Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone.

12th Sunday Pentecost

  1. Pentecost 12.17 “A Back To School Sermon—With A Quiz!” Matt. 16:13-20

OK; pop quiz! On what is the Church built? Oooh. That’s a tricky one to hit you with so early without much coffee in your system. OK. