Friday, September 1, 2017

Pebbles and Stone

Sermon for Pentecost 12, Proper 16A, preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Union City, TN, by the Rev. Larry A. Peters on Sunday, August 27, 2017.

    You are Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church.  So says none other than Jesus Himself.  The name “Peter” is usually translated stone or rock, but it is not rock or stone in the sense a boulder.  It is a small stone, the stone we might call a pebble.  So Jesus is literally saying, “You are a pebble and upon this rock I will build My Church.”
    Jesus does not build His Church on pebbles.  The Church of Christ is built upon THE rock.  Christ is that rock.  He is the rock from which Israel once drank, the cornerstone, the stone rejected by the builders, the stone on which some stumble and are broken, the stone that falls on others and they are crushed.
    This is not said to comfort Lutherans in their rejection of the papacy.  In fact, there is something quite unsettling about the fact that Jesus refuses to build His Church on people.  It means that we are not the people we think we are.  We think we are a people who are strong and unmovable.  We think we are a people whom the Lord can count on.  We will not give up or give in.  At least we think we won’t.  We want to believe we are rocks but we are really just stones, mere pebbles.
    Our faith claims to be strong but we are easily undone by doubts, easily rocked by fears, and easily intimidated by others.
God and His Word endures forever but we are fickle people who are always changing our minds.  We stand as confirmands at the altar and say we will die rather than fall away from the faith but the world is filled with people who used to be Lutheran.  We stand at the same altar as brides and grooms and promise “till death us do part” but we forget that promise and divorce when marriage becomes hard or love grows cold.  We stand at the font and promise to bring our children up in the faith and then we leave it to others to teach them of Jesus. 
    Thank God the Lord does not build His Church upon us. Peter’s lips made the bold confession “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” and the same lips said, “I do not know the man” on Good Friday.  Peter represents all of us pebbles.  Our confession wavers, our doubts cloud our confession, and our fears make it hard for us to keep our promises.
    But the Lord died for people who deny Him, for sinners who find it hard to even admit their sins much less stop sinning, and for those who know better but fall before temptation and trial over and over again.  He is the rock on which the Church is built.  Thanks be to God!  The eternal Word made flesh and the Word of the Lord that endures forever, this is the Church’s one foundation.  Not Peter, not me, not you.  Christ alone.  This is our comfort and this is our hope and this is our confidence.
    The grace of God rescued Peter from his betrayal and from his pride.  Peter was restored not because he deserved it but because God is merciful.  So too has the grace of God rescued you from your lying lips, fearful betrayals, secret sins, and empty promises.  He loves you not because there is something worth loving in you but because He is love.  And this love suffered for your sins, died for your disobedience, and rose for your new life.
    In the baptismal water that sprung from the rock who is Christ, you were born again.  Those waters washed you clean and clothed you with Christ’s own righteousness.  From this sacrament, the Spirit worked to equip your heart with the faith to acknowledge and rejoice in God’s gift to you. 
    In just a few moments He will touch your lying lips with His own flesh and with His own blood.  You will eat the most precious food of this mortal life and by this communion you will receive the fruits of His redeeming work and confess before the world that you are pebbles and Christ is the rock.  The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.  He washes the Church clean in His blood, takes her to be His own bride, prepares for her a blessed and eternal future, and keeps her in faith, pure and blameless so that when He comes again, she will be ready for Him. 
    We may be only pebbles but guess what?  Christ takes us and builds us up into His living Temple.  We are made into living stones, placed one upon another, to become the Holy Temple where God dwells.  The world is not big enough to contain the Lord but He dwells in you and your body is the temple of the Spirit.  We are merely pebbles but Christ makes us into rocks.  It is Christ working in us salvation and working through us in witness to the world and in service to our neighbors. 
    For the surprise of surprises is that though we are pebbles, Christ makes us stone in Him.  As long as we are in Christ and believe, we are not only pebbles but we are made rock.  We are rocks in whom God has worked and through whom God works in the world.  Thanks be to God.
    This truth is not reasoned in our minds or even felt in our hearts.  Flesh and blood cannot figure this out but the Father has made it known to you by the Spirit.  That is the power of God and the power of faith.  We who were nobody have become somebody in Christ.  We who fear confessing Christ on earth are confessed by Christ before the Father, cleansed and forgiven by His blood, and made new by His death and resurrection.
    His keys reside among us, the power to forgive and retain sin.  This is the mark of Christ.  He forgives sins.  This is the mark of Christians, we are forgiven and in Him we forgive.  We may be small and we may be weak but God is great and He is stronger than all.  We who were once no people have become God’s people by baptism and faith.  We are His Church.  And the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church.  We may be pebbles but Christ has formed us and shaped us to be stone in Him.  My friends, it is surely a sin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, as St. Paul says, but it is no less a sin to think too little of Christ and what He has done in us and what He will do through us.  God help us.  Amen!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for publishing this!