The 12th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 16A (8/27/2017)

Lessons:
Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 138 (8)
Romans 12:1-8
St. Matthew 16:13-20

Semicontinuous Series
Exodus 1:8-2:10
Psalm 124 (7)

Prayer of the Day:
O God, with all your faithful followers of every age, we praise you, the rock of our life. Be our strong foundation and form us into the body of your Son, that we may gladly minister to all the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

St. Matthew 16:13-20. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Who Do You Say that Jesus Is?

In this week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus quizzes his disciples. He first probes to see what they know. “What are people saying about me? What kind of a reputation do I have?” The disciples have a number of answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets… but nobody seems to have it right quite yet. That is, until Jesus asks his followers: “Who do you (plural in the Greek: ὑμει̂ς) say that I am?”

Peter is the first to stand up and he declares, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter will waffle in days to come, as to whether or not he fully believes this. But for the moment he has it right, and Jesus rewards him: Blessed are you, Simon. Now I call you “The Rock” (Petros in the Greek: Πέτρος), and on this rock, I’ll build my church.

The question can be addressed to us as well: “Who do we say that Jesus is?” What does our answer look like? For some people, it is an academic answer or theological answer. They have studied the issues, mastered the concepts, conquered the language, and can speak about the nature of Christ with confidence and clarity. But finally, Jesus’ question is not an academic question, because he is not asking what we know. He is asking who we are. It is a personal question. It is a relational question. It is a question which seeks to find whether or not this faith we’ve embraced has found a place in our hearts.

This month we’re beginning to prepare, with a group of faithful and dedicated volunteers here at Saint Peter, for this year’s Catechism program. Catechism is the name we use for a three-year ministry with Middle School aged youth. The purpose of this ministry is not so much to cram information about our faith into the heads of these young people, but to build on what they know in such a way that the story captures their hearts. We want them, like Simon Peter, to be able to say for themselves: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” and to believe it in a way that gives them hope and purpose. We want their faith to be a foundation in their lives; a tremendous resource for them.

We do this because we believe God wants this kind of foundation in the lives of our young people, and wants it for those of us who are older as well. This is a central goal of our common ministry here at Saint Peter, and frankly, it ought to be a central goal of any Christian ministry. We are called to become disciples of Jesus Christ — followers who take his presence seriously, who strive for deep faith, and who work continuously to live lives that honor the gift of salvation God has given us.

This is what we must be about as a congregation. Any other focus falls far short of Simon Peter’s confession. And this is what each of us, as individual Christians, must be about. I encourage you to think about how your participation in Christian community can effectively build this kind of a foundation at the center of each of your lives. It is, perhaps, the most important thing we can do for ourselves, our families, our churches, and our God.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do the crowd’s answers tell us about who is following Jesus?
  2. What does Peter’s response reveal about his own faith?
  3. In the image of the keys, what is Peter being asked to bind and unbind?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How would I describe my understanding of Jesus, and my relationship with him?
  2. When do I find it hardest to live in a way that makes visible my faith in Christ?
  3. What might I be doing, right now, to center my life and my faith on Christ?

The author would love to hear what you think about this post.