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

20 August 2017

Matthew 15:10-28
Not by hating the hater, but by loving the hated!

08202017Well, it's been an entire week since the events in Charlottesville. For the past eight days, we've been talking about them and listening to people talk about them and watching them replayed on television over and over and over. By now, it's – pretty much – nothing more than the latest on a long list of tragedies. And frankly, it's getting hard to remember them all. But I have to tell you, as "a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ," this one has been different. There's been something about it that's gnawed at me. I'm sure part of it is that it happened, at all. Another part is that I'm, simply, getting tired of "standing with" one community after another and nothing being done to change anything. Besides, this time through, I thought of my friends. This time, the objects of things like "white supremacy" and "racism" had names and faces. But without a doubt, the biggest part is that, as a white pastor, I'm being challenged to do something! To say anything! Something timely! Anything meaningful!

There was an editorial in the Washington Post, last Sunday, that sounded a lot like a letter Dr. King wrote to the white pastors, priests, and rabbis in Birmingham. Basically, the article asked one question, "Where are you?" It reminded me of something I read by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor/professor who had been executed by the Nazis, during the last days of the war. "Silence in the face of evil," he said, "is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."

What to say? What to say? If anything, at all! I could just be patient, as I have been in the past. And everything will just pass away as it's done before. Give it another week... maybe two... and it will be forgotten... Forgotten or replaced by other headlines... "Denounce the haters!" That's the advice I've been given. "Call it what it is! Evil! Sin! Wrong!" Only thing, doing that has never, really, changed anything. In fact, it seems to make things worse. What to say? Something authentic... helpful... real...

Well, this past week, while reading through the passage from Matthew in quest of a thought, I tripped over the words... Matthew 16 . 13 and 14...

Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.

Let me reread those words...

Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.

Of course, Jesus wasn't talking about the haters in Charlottesville. He was talking about the Pharisees. But they had a lot in common with the people in Charlottesville. They were both haters! They were both haters! Self-righteous! Arrogant! Better than everyone else! Pure! I guess that would be the word! Pure! Always more than ready to tell everyone how to live their life! Needless to day, Jesus was everything the Pharisees weren't! "Listen and understand," Jesus said, "it's not what goes into the mouth that defi8les a person. It's what comes out!" Words! Thoughts! Ideas! And the Pharisees took offense! Jesus said - Jesus says - "Ignore them! Don't worry about it! Let them alone! They have no future!"

I let those words ferment for a few days. One. Two. And I began to understand something. Hating the hater isn't enough! Hating the hater just isn't good enough! Opposing racism – or any other "–ism" for that matter – doesn't really change anything. Sure, it makes us feel better about ourselves. Like signing all those online petitions. We stand up for our values. But in the end, it accomplishes very little. Seven score and fourteen years ago, we fought a war to free the slaves! Sixty-some years ago, segregation was declared unconstitutional! Half a century ago, voting rights were guaranteed despite race! But that's not, ultimately, what's brought people together! Ideas, values, goals, are one thing. Relationships are something else, entirely! What matters is what brings people face-to-face and side-by-side!

Sure, there was a civil war – as if any war is civil! And yes, there was "civil" rights movement. But they took us only so far. And I think it's because we never went beyond hating the haters! Fire with fire! Eye for an eye! But that's not what Jesus was endorsing! That's not what Jesus was encouraging! "Let 'em alone! Ignore 'em! Forget about 'em! Blind guides leading the blind!" Threatening! Intimidating! Ranting! Raving! And ultimately, harmless! In the end, ineffective! Hating the hater only takes us so far and no farther! As a nation, it's important. As Dr. King said, " It may be true that law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important!" But it doesn't transform anything!

But love... love changes everything! And that's where we as the church have missed the mark. That's where we as god's people, have fallen short. I'm not talking, now, about loving the hater. I'm talking about loving the ones the hater hates! Seeking THEM out! Going to THEM, just as Jesus came to us! Just as Jesus comes to us! Taking our place in their midst! I helped out at a wedding, yesterday, at St. Nick's Episcopal Church. The first reading was from the book of Ruth. "Where you go," Ruth says, "I go! Where you lodge, I lodge! Your people will be my people! Your god, my god! Where you die, I die and there I will be buried!"

Hating the hater just isn't enough! As a church, we're called, chosen, to go above, beyond! God expects us to love those the hater hates! And yet, up to now, that's not where we've gone! That's not what we've done! As German-Lutherans, especially, we have to admit, that first time haters rose up, we weren't all that faithful. But now, well now, god has given us a second chance! We're not here to bring down the powerful from their thrones. That's god's job. We're here to lift up the lowly! Nether are we here to send the rich away empty. We're here to gill the hungry with good things! That's salvation! Deliverance! We're not here to hate the haters. We're here to love those the hater hates! To look them in the eyes! To call them by name! To take them by the hand! To love and be loved!

Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.

Believing is not limited, merely, to doing no harm! There' more to it than just hating the hater! There's, also, doing good! Loving the ones the hater hates! "The best way to fight racism," advises a Catholic priest, "is with solidarity!" The best way to fight segregation is by joining with those who are pushed away, with those who are shoved aside! The best way of attacking "–ism"s of any kind is by embracing the very people who are being rejected! And that's not something we have every done! But that's what Jesus did! That's what Jesus is still doing!

He could have gotten in the Pharisee's faces. To see who could yell the loudest and the longest! But that wouldn't have changed anything! That would have solved nothing! Instead, he humbly... and modestly... and unassumingly... went about doing what he was called, sent, to do! Loving! And forgiving! And healing! And cleansing! And raising from the dead! "Let them alone," he said! Ignore them! Forget about them! And do the thing they can't do! The thing they won't do! Love! And love! And, then, love some more! By doing that, the kingdom comes! In doing that, the reign of god is near!

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