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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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