August 23, 2020

Our Living Sacrifice
Pentecost 12, Proper 16, Year A
Becky Robbins-Penniman

Nicknames are fun things. When our daughter, Sarah, was a little baby – just about the same age as our grandson, Teddy is now – 4 months old – when we got in her face and went “Boo – boo – boo – boo – BOO! She would light up like fireworks and give us a smile the size of her head. So, her dad and I called her “Boo.” I still call her “Boo” now and again She’s 36 now, but the name connects me to those early days of innocence, delight, and unconditional love.

Simon, son of Jonah, gets to know Jesus when they’re both grown men, it is in this story today that Jesus first calls Simon, son of Jonah, by the endearing nickname of Rock, or, in Greek, “πέτρα.” But WHY did Jesus call Simon, son of Jonah, “Rock”? Look no farther that our reading from Isaiah, where the prophet tells us that Abraham and Sarah, the foundation of all humanity, are the rock and the quarry from which Israel gets its identity, and the Rock of Abraham is the Lord, the God of Israel, who blessed them and made them the beloved people.

With the nickname of “Rock,” Jesus is telling Simon that, like Abraham, he is the foundation of the church that JESUS (not Peter) is building. The church that Jesus is building is, as I said last week nothing less than an outpost of the kingdom of heaven, an outpost of the the Reign of God right here and right now, where people seek to do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven and thereby bring a taste of heaven to a world beset by selfishness and all the consequences of that sinful attitude.

Why did Jesus make Simon the Rock, the foundation? If you ask me, it was a risky choice. Simon has just finished sinking like a stone in the Sea of Galilee, in just 6 more verses Simon will be arguing with Jesus telling Jesus he should not suffer and die, and then, of course, in ten chapters, to save his own skin, three times Simon will deny he even knows Jesus.

Yet. Simon, this impetuous, often clueless, blockhead was the first man who called Jesus the Christ, the Messiah of Israel, the Son of the living God. Jesus makes it clear that Simon did not arrive at this insight through study, intellect, or even rumor: it was given to him by God the Father. Simon didn’t earn it, or figure it out: it was a gift from the Kingdom of Heaven to a flawed, conflicted, and simple-minded person who quickly demonstrates that he doesn’t have a clue what Jesus’ identity as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, is all about.

I’m pretty sure this cluelessness is why Jesus told Simon and all the others NOT to tell anyone he was the Christ: the teaching in Judaism was that the Christ, the Messiah, was a holy warrior like David who would establish himself on the throne in the palace in Jerusalem and become and earthly King of the world.

Simon and the others could not yet see that Jesus was a very different kind of king. At that moment in time, they’d get this Christ business entirely wrong if they started speculating about it. They had to wait until after the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection to get it right.

Nonetheless, Jesus says he’ll build his church on Simon, the blockhead. This gives me enormous comfort, because I can be a real blockhead, too. The foundation of the church is not grounded on Simon’s achievements, but on what God is doing in, with, and through him. Matthew never explains what the Rock does with those keys, but we do know that after the resurrection of Jesus Peter dedicated his life to proclaiming God’s forgiveness, inclusion, and hope to a weary world whose inhabitants die like gnats.

And in today’s weary world, we are also rocks from God’s quarry, those whose foundation of faith is not necessarily mighty visions of glory, but trust in the promise that God is still active in Creation. has not left humanity to be buffeted helplessly by hell until time ends. No, in fact, in Jesus the Christ, hell has met its match. Hell hasn’t stopped sending misery through its gates, but one day those gates will be crushed by the power of heaven.

In Jesus, God became a human being who lived and died like a gnat swatted down by human institutions wielding the swords of selfishness, hate, fear and death. But the world’s hellishness could not withstand the God of light and life: Jesus was resurrected from the dead. God killed death – death no longer had the last word in human life. This wasn’t only for Jesus, though: God has promised to bring us to that very same resurrected life in and with Jesus. Not because we deserve it or earn it, but because God’s love is stronger than our hate, and he will love us and give himself to us forever.

THIS is the Gospel. THIS is the Good News that makes me want to SHOUT – to frolic and yell Zip-a-dee-doo-dah and do whatever I can do to bring a slice of heaven to a world that endures so much hell…

Read the full sermon text HERE.

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