Sermon by Rev. Ronald Nelson
My Guru, Roger Karban said, something like this, “if you listen to the William Tell overture and do not think of the Lone Ranger, you are very knowledgeable of classical music.” Like-wise, he said, “if you read Matthew 16:18 and do not think of the Roman Catholic papacy, you are a true Scripture scholar.”
Therefore, we Lutherans must be good Scripture scholars and old enough to remember “hi-yo-silver! Away!” Roger, a Roman Catholic, says, “we Roman Catholics have lost Matthew’s real message.” But let us not break our arm patting our Lutheran backs and let us look at this lesson today.
My first congregation that I served was of Danish persuasion, thus “Built on a Rock” by N. F. S. Grundtvig would have had to be sung today. The lectionary I use and the one in the ELW use two different lessons for the first two lessons, so I will try to stick with the Gospel. It is against my better judgement, but when the Anglicans and Lutherans persist in mucking up the lectionary, what is a guy to do?
Today’s reading from Matthew is generally considered to be the chief evangelical text for our understanding of the Church’s foundation. For Roman Catholics, they look at Peter as the rock, for us we say Faith is the rock and the Church carries that Faith forward.
When I look at Grundtvig’s hymn, he seems to say Christ is the rock, without ever saying it. Matthew’s story from the beginning has drawn us in with the Good News announcement of salvation that is to be for us in this one who we call “Immanuel – God with us,” [1:21-22]. Yet the central question still has to haunt us. The Sermon on the Mount has been delivered, Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing is well underway and yet John the Baptiser still asks the question that is at issue for every one of us hearing the Good News today. “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
And what is Jesus’ reply? “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” [11:3-6] This lesson is a pivotal time for Jesus’ ministry. Now is the time for Jesus’ disciples who have followed him to come clean and acknowledge the identity of this Jesus who has called them, and to follow his lead in the mission to the world. They/we have heard the stories of Jesus’ teaching and now we are asked the pointed question, “but who do you say that I am?” So Peter speaks for the disciples, for the community then and for us now. “Jesus is the Messiah.” “Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one.”
At the end of the Gospel, Jesus commissions these disciples as representatives of this new community to go in his name and to make disciples of all nations. This Faith, this Church, this community of believers are bound in Jesus’ mission. This community, the church, is endowed with the promise of a rich gift, the “keys” of the kingdom which is identified as the community’s invitation and mission to exercise the power of forgiveness in the binding and loosing of sin in the name of God.
For the writer of Matthew this is the call and responsibility of discipleship.
I believe this is what we as the Church have forgotten. Please turn to page 114 in the front of the hymnal. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord’s face shine on you with grace and mercy. The Lord look upon you with favour and + give you peace.” One of my biggest problems with the Church is emphasized by what I hear at the benediction, which is often said by either clergy or lay,
“May the Lord bless….
May the Lord’s face….
May the Lord look….
And give you peace.”
Look in your hymnal, does it say, “may”? No, it says the Lord “does” give us….
My red ordination stole has keys as the symbol on it. I as a pastor represent the church to which God has given the keys to the kingdom, the power to forgive. The question is then, what would it look like for us to claim such a blessing and to have such an imagination as to join in this confession and this community. What if we were to know ourselves to be called by this promise and given this identity as disciples and ambassadors of the reign of God? What if we could just catch even a glimpse of what it means to be a part of this new community, authorized and empowered as agents to exercise the task of forgiving and welcoming in the name of God who desires “mercy and not sacrifice.” [9:13]. What if our hope was constantly part of that vision, that to the ends of the earth, the will of God might indeed be realized. That not one of these little ones should be lost to the saving love of God?
The problem for us, is just like the disciples, with, for a brief moment at least, the exception of Peter, the disciples do not have an opinion of their own. They say, “Messi, the Argentinian soccer player, has never offended anyone, because he has no opinion.”
So here we are as Christians. I believe Jesus wished his people were hot or cold. Instead, their discipleship was unremarkable. How we identify with Jesus should be based on personal encounters with God, and how we are informed by our readings of Scripture and in dialogue with others.
Yes, we need lifelong conversations with God whereby we adjust what we think we know. Our denomination, our church, our pastors, our mothers, fathers, siblings, teachers, and others will have their opinions, but in the end, we have to decide for ourselves how we identify this Jesus.
We cannot be like Messi and many others, with no opinion. A living God is a dynamic God and not a static God whose clearest communication happened in the past. We say Jesus is the Messiah of the living God. When we say Jesus is the Son of Man, we mean that God continues to act. God does not have to resurrect John the Baptiser, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or any other prophet to speak. God never ceases to exist, and to create, and to anoint. God can resurrect the dead, but resurrection is not his only option. Jesus continued to dialogue with Peter, God continues to dialogue with us. God is a living God, a relevant God, a contextual God. God speaks a relevant word that reflects the contexts in which we live and the challenges that we face.
God is a living God not bound by a written page or even a sacred text.
We must have opinions on God. What we do on earth matters and it has an impact all around us. And then interestingly, Jesus said, “Their lives will speak louder, more truthfully, and more effectively than their words.”
The bottom line is that God said, “we shall not build churches that oppress the poor and women and turn a blind eye to sexual violence.” On this “rock,” let us build assemblies that demonstrate belief in a living, incarnating God, a God of freedom and not of oppression, and above all a God of justice, and love and peace. Each one of us must pray for the call within the call, the grace within the grace. We must pray to find fullness that can only happen if we are willing to come in empty of our own agendas. Then we can discern where we see the creative movement of God stirring among us. What does it mean, in concrete and specific terms to proclaim the Good News of Jesus the Messiah in our communities, our work, our nation, our world?
Yes, the conviction that Jesus is the Messiah is the place to start. Then we must consider, in the light of this conviction, how do we live in faith that says the Messiah is present among us today? In the end, a life of faithful service may be the best answer to that awe-inspiring question, “Who do you say that I am?” we answer by saying who we are, and more importantly by what we do.
To God we belong
And to God is our return.