Sermon 2017 August 27th

ST COLUMBA’S CHURCH OF SCOTLAND

SERMON ON 27TH AUGUST 2017

PREACHER: REVD ANDREA PRICE

 

Listen here: https://youtu.be/Lszo8hsc1Ko

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our Lord and Saviour. Amen

 

A well-worn one dollar bill and a similarly distressed twenty dollar bill arrived at a Federal Reserve Bank to be retired. As they moved along the conveyor belt to be burned, they struck up a conversation. 
       
      The twenty dollar bill reminisced about its travels all over the country. “I’ve had a pretty good life,” the twenty proclaimed. “Why I’ve been to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, the finest restaurants in New York, performances on Broadway, and even a cruise to the Caribbean.” 
       
      “Wow!” said the one dollar bill. “You’ve really had an exciting life!” 
       
      “So tell me,” says the twenty, “where have you been throughout your lifetime?” 
       
      The one dollar bill replies, “Oh, I’ve been to the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church, the Lutheran Church ….” 
       
      The twenty dollar bill interrupts, “What’s a church?”

 

In our gospel passage today Jesus asks his friends:

15 … “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,[a] the Son of the living God.”

All four gospels tell of this pivotal moment. This is the moment when the early church by this confession turned away from their Jewish root and, to use the imagery from two Sundays ago, bravely walk out onto troubled water towards their Lord.

Jesus praises Peter for this confession. But note that he does not praise Peter‘s power of deduction. On the contrary: God is at work here!

Peter is still the flawed, daring but impetuous man he always was. No, Peter was not a religious superman but the typical disciple Jesus has to work with: full of good intentions and fickle when the chips are down.

Peter is only able to make his great confession because it was revealed to him, it was God’s gift to him to have a momentary insight.

Just a few verses later Peter is back to advising Jesus in human terms and told to back off in the sharpest terms. The rock of faith is behaving like a stumbling block for Jesus.

Peter means in greek rock, petros. And he was an important disciples in the early church and began with others to shape it.

In a letter Peter advises everyone to become living stones, which build the church (1 Peter 2,5). He wrote:

“4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and5 like living stones, let yourselves be built[a] into a spiritual house,…”

 

Matthew is the only gospel which uses the term Ekklesia, which we translate as church. The term is a composite of the words ek or out and kaleo call, kaleo to call out. Where are people to come out of?

Matthew tells the Gospel to Jews, who had just survived a Roman holocaust. In the year 70 AD Jerusalem and the Temple were raised to the ground by the Roman army. Nothing remained but ruins. The population, Jews and early Christians, were driven out. The refugees had to redefine how to be Jews and how to be Jesus followers. The term Christians had yet to become known.

Matthew’s community of Jesus followers refused the Rabbinic and Pharisaic teaching, are refusing to forget Jesus of Nazareth and thus are becoming increasingly unwelcome in the Synagogue meetings.

As the theologian Richard Burridge (Dean of King’s College London, and Professor of Biblical Interpretation) says: “Matthew is the most Jewish gospel and the most anti-Semitic.” For this is a family dispute, a divorce happening in our hearing.

Matthew tries to reassure the Jesus followers that they are not a bunch of heretics but are a group of people who have been entrusted with God’s revelation in Jesus.

Matthew’s gospel is thus an interpretation of the OT and how it foretold the coming of the Messiah fulfilling God’s promises. For this he crafted his gospel as a beautifully balanced teaching narrative, where five blocks of Jesus’ teaching (like the five books of the Pentateuch) are interspersed with the narrative stories of Jesus’ deeds and ministry.

And so in today’s passage we hear Jesus tell Peter that he, not the holy temple mount of Jerusalem, is the rock on which God will build his church, his gathering of those called out from the synagogue.

 

So what makes this Ekklesia/church according to Matthew?

When people hear the word “church” they will most likely think of a building, slightly stuffy, quiet and rather empty. Some will associate with it boredom or hellfire and damnation preaching, the Rev I M Jolly, judgmental people with narrow attitudes.

Are we really like that? It depends on people’s experiences. But we may have a mountain of misinformation to climb if we want to invite friends and neighbours to join us here in church.

