The following sermon was given for my siblings at Montview Presbyterian Church, one of the three local worshipping communities I am affiliated with here in Denver. (The other two being St John’s Episcopal Cathedral and New Beginnings, a Lutheran church that meets within the walls of the Women’s Prison.
The Holy Gospel according to Matthew
When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “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, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
I am pretty obsessed with confession. And at the time I started House for all Sinners & Saints, there was a real trend in Lutheran church plants toward removing the corporate confession and absolution from the liturgy. The logic being that we are trying to attract people and people don't want the church to make them feel bad.
This text from Matthew is often called The Confession of Peter. A different form of confession, but my argument is that confessing our faith and confessing our sin are, and always have been, deeply related.
See, in our text today, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah and then Jesus names Peter the rock on whom he will build his church. Peter of all people. Peter wasn’t exactly a winner. He seems to always be over reaching or totally falling short. Jesus could have picked one of the nice, pious, disciples, one a bit less embarrassing, who doesn't blurt out the wrong answers in class all day but instead he chose Peter who was kind of a buffoon - and that’s when he wasn’t being a total sycophant. See, I have a theory about this text where Peter is named the rock. I think that it must have been slightly redacted. I think what really happened is that Jesus said “You are Peter, dumb as a rock…on whom I will build my church” and that is our legacy to this day.
But I’d like to suggest that Jesus didn’t choose Peter because he was the first to confess Christ…after all, Peter’s moment of glory lasted about 10 seconds before he said something stupid enough for Jesus to say get behind me Satan.
I don’t think that Jesus chose Peter because Peter understood everything or because Peter had the best prayer life or because Peter had the mildest personality and he just “seemed” like a pastor. And Peter wasn’t exactly chosen because of his loyalty - lest we forget, it was Peter who denied Jesus. Three times, if you recall. And here’s the real kicker: I don’t think Jesus chose Peter DESPITE the fact that Peter would deny Jesus three times on the night he died. I think Jesus chose Peter BECAUSE Peter would deny him.
Jesus knew that only a forgiven sinner could really preach the Gospel. It’s always been that way so I’m not sure at what point the church decided it’s leaders were to be sinless examples of perfect piety. I might not give them the keys to my house but only a forgiven sinner can be really trusted with the keys of the kingdom.
The keys of the kingdom.
What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. I think nowadays we’d say what you cancel on earth will be cancelled in heaven.
I mean can you imagine if this happened today, if Jesus were to make that guy the rock on whom the church was built - what people would be tweeting about Peter – bringing up all his past indiscretions, drudging up that Youtube video of him warming himself by a charcoal fire and denying he even knew Jesus. As if all it takes is a screen name and an internet connection to be able to hold the keys to the kingdom for yourself - judging people… getting to decide what God thinks of folks.
I just don't think that’s what it means to be a steward of the mysteries of Christ - and for all his faults, it is those exact mysteries that Peter actually understood.
Peter knew what it meant to really screw things up and be given grace. That is to say, he knew about binding and loosing. When he denied his teacher, friend and Messiah – when he showed a complete failure of nerve the night Jesus was killed, I can only imagine the self-loathing that ensued. I can only imagine how hard it was to make eye contact with Mary Magdalen the next day. How hard it was to even get out of bed. He was in a prison of his own making and needed to be freed. He needed someone with the keys to let him out. He didn't need a therapist or a new elimination diet or a book on the power of positive thinking.
He needed forgiveness.
The church of Jesus Christ could only be built on someone who knew what it felt like to be in that much need of forgiveness.
I just want to make a case for we the church not forgetting that confessing our faith is deeply connected to confessing our need for grace.
Because, there is loosing to be done in this world. We are bound by our failures and mis-steps and the words we said in our worst moments. They form the bars in our spiritual prison cells. And we gotta take the keys out whenever we can and free each other – remind each other that we are forgiven.
We need to be loosed. Loosed from that which weighs us down, our sin, shame, and despair. Loosed from us our pride, anger and resentment and guilt for not being able to live up to even our own values.
Forgiveness of sins was pretty important to Jesus. He got in big trouble for it. As a matter of fact he often would tell his disciples to go and proclaim repentance and forgives of sins in his name. Ever since – folks have used his name for everything but. Well meaning Christians will claim that The Lord laid it on their heart to tell you something – usually something they think you should change about yourself because it makes them uncomfortable. It’s vanity, in the end. As in taking the Lord’s name in vain. There is something we have been given the authority to say to each other and use Jesus’s name to do it. So if we are going to say “the Lord laid it on my heart to tell you something”, the next thing out of our mouths better be, “YOU ARE FORGIVEN”
Because you are. You are forgiven. And so am I, and so is Peter.
We never got rid of the confession at House for All Sinners & Saints, by the way - despite what the “church consultants” suggested. Because confession is good for the soul – both the confession of our faith and the confession of our sins.
I’ll close by saying that the absolution we most often use says this: God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, loves you as you are. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ and by his authority, I declare to you to forgiveness of all your sins in the name of the father, and the son and the Holy Spirit.
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