Twelth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 16:17
Blissful are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, rather my Father in heaven.

            Sometimes things get crazy, just look at us, drought, dust, smoke, viral pandemic, and a lockdown. What do we do when things get over our head? When they get stressful, chaotic, confusing, when it just keeps going on and on, when you’re not even sure it will end, what do you do? We know what some have done when their people, even family, have been killed by police or jail wardens; that many have turned to their insurance agencies with houses burnt to the ground; or, of course, the government. But if you didn’t, and you tried to carry the burden yourself, to rely on yourself, even maybe blame yourself; … perhaps that affects the suicide rate. When the going gets tough, as they say, the tough get going, but I worry for the others. When things get tough, and really tough, what do you cling to? The thing you rely on, what is it? Your foundation, where has it come from?

            The basis, the foundation, the solid rock you stand on. What is God’s Word telling you today? Well Jesus talked about a rock, a rock on which His church would be built. And He does a bit of word play here, for Peter in Greek is rock, yet Peter himself was less solid and firm, rather a bit more hot-headed. He’s always the first to speak, the first to jump out a boat, to make those quick decisions (Luke 21:7; Matthew 26:51). Yet when Jesus asked him who he said Jesus was, Peter gave the good solid answer; Jesus, you are the promised Messiah, the Son of God who is the source and sustainer of all life (Acts 17:24-25). Now that answer wasn’t from Peter, he hadn’t worked it out himself like some sort of conspiracy theorist, simply he’d received it from God. As Christ Himself said, no one can come to me unless the Father draws them (John 6:44). No one truly knows Jesus by their own strength, rather only by God’s grace. It’s not on you, it’s on God.

            Our Father in heaven has given you faith in His Son, by the Holy Spirit. As always our Triune God works together in love for you and all people. He is the one who lays the foundation, the one who tells us, the stone the builders rejected has become the keystone (1 Peter 2:7). Jesus rejected by His own people has become our foundation, just as Paul writes elsewhere (1 Corinthians 3:11). And Jesus plainly told His disciples this, that on this rock, Peter’s confession and the ministry of Christ’s apostles, Jesus will build His church, us who have been called out from the world, and the gates of death will not overcome. Death cannot stop the church. So before His death, Jesus plainly told this to the disciples, that when confusion, chaos and fear threaten the disciples, they might continue to stand on Jesus’ Word on that confession of who He is, the only sure foundation.

            But of course, they forgot, Peter abandoned Jesus and rejected Him, who defeats death. Now here, I just have to make a small aside, Jesus said the gates of death, or hades the place of the dead, would not overpower the church or it’s foundation. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of people attacked by gates, they’re not the most effective weapon. Rather I have heard about gates resisting a siege, battering rams, explosives; sometimes the gates even resist the attacks, they prove stronger, more powerful than the ram, the explosive, the assault. Now when Christ died, He came to the gates of death, that hold the dead behind them, and He crushed those gates, trampling down death by death. When Jesus died the tombs were opened and, as Matthew records later, many of the faithful dead rose and appeared to those in the city (Matthew 27:52-3). Certainly, the gates of hades did not overcome Christ’s assault. Yet despite this obvious and miraculous proof of Christ’s words, the disciples forgot God’s grace and hid in a room.

            For you who have forgotten Christ’s Word, what He has promised, what did we just confess? The creed is just a fuller answer to Christ’s question, who do you say that I am? I know you didn’t write it. I didn’t just come up with it. Rather it’s been passed down by God’s grace, not from flesh and blood, but as a summary of God’s Word. Repent, turn back to Jesus and hear again the wonderful truth. It is not all on you, when it hits the fan, when it goes over your head, when you face death; receive the Father’s blessing and hear His Word, death has no power over you, in Christ you are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). Death will not hold us down, death cannot stop God’s church, it’s gates have already been broken to dust.

            And so with this wonderful foundation, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now to life everlasting in spite of death. Amen.

Joseph Graham.