Sermon for the 12th Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost - Matthew 16:13-20
Jesus wants to know, but he is prepared for you not to know. He asks the question. He wants to hear the response, and he knows that the answer will come, but not from you. It may come out of your mouth. Those words – You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God, but it will not come from you. Instead it actually is something that invades you. Takes you over. Smashes down the walls of your heart to cause you to explode with faith, proclaiming this truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is why we equate the work of the gospel to freedom, to binding (putting in chains) and loosing (liberation). A Gospel of conquer in which the gates of death are dead, because the work of God is life. The forgiveness of sin being that vanquishing act, where I discover my need for mercy. To have my idolatry, my slander, my heart of stone, killed and reborn. That is the decision that he has made now. He says to you, in Christ, you are loosed by the keys of Heaven through the blood of Jesus from all your denial, doubt and fear. And you are bound by the promises of God never to leave you.
Growing up in California, the Pacific Coast Highway is a gorgeous drive but is plagued by landslides. In fact, unless you are driving in the desert, many places you travel in California have rock slide warnings because they have managed to dig through cliffs, rocks and mountains to build their freeways and highways. With a rockslide, all it takes is one rock. Even one pebble jarring loose from the cliff and suddenly a whole host of rocks and dirt and matter comes tumbling after it. When you are rock climbing in some of these places you have to test the placements first before you find a good foothold or handhold because of this rocky problem.
In Christ’ s question, he is checking the handholds. “What do they say about me? What’s the gossip? How is CNN and Fox News carrying the story?”
Then the answers were probably what he expected.
Some think you are John the Baptist come back from the dead. Others think you are Elijah, the great prophet of old who went up into the clouds of heaven in a flaming chariot, now come back to point us to the Messiah. Others think you are Jeremiah or some other prophet. Some very important person, Jesus, in touch with God Himself. That’s a pretty good grouping there Jesus. Good crowd to be associated with.
Jesus says - Yes, but who do you say that I am?
There is the poke. The prod. The digging in of the fingers and toes looking for loose rocks. Who else but Simon brings the answer – You are the Christ the Son of the Living God. Simon replying, not knowing what danger he has now unleashed. To say that “You are the Christ,” makes us then have to think, what does this Jesus of Nazareth then have to do with me? This Christ? This Messiah? This Liberator? If I confess this as true, what bearing does this have with my life? If I speak the word Christ, The Messiah, the Savior, what sort of saving am I talking about?
This statement, even the questions it raises, becomes that rock. You are now Peter (little rock) and upon this rock (petra, a rocky cliff or mountain) I will build my church. Peter, petros, not a steady rock. Not a foundational rock. But a Little rock broken away from the mountain, hewn from the mountain according to Isaiah, and now we have this loose boulder. A rock that can move, but not round. A little rough around the edges. Can be transported, but a little bulky. Can be taken other places, but it can’t be necessarily contained.
This rock becoming a rock that actually causes damage. A rock that consists of those words - You are the Christ the Son of the Living God, and rolls through our lives, back and forth rattling the walls of the house, displacing the foundation and mowing down all the idols we’ve cast and the sins we have committed.
It does this because those words, this work, this rock are not of us, we have no power in it, but it is of the One from which it was hewn. The one from which the forgiveness of sin, the life in the midst of death, emanates like a battering ram to destroy everything in it’s way.
Christ says here that we are blessed by this confession becoming ours. Ones who have been graced. Gifted this confession. Something that does not come from flesh and blood. It isn’t something that comes from reading some textbooks. Doing some experiments in a lab to see if Jesus meets the requirements of science. Instead it comes from God to us.
Those of you still working on the Catechism Challenge. It’s not too late. The videos are up on treadweary.com, the parish Facebook page, and YouTube. We have copies in the office of Luther’s small catechism too. But the explanation to the third article of the creed – I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with her gifts and freed me.
This rock of faith hitting us as ones who have been given something transformative. Something that moves us from one place to another. Sometimes against our will. This rock of faith, all wobbly and rough, becoming that thing that metamorphs our minds into renewal as Romans says.
When we confess Christ, confess this Savior as ours, we say then that we are not. We are not the chosen or anointed one. We are not our savior, he is. We are not God, God is.
That can be destructive because we can be steamrolled by this faith. We actually get killed by it because there is something in us that is this death that has to happen of our old selves, and we need to have this confession to give us life. We need the living God to speak to us. We need this rock to be God’s weapon against death itself.
Christ calls this rock of faith, this truth of the Christ who comes in victory for you, as being a rock the gates of Hades cannot prevail against. Hades was the underworld. The place of death. Imagine a great castle. Huge gates. Barred by a giant oaken beam. Unbreakable. But then there’s Jesus. Up on a hill, and with the cross as a catapult, here comes this heavy boulder flying through the air and…SMASH! Against the gate. Hades laughs. Seeing the cross, knowing Christ is a dead man. But then the time for the tomb comes. They roll a great stone against the entrance, and then that Easter morning – Blam! There goes that rock. There goes the gates of death. Opening wide the doors for resurrection to be the new normal. A resurrection our dying bodies crave. A resurrection our souls need. A resurrection that defeats the death that was the reward for sin. A resurrection that comes not from us but from God. A resurrection that the dead can’t do anything about. Only the living God can do something with it because you’re dead.
But now This Christ, the Son of the Living God stands dangling the keys of death and hell, saying to you. It is opened. You are free. Come to me and live. I loose your bonds of sin and shame. I bind you to myself. Now, Who do you say that I am? Thanks be to God. Amen