Wednesday, July 2, 2014
The big stones. . .
What a day. Today we commemorate the big stones, two large building blocks of God's Church, Saints Peter and Paul. We have already made Paul an honorary Lutheran for the lightening bolt revelation of salvation by grace through faith. Peter, on the other hand, is very different. He is the guy you would go for a beer with. Full of spit and vinegar, spontaneous, impetuous, warm, genuine, human. We saw him when he shone and when he fell deep and hard. Together they are the dynamic duo of Christendom.
But as bold and strong as they two were, the rock on which the Church is built is not Paul the person with the unparalleled Jewish pedigree, nor is it Peter and his raw, unpolished brass. The rock on which the Church is built is Christ. Christ is the rock split and the living water of baptism flows. Christ is the rock foundation that does not move. Christ is the Word which is rock solid, that endures forever.
We have fought over whether Jesus meant Peter was the rock or Peter's confession is the rock on which He builds His church. As deep as Paul was and as bold as Peter was, neither was rock material until Christ made them into the saints He declared them to be. Apart from Christ they are but pebbles. And so are we.
We tend to think of sainthood as personal achievement, as personal righteousness or personal accomplishment. Jesus does not call the saints rocks and living stones built up into His Church because they are or have done something noteworthy. No, whether Peter or Paul or those baptized this morning, we are holy only because we live in Christ the new life of baptism. We are saints only because we live now in Christ by faith born of the Spirit. We are rocks only because Christ brought us into Himself and in Him our weakness is made strength.
The miracle is not that we are strong or mighty or holy but that Christ makes rocks from the worthless pebbles we are, that He shapes and cuts those raw rocks to be the living stones which He uses to build His temple. If sainthood is an achievement there is little hope for any of us but if sainthood is the declaration of God in baptism and the grace of God at work on us, in us and through us, then saints we are and living stones through which He builds His Church.
Paul knew this. He called himself an apostle untimely come. He was an enemy whom the Lord turned into the apostle to the Gentiles and a pillar of His Church. Peter knew this. He was a fisherman who denied Jesus three times and he is made into the spokesman for the Church, the Pentecost preacher. Do we know this? Do we acknowledge all the weaknesses, sins, and flaws that render us worthless pebbles to the Lord? Do we plead Christ and His righteousness alone? Do we surrender ourselves to His grace to be shaped and formed into the building blocks He can use, through whom He has promised to work.
How tempting it is to think of forgiveness as a commodity we are given or grace in the same way. But forgiveness and grace are what we are incorporated into by baptism. We do not do His work but Christ does His work through us. His Word is spoken through our voices to a world still in darkness and sin and His love shown through our hands.
It is no accident that in the same breath that Jesus calls Peter rock on which He builds His church to which the gates of hell cannot prevail, the Lord gives the keys of the kingdom to His Church to exercise in His name. This is the sacramental grace of absolution to free the penitent and the solemn binding of the sins to the unrepentant. Peter and Paul are saints only by the power of this forgiving grace. You and I endure in this baptismal new life only because daily the Lord reclaims us from our sin and death by the grace of forgiveness – forgiveness which we offer to others in His name.
You and I are here today only because this sacramental grace of forgiveness still works with the power to release us sinners from our sins and reclaim the life begun in us in our baptism. Our only purpose in the world is to live out this grace first within the household of faith and then to every people and place – Christ working on us, in us, and through us.
What makes us rock is not our education or personality but Christ, working in baptism to draw us into Himself, to wear His clothing of righteousness, and to serve His purpose in all we do. Christ is the building stone but He is also the stumbling stone. If we disown the cross and walk away from our baptism we remain useless, worthless pebbles.
If we hope to endure we must be rock and the only way to be rock is to live in Christ, to hear the voice of His Word, to feast upon His flesh and drink His blood in this Supper, to confess our sins and be absolved and then to speak this forgiving grace in home, family, community, and world.
What Jesus was saying to Peter in today's Gospel is this. Stand in me and your works stand forever. Outside of Me, you are forgotten and nothing endures. That is call of the Gospel today. Stand in Christ as rocks of His making and you will endure and all your works will endure. Stand outside of Christ, you have nothing and you are nothing. This is the power of grace, to turn us pebbles into stones, us stones into His temple, and His temple as the beacon of forgiveness and hope to the world. Amen.