51Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
you that seek the Lord.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
2Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
but I blessed him and made him many.
3For the Lord will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.
4Listen to me, my people,
and give heed to me, my nation;
for a teaching will go out from me,
and my justice for a light to the peoples.
5I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,
my salvation has gone out
and my arms will rule the peoples;
the coastlands wait for me,
and for my arm they hope.
6Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and those who live on it will die like gnats;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my deliverance will never be ended.
13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,Who do people say that the Son of Man is?14And they said,Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.15He said to them,But who do you say that I am?16Simon Peter answered,You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.17And 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. 18And 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. 19I 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.20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
So it's back to school Sunday and I'm increasingly aware that things are changing for my family. One daughter is headed off to preschool soon and the other is headed to Kindergarten. And I'm afraid that the next thing I know they're going to be asking for the keys to the car and what time they have to be home… They grow up fast and I wonder if they're ready for it… I wonder if I'm ready for it. And I know that the experiences they have even now will help shape who they are and who they are going to become. And I find that I want them to start the school year intentionally.
For me, the start of the school year always felt like a new beginning. Especially in elementary school when I was likely to have almost all new classmates. It felt like nobody knew who I was and I could almost recreate myself brand new. I don't remember exactly how old I was when it started but I do remember that before the first day of school I would think about who I wanted to be and how I wanted to act that year. Early on, most of the time what I wanted was to be cooler, I wanted to be better at sports, I wanted to have more friends, I wanted to stand up for myself if somebody was mean to me, and I wanted to be not quite as afraid of getting into trouble… (sometimes that one worked…) and then as I grew up, when I thought about reinventing myself the focus shifted… I still wanted people to like me, but what I thought that meant changed… I wanted to exercise more and look like some magazine picture. I wanted to read more and always be learning something new, basically I wanted to improve myself in all the areas people could see. And this week as I was remembering and thinking about my start of the school year ritual of reinventing myself, I began to wonder if anyone else ever saw a difference. And I realized that I never once stopped to ask anyone the question Jesus asked of his disciples… who do people see me as, who do people say that I am… of course at that point I was trying to figure it out myself…
And when Jesus asked that question of the disciples, there were many
answers they gave… people saw him as a prophet: John the
Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the others. But when he made it
personal, and asked the disciples who do you say that I am, Simon
You are the Messiah, the son of the living God
… There have been lots of places we've seen in scripture where
Peter gets it wrong, but not here. Here with the profession he makes,
with the testimony that Peter offered, when he said that Jesus was the
son of the Living God, the Messiah, he got it right. Jesus answered
Blessed are you for it is my father in Heaven who revealed
this to you. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will
build my church. There's been a lot made of this passage over the
years… there's a long history of tension between Protestants
and Catholics over whether Peter and the line of papal successors is
the rock or whether it's Peter's testimony that is the rock upon which
the church is built.
Now when I prepare sermons I often go back and look at the Greek
original text just a little bit so I can see if there's anything
that's interesting that gets lost in translation… and most of
the time I don't share that part of my research with you, but in this
passage, the word that's translated as
church was fascinating
and it seems that understanding what it means to be
might be pretty important for us as we ask questions of who we are and
who Jesus is and as we try to live our faith in the world where we
live whether that's at school this week as we start new or whether
it's elsewhere as we continue our normal routines. This word that's
translated church is ekklessia. And it's made up of two roots
in the original Greek… first root is ek- which means
out of or out from. The second root is Kaleo which
call… and when you put them together, you get
ekklessia which means
those who have been called out:
called out from the norm that exists all around them, called out from
swimming in the stream of dominant culture, called out from
unquestioning acceptance that the way things are is the way they have
to be. Being called out affects who we are. It affects our identity
and it affects our mission in life.
And as I remembered my start of the school year ritual of reinventing
myself and as I was thinking about this idea of being called out this
week, I began wondering what it might have meant and what it might
mean to reinvent myself as someone who has been
called out into the
world by Jesus Christ himself. And I went to the foundational
documents of our parent denominations (PCUSA Book of Order and UCC
Statement of Faith) and I substituted
those who have been called
out for the word church… and I wanted to offer parts of
what I found to you as food for thought this morning.
- Those who have been called out are to be a community of faith, entrusting themselves to God alone, even at the risk of losing their own lives… to accept the cost and the joy of discipleship.
- Those who have been called out are to be a community of hope, rejoicing in the sure and certain knowledge that, in Christ, God is making a new creation… a new beginning for human life and for all things. (and) Those who have been called out live in the present on the strength of that promised new creation.
- Those who have been called out are to resist the powers of evil and be in service to others in a community of love, where sin is forgiven, reconciliation is accomplished, and the dividing walls of hostility are torn down;
- Those who have been called out are to be a community of witness, proclaiming the gospel to all the world, pointing beyond themselves through word and work to the good news of God's transforming grace in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We who have been called out as Christians have to be fundamentally different from the cycles of fear and hurt and rejection that seem like they perpetually go on in our world, and yet we don't have to reinvent ourselves because God is already doing that work in us… What we're invited to do is let God work in us, to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the son of God, just like Peter did… and then do what we see Jesus do in the Gospels. For those of you who start school this week, it might be as simple as being nice to the person that everyone else is picking on. It might mean forgiving someone who's hurt you or hurt your feelings or it might mean welcoming the new person that everyone else may be ignoring. Jesus tore down dividing walls and he welcomed everyone with open arms… even you and me and because he did, we can welcome other people too… that's part of the good news of the Gospel.
And for those of you who's last first day of school was many years ago stepping into the transformation God offers to us might start with the same big question Jesus asked the disciples… Who do you say he is? Not just with words on Sunday morning, but with lives on the other six days of the week as well. We may not have the school year to spur us to be reinvented, but the power of the living God working in us is stronger than any day on the calendar… so listen to the invitations that are presented.
You see I'm convinced that once someone experiences the truth of who Jesus Christ is and once someone experiences the grace of God made known by what Jesus Christ has done and is doing, that we all want to experience more of that grace. The more we're able to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, and claim his life's work as the ideal template for our lives, the more we will be transformed into his image and likeness. And the desire to know God more fully will live and grow in us and because it lives and grows in us it will also live and grow around us. As people who have been called out to be disciples of Christ, we always have to keep in mind that we aren't called to be successful, at least not as success is commonly defined. We're called to be faithful, hopeful, loving witnesses of Jesus Christ.
And I long for the day when if people were asked who they understand me to be, and who they understand us to be… they would know by the way we act… by the way we forgive, by the way that we love and by the way that we live that we have been called out as Christians to make a difference in the world around us. In Jesus name, Amen.
The foregoing sermon was given by Rev. Dan Holland at the United Parish of Bowie on August 14, 2011.
© 2011 Daniel Holland