Love is our confession. Love is our testimony. Love is the ultimate key to the kingdom.
a solid thought on doing from Matthew 16:13-20
My good friend Joe Bui has YouTube channel called Dessert Trippin’– a cinematic exploration of the vast wilderness between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
One episode features the Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation created by Ugo Rondi that consists of seven brightly painted cairns that spike 35 feet in the air.
If you don’t know, a cairn is a Scottish word that describes a heap of stones piled up on top of one another. They’re often build as a memorial or landmark.
Last summer I encountered dozens, albeit much smaller, cairns along the banks of the Virgin River when I was hiking in Zion National Park.
As I cooled my tired feet in the river, I tried my hand at building one. Let me tell you, it’s harder than it looks. After a few attempts to balance wobbly rocks on top of each other, I got frustrated and gave up.
Lucky for us, God doesn’t give up so easily. When we tumble over, God just keeps picking us up and building us up using each one of us to support the other.
I’ve titled today’s message as I am The Rock, and no, I’m not Dwayne the Rock Johnson. But I am, and you are, like an unlikely super hero who goes by the name of...Petros. In the ancient Greek, Pedros [Πέτρος] means...Rock or little pebbles, depending on how you translate it. Keep that in mind as we read from: Matthew 16:13-20.
Here’s what we know from this story. First, Simon knew who Jesus was. Second, Jesus knew who Simon was. Which leads us to third point, “Do you know who Jesus is?” because you can bet, he knows you.
Don’t be intimated by that question. As we see here, only one disciple gets the answer correct. Simon, the fisherman, who spells it out: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” For his prize, Simon gets a new name. Petros – the rock.
“But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven... Matthew 16:13-20.
Although he had his foibles, Simon also was the only one of Twelve who put the pieces together. The way Libby Barlow sees it, “It is such a profound moment that it calls for a re-naming, a new reality from now on, like Abram to Abraham or Jacob to Israel.” Simon becomes Peter, The Rock.
Roman Catholics view his new name as a proper noun to uphold the doctrine of apostolic authority and succession. From Peter to Pope Francis, they believe the keys to the kingdom are held exclusively in the hands of Rome.
Protestants argue the plural form of Petros to defend the idea of a Priesthood of All Believers. That’s to say everyone who believes in Christ is called to be a rock that builds up the church upon his foundation. Either way, I think we can all agree that being a rock for Christ is not an easy task.
We look out for each other, support and protect, and build one another up. With Fiona in college, our little cairn feels off balance but yet we’re not falling down. Why is that? I think it’s because we know who Jesus is. Just as Jesus saw Simon Peter and his potential so too does Jesus see us.
“We’re pointy in all the wrong places. We wobble and shake. We can barely hold on to one another. Thankfully, Jesus’ hands are practiced and patient…he finds our balance points…raises us from our feeble flatness to new heights that we can reach only when in community with one another…he calls us to say aloud, with Peter, that he is the Saving One, a confession strong enough to hold us.” (Barlow)
If only we could see ourselves like Jesus sees us. And allow ourselves the same grace and mercy that God has given to us.
When he went to church, he would come in for the sermon and sneak out afterwards. One Sunday some people were blocking the aisle and the boy couldn’t get out. Suddenly he felt this heavy hand on his shoulder. It was the minister who stared at the boy’s face.
With a bold, commanding voice, the minister bellowed, “Boy, I think I know whose child you are . . .” He paused long enough for people to notice. With a big wide grin, the minister declared, “You are the child of God. I see a striking resemblance.” Then swatted the boy on the back and declared, “Now you go claim your inheritance.”
The way Jesus sees us is no different.
Jesus knows our names because we share his name – God’s beloved. Like him we are God’s children. Heirs to the kingdom that Jesus has given us the key to. You might think you’re unworthy or undeserving. But Jesus knows what kind of rock you are, and places you exactly where you need to be.
You are a living stone, a living memorial to God’s Divine presence in the world. As such, Jesus is asking you point blank, “Who do you say that I am?” What is your answer?
Peter confessed, “You are the Christ.” These four simple words became the very foundation of Christian faith. This tells me that the rock in this story isn’t Peter. It’s his testimony. It’s like Jesus is asking, “What is your testimony of me? How have you experienced the fullness of God’s glory through me?”
Like the variety of rocks and gems in the world, our answers will be varied. We might call God by a different name, or use different terms based on our theology. That’s okay. That’s the point. We are all different people, with different circumstances. By the diversity of our answers, we are better able to we see the true fullness of Christ through whom God leaves no stone left unturned. By focusing on our testimony instead of our shortcomings, we will never be ashamed of the gospel, as St. Paul testified.
More importantly, I believe it’s in the way we testify that helps us from becoming complacent. I fear church doctrine has made it too easy for us to speak someone else’s confession. It doesn’t take much to recite a statement of faith. Does it? But what does it take to confess your faith with your heart and your hands? It takes being a rock.
If you know Jesus, then you know what he wants you to be a rock for others to lean on. His ministry was one of words and deeds; one that shared the good news of God’s redemptive grace in the many different ways he defined God’s Love.
As his disciples, we are the rock of his salvation. Jesus has given us the authority to carry out his mission of love. Love is our confession. Love is our testimony. Love is the ultimate key to the kingdom. When we proclaim God’s love, not even the gates of hell can prevail.
Love stops us from hurting and harming one another. Love strengthens us to lift up our neighbors and care for them in their times of need. Love is the bedrock that life is so perfectly and purposefully balanced upon. Love is what it means to be the church.
We are not a building of bricks cemented together by mortar, we are living stones – held together by mutual Love, honor, and respect.
Like Brian McLaren wrote, “If you want to see the future of Christianity, don’t look at a church building. Go look in the mirror and look at your neighbor.” During these times of uncertainty and change, when anger and division builds walls around us, let us love like we’ve never loved before.
As you leave here today I hope that you will remember this: God needs you now more than ever to step up to your calling – to be the visible presence of God’s love for each other.
In the daily challenges you face – be it a physical, social or spiritual disease – you must never forget that you are the rock. You are strong, sturdy, and steady because the hand of Christ is upon you. He is the one who builds each one of us up.
It doesn’t matter that are all different shapes, sizes and colors. It doesn’t matter that some of us are made of granite or marble, others of limestone or clay. Some of us are gold nuggets, others simple pebbles along the riverbed.
Yet to God, we are diamonds in the rough each of us made precious and priceless by the hand of Christ. Through him, God has a special place for all of us in the cairn, that divine memorial of God’s redemptive glory.
Whether you see this passage like I do, or roll your eyes in doubt, remember this: In God’s heart...there is room for everyone.
For God so loved the world, which includes you, that he sent his son to redeem you and to reclaim you to your rightful place as a beloved child of God. This is the good news. May it forever be your testimony as you move on with your day.
Barlow, Liddy. Living By The Word. August 17, 2020. https://www.christiancentury.org/article/living-word/august-23-21a-exodus-18-210 (accessed August 20, 2020).
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A Vol. 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.
Craddock, Fred B., Mike Graves and Richard F Ward, eds. Craddock Stories. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001.
Lorincz, Lauren. Peter The Rock. August 27, 2017. https://laurenlorincz.com/2017/08/27/peter-the-rock-sermon/ (accessed August 20, 2020).