Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August 21, 2011

Matthew 16:13-20
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.

If you will, please take a moment to reflect with me on the way you relate to God.  Now, I am not going to ask you to share this with anyone, so please do be as honest as possible.  I want you to consider, when you ponder the divine, when you enter a still moment of prayer, when you spend sometime reading your Bible, what keeps you from God?  When you encounter voices of opposition, when that cruel voice of the accuser happens upon you, what are the contents of its message?   Please do, stop and consider these questions for a brief moment. 
The reason I ask this, you see, is because today’s reading takes up what seems to me to be the most subtle form of opposition we encounter in our lives as Christians.  Let me do a little explaining.  Often it is the case that we conceive of sin largely in terms of human pride and arrogance.  That the sin common to us all is wanting not to be human, but rather to be gods ourselves.  To want, as it were, the knowledge of good and evil to be ours, so that we may determine right from wrong, in from out in an ultimate way, judging our enemies or even simply those whom do not like with an eternal ferocity.  Now, I am not going to disagree with this.  Obviously, there is a lot of truth there, but I wonder if it is only one half of the story.  I wonder if, deeper than the pride and the arrogance, there is fear and insecurity, which makes us believe that we have to be more than we are.  That part of the reason we want to storm heaven, to take God’s throne as our own, is because we simply do not believe that God will take care of us for any number of reasons.  So, back to those questions: it seems to me that often it is the case that our own spiritual lives are hindered by this little word “too.”  That is, we are “too” whatever for God to actually care about us and for God to use us in the church and the world.  We are too old, too young, too busy, too full of doubt, too clumsy with our words, too broken in our relationships, too selfish, too insecure, too neurotic, too smart, too dumb, too whatever.  The accuser’s voice can be a relentless one.  If you are anything like me, that is the primal fear that lies behind our pride, really, we are just waiting to be exposed for the frauds that we believe ourselves to be. 
Well, if that is the case, as I suspect it might be, it is time to lay down those burdens in favor of entirely different view of reality, a reality in which who we are is a matter of our perceived faults and failings, nor is it limited by that nasty little word “too.”  Instead, our participation in the kingdom of God, our present moments being swept up into the eternal, is a gift given not of flesh and blood, but by our Father in heaven.  Now, as some of you may indeed recall, I am a huge fan of Peter the disciple.  I just think the man is utterly fantastic, but he is not fantastic because he is somehow faultless, actually quite the opposite.  What I love about Peter is his unfailing humanity.  Yes, we could just as easily apply this “too” to Peter.  If we are being completely honest, Peter is probably a bit too talkative, a bit too convinced he has it figured out (stayed tuned for next week to see this in action).  From the perspective of the religious authorities, those Pharisees, Peter is a bit too working class, a bit too unschooled in the law to be a respectable disciple. Yes, a bit too rough around the edges to be tapped as a potential leader of any religious movement.  According to human standards, to the way we judge one another and ourselves, Peter does not exactly pass our tests will flying colors.  A marginal grading would probably be generous.
And yet, in this extraordinary scene, Peter makes the good confession of Jesus Christ as Lord.  In, with and under all his failings, all of his “toos,” he gives voice to the reality that will defeat the gates of hell.  To this rough and tumble fisherman, God has revealed the very truth by which the creation will be restored and all manner of evil defeated. What exactly is going on here?  Well, a way to begin to answer that question is to note that none of Peter’s “toos” and, let’s be honest, there are plenty, keep God from revealing Jesus to Peter.  Instead, the opposite is true.  Peter is given the confession, the knowledge of Jesus as the son of the living God, and in so doing, has been let in on a little divine secret.  Yes Peter, certainly a guy we would not necessarily be picked as church council president, he is the one who is given the knowledge of Jesus as the Christ.  There is a wonderful bit of absurdity at work here that we are meant to pick up on.  One can almost hear the echoes of divine laughter.  For God’s goodness is so great, his mercy so overwhelming, that God’s word, Jesus the Christ, is enough to bind the powers of evil.  This is not a battle of equals, you see.  For after Christ’s cross and resurrection, the mere mention of Christ as Lord, no matter how weakly uttered or how meagerly acted upon, is enough to bind the forces of evil.  And so,  we are meant to see that God, in Christ Jesus, is going to use this Peter and the rest of the disciples to be the way in which the message of salvation will endure throughout the ages.  Yes, it is not to those who trained with the most prestigious rabbis down in Jerusalem that the Father will reveal that Jesus is the Christ.  But rather to Peter the impetuous, to the brothers Zebedee who cannot stop bickering about which one of them is the best, and later to a man named Saul who begins his career as an apostle by persecuting Christ’s church. 
And it is not just that this is one way that God is active in the world, it is that it seems to be the only way that God wishes to operate.  For God, in Christ Jesus, loves real sinners, you and me included, often much more than we tend to love ourselves.  And this not some Christianized version of self-help; rather it is the renewal of our minds of  sweet St. Paul.  It is realizing that, in the faith we have been given, in the gift of baptism, as my colleague Kevin Maly puts its, the promise of Christ’s unending love has been bound to us.  There is no escaping it.  Regardless of the evils that impede and hamper us, you are and will remain beloved children of God; this much He has promised you.  There is simply no “too” that will keep Christ’s love from reaching us and giving us the new name of beloved child of God, and what a wonderful mystery, that that name glints with the newness of eternity every time we are called it.  Yes, Christ simply loves you too much to leave you be.  Your “toos” are finally indefensible against the fervor of his love and mercy. You may fight it all you wish, but in the end, even those “toos” will be bound so that you, along with all the sainted of God,  may be embraced in the arms eternal of Christ’s forgiveness and care.  And if Peter, the one who rebukes and denies Christ,  is given the confession on which the church is built, there is no excuse that we can marshal in our defense as to why God cannot use us to be of some service in the world that God loves so dearly, to be of use to our neighbors in need, to love as we have been loved, namely in the freedom that characterizes God’s own life.  Against this confession, that Jesus Christ is Lord, even our “toos” are meaningless.  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

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