Today we commemorate the Confession of Peter, and begin a week set apart to call us into prayer for Unity of the Church. And we sit on the eve of the day when we remember the life and witness of Martin Luther King Jr. who called us to embrace the beloved community. At the center of it all- building and unifying and living as Christ’s church question that we must encounter is how we confess, or make known God’s relationship with it all.
We all know the questions- How does the church survive? How can we work together with people differing from us? And lots of other questions that all tend to start with “How can we?”
This is our question.
Jesus has brought the disciples to Caesarea Philippi, at the heart of places where people do not worship God. They worship the imperial cult, and mythological gods and animals. They do not worship the God of Israel. Yet there in that place, he asks, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And the disciples give the answers of their people, “Some say John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets.” But no one in Caesarea Philippi was thinking any of that. Those are insider answers.
Then Jesus asks “who do YOU say that I am?” And no one answered at first. But that is the real question. And it’s not really a test, it’s an invitation. “Who do you say I am” drives deeper to what is needed. Finally Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” Words that just tumbled out. Maybe you’ve had that moment where words just happened and you’re not sure how.
Then Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”
Jesus identity is made known. He is the Messiah and son of God and Peter didn’t figure it out on his own. “I am the Son of God and you are Peter. And on this rock, on the truth of who I am, I will build my church.” A church so strong even the gates of hell won’t prevail against it.
The foundation of life together as church is Christ.
Who Jesus is and what God’s purpose is will be revealed in him- God saves people. And Christ is the rock. We hear about the rock in Corinthians too as Paul tells us that the rock was with the people of Israel.
And the rock was Christ. The rock’s presence didn’t mean that they lived a golden age where life became perfect. There was no immunity from challenge or greater testing not common to all. But… God is faithful and you won’t be tested beyond your strength. Your strength will come from God who provides the way.
The sustainer of the people together is Christ.
Always. So flee from whatever else you think it’s about.
Including thinking you are the rock. Or that you have to be the rock. Or that some really amazing person is the rock. Or the right program is the rock upon which to build the church. Or that we should worry about what others are doing and criticize their living of faith and then feeling good is the rock. No.
Periodically I run into people who tell me about a connection to this church- the one we’re sitting in today. They’ll tell me how great it was coming to teen dances here, or the Scout troop, or going on bus trips, or being in the ladies circle, or eating great meals. The theory as many people ponder how to build or rebuild this church or even maintain the building was and is…If we just get them in the door they’ll see. Jesus will just “happen.” If we just have the right combination of things it will build that church. That will be our salvation.
Here’s the problem. While no one intended it, all those people I’ve met- when they got beyond the age of the teen dance, or the bus trip, or whatever else was the draw, there was no rock. Frankly sometimes this is a great sadness to me because when rough times happen, or death occurs, there is such great fear. A fear is that none of it was saving. The institution of the church rolled on but what it revealed was often more about us than anything else. And no one really meant that to happen but often it did.
Now as ever it is important to hear that the rock upon which the church is built, and in which we all move and are embraced is in Jesus. And our purpose as this generation of disciples is to tell this story and reveal this God and remember that though we’re not sure, let God be the power and strength nothing can overcome.
Peter’s confession is important for what it reveals to us not of him, but what it reveals of God’s love and grace and desire for salvation seen in Jesus Christ. Salvation is in no other.
But just speaking the words and listing the names or memorizing them won’t build the faith God gives. It takes community living it. Peter began with what God revealed but then God moved him from blurting out words to being drawn into what the name does. Jesus saves. It’s not about his words, or actions, and whether he lives up to them, which he doesn’t a lot of the time. Nor do we. What deepens faith is those moments when we look and say it clearly came from God. God made it so. Meant to be shared. In a proper confession of faith the subject is God. Salvation is in no other- for us and our world and God’s church.
God wants to liberate us from the notion that we are our own saviors, or that we are the saviors or defenders of the church. There is no gospel if the center is only us. But still we are invited to encounter and follow Christ and that is not only good news, it invites us all into that question- who do you say God is? Where do we as people with real problems encounter God at work our real lives?
So what is your confession? Your statement of faith?
For a year now I’ve been asking that-where you have seen God? I want to share where Donna and I met God this past week. In a woman we met on the street in front of the office. She approached in tears asking where 423 Windsor was. I pointed and she became sadder. Because she was looking for the NA meeting, believing it was here. The empty building told her it was not. For some reason the information was not updated. She was despondent because she was not just looking for a meeting, she had called the hotline. That’s what you do when you are desperate. She had the look of someone standing at the gates of hell. And we did not have what she needed. She needed the meeting to be here-and it was not. She needed to get to that meeting right now and she could not. So she brushed me aside, crying and broken. But then she stopped walking and disintegrated.
We urged her to come inside in the warm and let’s find out where you need to be and when. Slowly she moved with us to the office and we began to talk and look for the right information. And we couldn’t find it.
While Donna looked, I stayed with her and the story came falling out of her mouth of her struggle. And we still couldn’t get an answer. No one answered the phone where we were calling. the information she had was wrong and it would seem we had nothing to give. And then a paper fell out of the phone book with what we needed. And there was more than one meeting to help her hold on. But the real Jesus moment came when I asked her if she wanted to pray and she latched onto me in the fiercest, tightest life seeking hug so tight I ended up literally praying in her ear. And then she began to relax.
Before she left she spoke of being overwhelmed and frustrated and then she said, “but you wouldn’t let me go, you were in my face calling me to not give up.” I didn’t remember it like that. But she wasn’t seeing me really-God was speaking salvation to her. Inviting her.
She came back 5 days later- just to give share a joyful hug and to thank us for helping her get to that wholeness and restoration and unity. Because in truth her family had told her to do 60 in 60 or they were done. She looked like a totally different person as she shared with me her confession of faith of being reconnected to that rock of Christ. You brought me to Jesus.
Salvation is in no other. And we shared something about Jesus deeper than just words, something shared, drawn together as the body of Christ. Not so she would be a member of Holy Spirit. Our mission is not about getting the right people or programs but simply proclaiming that Jesus Christ is salvation. And helping ourselves and others find that rock through God’s power.
It’s not about how will we, but how does God bring grace and power that saves.
Now your name is not Peter- it’s Bill or Terry or Jane, but you’ve seen it, these moments somehow.
Where have you seen God’s grace and salvation come to you? What confession would you write?
Let’s start sharing that story together- the story of Jesus as our rock and salvation- and Christ will build the church.