Lectionary blog for Aug. 27
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 51:1-6; Psalm 138;
Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
I have often wondered why Jesus decided to give Simon the nickname Rocky, for that is what the name Peter means. It comes from the Latin “petra” meaning rock or stone. The most familiar English usage is in the word “petrified,” meaning “turned to stone.” Most people who are nicknamed Rocky are stalwart, unmovable, straight-ahead, no-nonsense kind of guys, like Rocky Balboa. Somehow the name Rocky doesn’t seem to fit Simon the fisherman and disciple.
Let’s face it—this Rocky, this Peter, was, to put it bluntly, not very dependable. He was hot one minute, cold the next:
“I’ll walk on water, Lord.” “Oops, help, I’m drowning!”
“I’ll never let them take you Lord, give me that sword.” “Jesus? Never heard of him.”
“Lord, I’ll stand by you forever!” “Well, Jesus is dead. I’m going fishing.”
Was Jesus making fun of Simon by calling him Peter? Was Jesus joking when he said that on this rock of questioning, unstable, doubting and undependable faith I will build my church? Or was Jesus being both more realistic and more daring than we can ever imagine?
When Jesus picked someone like Simon the erstwhile fisherman to be the backbone of the church, Jesus picked someone remarkably like us. We are all probably more like Peter than we would like to admit. We grow hot and cold in our enthusiasm for God. We are often confused about our faith, about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We continually stumble on our journey to Jerusalem.
There are two great confessions of faith in this story. One is Simon saying to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The other is Jesus saying to Simon, “You are Rocky and on this rock, I will build my church.”
Ever since I was a little kid I have found many things in the Bible hard to understand. Mostly Old Testament stories that conflicted with the science I was being taught in school and stories of God killing people or telling the Israelites to kill people in God’s name, stories that conflicted with the God of love I believed in. I have spent my adult life sorting out answers to those questions. But I have to tell you that the thing that has astounded and befuddled me the most is how on earth God could place the most precious “Jewel of Eternity”—the message of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ—into the weak and fragile hands of people like us, like you and me. But that is indeed what God has done. When Jesus says to Simon, “You are Peter and on this rock, I will build my church,” we should hear Jesus speak our own name: “Delmer Lowell Chilton, you are Rocky and on this rock, I will build my church.”
There are many things that come to mind when one says “church;” the building, worship services, faith formation, Sunday school, women’s circles, youth groups, men’s breakfasts, social ministry projects, council meetings, offering envelopes, annual meetings and stewardship campaigns, etc. etc.
All those things we do as the church are built on just two things: our faith in God and God’s surprising faith in us. A better way to say that would be that the church is built on just one thing: the relationship of love, the covenant, that exists between God and God’s people. God chose to build a people, the church, on the somewhat uncertain rock of our faith and our discipleship and our commitment to Christ and the gospel. God has risked everything by entrusting us with “the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”
All those things we do as the church are built on just two things: our faith in God and God’s surprising faith in us.
I have two grown sons. I did not realize what a tremendous thing God had done in giving to us the keys to the kingdom until I had to give one of my teen-age sons the keys to the family car when he got a driver’s license. Did he deserve it, was he ready for it? No. But, after a few speeding tickets and small fender benders he began to live into that trust. God has handed to us the keys to the kingdom. God has shown a tremendous amount of trust in us. And let’s be clear; it is not trust that we have earned; it is trust that we have been given with God’s fervent hope and belief that we will grow up enough to handle it.
The church is facing a rocky and uncertain future. It is important to remember that it always has. Every time we look ourselves in a metaphorical mirror, measuring our churchly reality against an unrealistic vision of what we think the church ought to be, we find ourselves lacking. All too often we begin to experience deep fear and doubt about ourselves and our church. It is in those moments that we must remember the great faith Jesus had in Peter and has in us. Jesus knew Simon, knew all his faults and limitations. And yet he called him Rocky and placed in his quite uncertain hands the keys to the kingdom. And God looks at us, knows who we are, knows our faults and limitations and trusts us anyway. Gives us the keys to the kingdom anyway. Calls us to trust God with the future anyway.
“Remember, child of God, you are Rocky and on this rock I will build my community of love and hope.”
Amen and amen.