Monday, August 22, 2011

and upon this rock ...



We hear some pretty famous words in today's Gospel: 'you are Peter, & upon this rock I will build my Church.'
The word 'church/ekklesia' doesn't appear very often in the gospels – it appears a lot in the rest of the NT - 73 times in fact - but not very often in the gospels – only twice; here and in Mw 18. So what we have here today is one of the few times we have the word 'church' on the lips of our Lord … so I thought we might think a little about what church means today  - the church we're about to baptise a little baby into today … and why it remains important in a world where we have a crashing economy, global warming, riots in London …

First, let's look at the question that prompted Jesus to mention 'church': who do people say I am? And he gets all kinds of answers: John the Baptist; Elijah; one of the prophets … so then he asks: but you: who do you say that I am? And you know, I kind of think that Jesus sounds a bit frustrated there … that maybe he's starting to wonder would anyone ever figure out who he was ... think about all that he had done up to this point:
he'd given them sublime teaching, like the sermon on the Mount;
he had healed people – people who couldn't walk, those who couldn't see …
he had fed the 5000, walked on water, calmed the storm;
he had even raised the dead …
and still nobody seemed to get who he was …

and I wonder if he wasn't starting to get a bit anxious as well … time was running out … it's easy to miss, because the question comes in the middle of the gospel, but in terms of the chronology of his mission, Jesus has only a few weeks left before he arrives in Jerusalem – there is still some miracles and teaching to go, but if you go and read the gospel closely, you will see that very soon after this Jesus will begin his journey to Jerusalem, the place where he is to suffer and die …

so maybe he is starting to worry … with all that has gone before and so little time left, maybe the man Jesus was wondering if it was all going to work out all right … but then Peter gives the right answer and you can almost feel his relief as he exclaims: 'you are Peter, & upon this rock I will build my church.' Because while he had come into the world to suffer and die for our sins, he had also come to found a church, a church that would pass on his teaching from generation to generation … and listen to what he says next: the gates of hades will not prevail against it ... this is what the Church is, something that can withstand all that the wold throws against it ... something that can help us get through all we may to deal with in this life ... and he wanted his followers, those who hadn't known him when he was on earth, but who would come to know him through the faith of others, to have a way of learning the way of life that he he had taught his apostles and disciples ... and that's exactly what happened … right after the moment of Pentecost they started calling themselves a church and acting like one … if we were to go back there now, we would find it in many ways familiar … the meeting on a Sunday for worship and the sacraments … the constant re-telling of the teaching of the master … the understanding that gathering together isn't just something that is nice to do, but is something that we are called to do by our Lord … this is the Church that Jesus wanted for us ... for the baby we're baptising today ... because it is through the coming together as church we both learn and pass on to others the way of life – the morals and values – that Jesus wanted us to have, that he came to teach us – the morals and values that continue to be of relevance in the world today – the morals and values that will guide us through the problems we face in life -

So that is what I pray for us all today – as we gather – that we will continue to build upon the faith that Peter confessed – that we, like he, will always recognise Jesus as the Messiah – and through the way  we are Church in the world we will continue to pass that faith on to others, so that they, like us, will always have a Church that will prevail against anything … amen.

Notes for sermon preached Sunday, 21 August (9th after Trinity)

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