 

The winning joke from this year’s Edinburgh Festival:

I don’t like the new pound coins. I hate all change!

 

What makes for Matthew the church?

  1. Firstly the confession that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, our Lord. At our baptism we or our parents made this confession, which we have to affirm daily.

This confession is not an intellectual achievement, not resulting from our theological and philosophical understanding of Christology or soteriology or any other –ology! The main part of our confession is as with Peter the result of God’s grace and revelation!

Think of it: What made you first believe, what made you trust God, invisible, other, beyond our comprehension?

We have all heard the stories of the greek gods and their pantheon – yet do not believe them. We enjoy them as entertainment but we do not pray or trust them to be close.

Whereas we do call Jesus Christ our Lord, because we had glimpses of God’s glory, we sensed his guidance, felt our strength renewed when praying, thinking or meditating on the gospel, when living self giving love.

But you might say what of our questions and doubts, our worries over not understanding different aspects of the creed, Christian teaching or the Bible? Don’t let these become a hindrance or stumbling block. Questions as in debates are always in order and doubts are wee spurs to help us grow!

 

Recently I heard an interesting comment by a RC bishop, who said that the only real progress we have made in ecumenical relations between our churches came not through theological debate and intellectual achievement but because of the sacrificial grace lived by the confessing church in all denominations during the Nazi regime. God given love and grace lived in the hardest of situations trumped systematic theological systems and ecclesiologies.

 

  1. Secondly Peter is told that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church.

We call hades hell and have since the middle ages all sorts of fiery ideas about it swirling in our heads. Why was hell never thought of as cold? Or how about this:

Here is a story of a man’s dream: the man dreamt that he had died and found himself in a wonderful land full of trees, colourful flowers and running streams. He sat down and had a rest. Then he got a little bored and he called out: “Hello! Anybody here?” And a friendly figure appeared dressed all in white and asked if he had a wish.

“I would like to eat something,” said the man. “What would you like?” The hungry man thought of a lovely menu and seconds later it stood in front of him. He ate and walked on through the lovely landscape.

“Hey!” he called again. And at once the white figure was waiting on him. “I would like to play golf.” “Here we are,” said the friendly guide, leading him around a stand of trees to the edge of a delightful field. Clubs and balls were ready.

The man played and ate again and walked and received all he asked for.

But one day all joy had left him. He called the friendly figure again and moaned: “I am fed up with life here. Give me something to do!” “Regretfully,” said the white one, “Work is the only thing I cannot give you.”

The man became angry and shouted: “Then I am done with this place! Send me to hell!” The other smiled and said: “Where do you think you are?”

 

Another translation (RSV) translates Gates of Hades as “powers of death”. The powers of death will not prevail against the church!

The church and all believers are not a place to retreat to or hide from life as we sometimes wrongly think. Church worth its salt is active, on the way and set into the midst of conflict and the struggles of living.

Church people are to speak up for the voiceless, to support the needy, resist, no more: attack the powers of death and to work with God’s help for the establishment of the kingdom of God. And the gates of death will not remain closed!

 

  1. Thirdly Peter and the church are given the keys of the kingdom of heaven – and shame on us when we used them to keep people out rather than keeping evils at bay!

The keys were a term to describe the authority of the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Jesus’ time. Jesus gives the authority to teach, to bind and to loosen, to Peter and later in the gospel (in Mt 18,17f) to his other disciples.

The gates of hell cannot prevail when the keys of love are used to open the way to the kingdom of heaven. Since Jesus’ resurrection we can trust that Life will ultimately be victorious over death.

Ann Lewin:

Ad Quem

Death – terminus,

Heart–stopping jolt

At the end of the line?

Or junction, where worlds meet,

Faith catching the connection?

 

Paul urges us to stop worrying ourselves sick, whether over our understanding of God or the demands of this world. Instead he urges us to live our faith, to live the transforming love of God.

What we do in church is not as important than what the Holy Spirit does through us because we have been to church, because we are the church, – those called out from ordinary living to being alive.

Let God use you and your gifts to build the kingdom of Jesus Christ your Lord, the church.

Amen