August 20-21, 2011
Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.”
Jesus answers, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
Now I love to preach.
Preaching is really prayer for me.
I’ll begin reading the Bible passage early the week – over and over again.
Sometimes very slowly; sometimes quickly.
Sometimes in a different translation.
Sometimes aloud. Sometimes quietly.
Sometimes alone. Sometimes with someone else.
On Tuesday I read it with colleagues.
The rest of the week I read it others in the hospital, at home, or in a meeting.
I think about how it relates to what’s happened in the world this week.
I think about you – and the celebrations and sorrows you’ve had this week and how it relates.
I love to preach!
And yet I was reminded by a colleague,
that the only sermon that most people will hear this week,
will not come from me – it will come from you.
You will preach it to them with your life.
A teenager who comes to my exercise class has a tee-shirt that says it well –
in big letters the shirt reads – “Deeds. Not words.”
Your sermon is your life.
I was on vacation last week.
And on Sunday morning I went down to Washington DC to hear a great preacher.
I went to Foundry Methodist Church.
Foundry isn’t far from the White House and over the years,
a number of presidents and their families have worshiped there.
Bill Clinton and his family attended Foundry – and Chelsea sang in their youth choir!
I must admit, it was in the back of my head that perhaps
I might see President Obama at worship…
but really I went to hear a preacher I’d heard about – Pastor Dean Snyder.
Now Pastor Snyder’s sermon was good –very good.
But the best preaching I heard last week didn’t come from him.
It came from someone else at the church – a member by the name of Bill Kirk.
Bill Kirk died earlier in the week,
and during the announcement time, the pastor was sharing with the congregation a little about Bill’s life.
Bill never went to seminary.
I don’t think he ever stepped foot into a pulpit.
But Bill’s life was a sermon.[i]
Bill was a civil rights activist.
He spent years fighting both official and unofficial segregation in the United Methodist Church.
The Kirk Amendment, named for Bill, a landmark step in the process to end segregation, was passed in 1964.
Bill’s life of activism reached beyond racism, however.
He studied, wrote, and spoke passionately to end discrimination of any kind – against African-Americans, women, and most recently those of differing sexual orientations.
In 2012 there will be a resolution at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church drafted by Bill to end discrimination against sexual minorities.
Bill confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, the son of the living God.
He believed that the love of God shown through Jesus is meant for everyone –without exception.
He believed it and he preached it – not with words – but with his life.
And it was the only sermon that some people ever heard.
When Jesus says to Peter – “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,”
he’s talking more than just to Peter – he’s talking to each of us – and of the sermons we preach.
Let’s remember the setting.
Jesus and his disciples enter Ceasarea Philippi.
Jesus has been teaching.
He’s also been performing miracles.
Feeding of the 4000.
And if that wasn’t enough, there was the feeding of the 5000.
Calming of a storm at sea.
Healing the daughter of a Canaanite woman.
After all that, Jesus looks for some feedback from his disciples.
So, he asks, “Who do people say that I am?”
What’s the word on the street?
Who do they think is saying and doing all these things?
The disciples answer rather quickly.
Well, some say that you’re John the Baptist.
Others say Elijah.
Still others say Jeremiah or another one of the prophets.
And you can imagine them looking back at him,
asking with their faces, “So which is it?
Are you John the Baptist, back from the dead?
Or are you Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets?
Jesus doesn’t answer but rather asks it back to the disciples who have witnessed it all,
“Who do YOU say that I am?”
And it gets strangely quiet.
Finally Peter, speaks up.
“You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.”
And for once he’s got it right!
Jesus says, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.”
We are the church.
Christ’s church is built on this confession of faith – but clearly Jesus expects this confession to be more than just words, however.
Don’t tell anyone but I’m going to read a bit more from the Bible.
Here’s what happened to Peter next:
Matthew 16:21-25 21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at …, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!….” 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
One minute Jesus praises Peter;
the next minute he calls him Satan!
Why? Because as Jesus reminds Peter – Get the tee-shirt — It’s deeds. Not words.
Peter was willing to share his faith with his lips;
but to share his faith with his life meant suffering and sacrifice – and he wasn’t ready for that.
If you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God, (and I know that you do)
preach it with your life;
it is the only sermon most people will hear this week.
[i] Obituary from the United Methodist Chuch: http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=5723427&ct=11140621¬oc=1