Isaiah 50:4-9a Psalm 116:1-8 James 3:1-12 Mark 8:27-38
Today’s gospel story takes place in Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is and Peter says, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus then says to Peter, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
The course I took at St. George’s College in Jerusalem included a trip to Caesarea Philippi which is located North of the Sea of Galilee and the city of Capernaum where much of Jesus’ ministry takes place. Sitting outside, beneath the massive bluff by which the head waters of the Jordan River ran, we could see the ruins of the temple of the Greek God Pan. In our mediation before walking through this park, Br. Mark Brown, our chaplain noted the significance of Jesus making such a declaration to Peter in the shadow of a temple which was literally made of rock. In Greek, the name Peter means rock. So, under the temple of other gods, Jesus declares that his church will not be a building, rather, Christ’s church is to be built of people.
We might be raising money for the upkeep of our building, but as beautiful as our church building is – it is not the church, we are. We are Christ’s Church, we represent Christ in this world. We are his hands and feet. This glorious, beautiful building provides a place for us to gather to worship God and support one another – but just as Jesus told Peter he would be the foundation on which his church was to be built, we are collectively and individually Christ’s Church.
What does this mean? It means that we are, as we promise each time we renew our baptismal vows, we are “to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” This means that as members of Christ’s one holy catholic church we are to be the church wherever we are. We are all somewhere other than in here much more often than we are here – so we are to be church at work and at home, at the ball field, the gymnasium, the theater, the studio, the auditorium, on the river and in the woods.
Christ did not want Peter to build a stone temple, he wanted Peter to do as he did, to go where people live and work and show them the love of God. We show others the love of God by inviting them into our lives, to be a part of what we hold near and dear.
Yesterday I held the burial office for one of our long-time members, Diane Power. She modeled in her life, what it is we are all called to do – she opened her home to many of the youth who lived in the Youth Center where she worked. She invited them to be a part of what was important to her. She took some to the rodeo and she brought many of them to St. Paul’s on Sunday mornings.
Church was an important part of her life, and so inviting others into a closer relationship with her included inviting them to attend church with her. So, if St. Paul’s is important to you, and, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I challenge you to invite people who do not have a church to come with you to St. Paul’s. That may include the fun stuff: Pub Theology, the Shrimp Dinner, and Mardi Gras, but it also needs to include church on Sunday morning.
Now, this gospel story doesn’t stop with Jesus declaring that Peter will build a new type of church. In both Mark and Matthew Jesus tells his disciples what will happen. He tells them that he will “undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Peter evidently wasn’t listening very well and missed the part about the resurrection, so he takes Jesus aside and “rebukes” him. Jesus then rebukes Peter and calls him Satan! “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things,” Jesus says.
First, I find great comfort in this, knowing that even the disciple who Jesus choses to be the head of his church, can get it so wrong. Peter got it wrong, but he doesn’t quit – and it wasn’t the last mistake he made. Later he denies knowing Jesus, not once, but three times. He doesn’t quit trying then, either. After Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, Peter does become the rock on which Christ’s church is built. This tells me there is hope for me, for you, for all of us. Our faith does not make us perfect, but if we keep trying and allow God to work through us, good things will happen.
Jesus then says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” This may sound like an impossible task for us, after all, who among us is ready to voluntarily pick up a cross and carry it to our own execution. I’m not, but when Jesus says, “for those who want to save their life will lose it,” I can relate to this – and I think you can too. Think about it a moment. Have you every gotten lost in something you were doing and then realized time had gotten past you?
This can happen when we are listening to music, when we are engrossed in a book or reading articles online. It can happen when we are working to solve a problem at work or at school. It can happen when we are building something or cleaning. Our attention can be so focused on whatever it is we are doing that we lose ourselves. So, when Jesus says, “those who want to save their life will lose it,” I think he means that when we lose ourselves by doing God’s will, by helping others, by making a difference in the lives of others, we will find that our own lives are enriched. When our focus is on others, we find our live has greater meaning. We find true life