The 10th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 16A (August 21, 2011)
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.
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.
On This Rock
If anyone ought to know something about Simon Peter, the Galilean fisherman, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus (in fact, the leader of the twelve disciples), it would be the people of Saint Peter Lutheran Church. After all our church is named after him. Our ears tend to perk up whenever we hear his name. Our church bears his name, of course, because we believe that we can learn from him about what it means to be faithful in our efforts to follow Jesus today. That happens in this weekend’s Gospel lesson. This week’s story about Peter shows him at his best, and we are inspired by his example.
The story takes place one day, as Jesus is fishing for information. He asks his followers to tell him what people are saying about him. Who do they think he is? What do they think he is up to? The disciples give him a variety of answers, indicating that people are, indeed, struggling to understand who he is, and what his mission includes.
As he often does, Jesus then turns the spotlight towards them. “But who do you say that I am?” It is Simon Peter who speaks first: “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Jesus commends Peter for his confession, and says: “On this Peter – on this rock – I will build my church.”
For years, the church has wondered exactly what Jesus means by that. Is he to build the church upon Peter himself (and, as some would have us believe, Peter’s successors)? That seems unlikely. After all, it is Peter who sinks into the water when his faith falters. It is Peter who misunderstands the moment and proposes building tents on the Mount of Transfiguration. It is Peter who denies Christ three times on the night he dies. As a matter of fact, it is to Peter that Jesus says (in Matthew 16:23, next week’s Gospel lesson): “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me…” Peter’s person hardly seems sufficient to serve as the foundation for the church that bears Jesus’ name.
Peter’s on-again off-again nature more than suggests that it isn’t his person that Jesus will use as a foundation for the church. The context of these verses implies that it is, instead, Peter’s confession that will find its place at the heart of the church. “You are the Messiah,” Peter says, “The son of the living God.” On this Peter – this Christ-confessing Peter – Jesus will build the church. To the extent that Peter professes the Messiahship of Jesus, the church is built on him. To the extent that Peter faithfully points to Jesus and says, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God” the church is built on him. To the extent that the Spirit empowers Peter’s words and witness, despite his personal shortcomings, the church is built on him.
As Samuel J. Stone put it in the late 19th Century: “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.” Peter often gets it wrong, but in this case he gets it right. And he reminds us of how important it is to ground our faith, our church and our lives in the promise of Jesus as Messiah. On that belief, and on that practice, Jesus builds his church.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- What Bible stories suggest Peter’s strength of faith?
- What Bible Stories reveal times when Peter’s faith faltered?
- How is the power of the Holy Spirit, and its ability to create faith, displayed in Peter’s life?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- When has my faith been strong? When has it faltered?
- What is most important in my life? What are my top values?
- How can I encourage my faith in Christ to play a more and more central role in my life?