Pastor's Sermons

Sermon for Pentecost 11 ~ August 24, 2014

Matthew 16:13-20

Let’s start today with questions.  You are church people – you rub shoulders with others:

What do people think of Jesus?  Do you know? …..

 

The other question you already know.  It`s not a test, just a question:

What do you think of Jesus? ….

 

Jesus asks questions to help us see where we are going. How is our foundation?  Where do we anchor our hope in life?

 

Faith

 

Personal faith can be elusive.  We may want it, think we have it, try to have it, lament that we just can’t seem to get it, or give up all together.  In our church we say that the Spirit of God creates faith through the promises at baptism, at the table and through hearing the promises – and that we don’t create it in any way.  It is, we say, a gift of God.

 

Faith can keep you going in a tragedy because it tells you that you are not alone.  It can pick us up when we fail and remind us that we are not defined by failures.  The faith of others can carry us when we are numb, because faith has a community and has little to do with feelings.  Faith is about practical rock-solid love that does not quit.

 

Like coming through a desolate landscape into a new world, gradually there are more possibilities, as slow and careful steps are taken with others on a journey with promises.

 

Flow

 

Jesus and the disciples were in the district of Caesarea-Philippi, a province in the north and the traditional territory of the tribe of Dan. A thousand years earlier, a bronze calf was set up as a worship focus in a shrine there to keep people from going to Jerusalem. This set events in motion that led to disaster.  This mountainous area also holds the source of the Jordan River. It is interesting that he takes his folks up there and then asks them his questions.  Everything would flow, one way or another, from their response. 

 

When we say, “I love, I am confident, I believe” our lives flow along certain paths and move in certain ways.  When we say, “I’m afraid, or I don’t care” our lives flow in other ways on other courses.  Life has “flow” to it… and where we are able to begin can make quite a difference in where we end up.

 

They had walked, watched, been in hands-on situations, had heard others cry out for mercy, had been afraid themselves and heard words of reassurance from Jesus.  They were there when others tried to pick a fight about what was important, and had always seen Jesus “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly” (Micah 6:8) with God whom he called Father.  The disciples knew what the word on the street was about Jesus.  Just like you know what members of your family and others say about God, the church and so on.

 

You have suggested what some people think.  Last week in a coffee shop, someone mentioned baptism.  Another person said, “What is that exactly?”  The response was: “celebrating something good.”  A few days later a person asked me: “Done many exorcisms lately?” (Not sure where that was coming from).At the Traveller's Lodge service last week, participation was spotty until we sang Amazing Grace and said the Lord’s Prayer.  Then everyone was saying something . What do people think of Jesus?  They go blank or have respect – maybe that’s an answer today.

 

Blessed

 

But Jesus asks disciples what they think.  What we think and say and do affects others – maybe that’s the point.  Don’t you see the group?  Big eyes.  Silence.  There is that look-look at each other, and then…. 

 

…Peter clears his throat and… not sure what was going to come out of his mouth, says “You are …the Christ… the Son of the Living God.”   And he wonders, “Where did that come from?”

 

The other disciples hold their breath, thinking, “Is that what I believe?”  Thomas, John, Judas, Nathanial, ... Bill, Allison, Barb…  Disciples are always at different places with faith forming in their hearts – just like the rest of us.

 

Jesus smiles and says, “Good for you Pete!  You are getting it!  My Father is speaking deeply to you.  No one else can convince you of the love of God.  That`s how it works.  You are blessed.”

 

Simon gets that new name: Peter (a.k.a. Rocky).  The love of God is the rock for God’s people.  It’s a place to anchor our hope when life is not easy. 

 

And so, I can picture Jesus looking at me with the question.  My response today goes like this:

 

You are God in a way that I can understand.  You know what it means to be human  with all the powerful feelings.  You know what it is like.

 

You speak to the deepest part of me calling me out of my corners of despair, shame and aloneness.  You tell my heart that sin, death – even absolute darkness like the Gates of Hades can’t keep me from the love of God. You tell us all the same thing and bring us together.

 

You are love with skin on, and by your mysterious Spirit you reach me and heal my often lonely and broken heart.

 

You show me that your love binds us together, and you appear before us like the completion of a jig-saw puzzle.  We all have pieces and we need each other to see you.

 

You speak and call to me in all of life – where armies fight, where young men are shot and young women found in rivers, where terrorists film atrocities, where refugee camps are bigger than Nanaimo, where the funniest people in the world die of suicide.  And you call me to trust your love and presence; and care for those near me just like you did.  You show me that no gates can shut you out. 

 

You are in some way where I started and where I’ll end. From beginning to end we are yours.

 

The message of unconditional love and “God with us” are like the keys of heaven.  Jesus brings hope.  That changes hearts.  It opens up love among us.  It locks out evil. This deep caring from God becomes a rock. We can build on it, anchor to it, and it holds firm as time rolls by.

 

I`d like to sing for you.  This was a song that I used with prisoners.  Their decisions flowed into lives of regret and pain for many.  However there remains a rock of love that hope can still cling to.  That’s what Peter was talking about.  There can still be blessing – come what may as long as your anchor holds:

 

HOPE IS AN ANCHOR

 

When the seas of life are rough, salt gets in your eyes

Someone said, “Smooth sailing.”  They told lies.

A spinning, twisting, pounding head… will you survive the ride

It’s time to cast the anchor at your side…

 

Hope is an anchor that goes down so deep.

It grips your soul and helps you sleep

Hope is an anchor that always finds its cause

Under spikes embedded on the cross.

 

And when you bring the anchor up, it’s never worse for wear

You need to keep it close to you… right there.

Your life is not a simple cruise; you’ll have to fight the tide

Do you have an anchor at your side?

 

Hope is an anchor that goes down so deep.

It grips your soul and helps you sleep

Hope is an anchor that always finds its cause

Under spikes embedded on the cross

 

©Terry Richardson, June 7 1991

 

 

Our hope, our anchor – always finds a new starting place of love, courage and forgiveness in the rocky love of Christ.

 

We are blessed.

 

Amen.

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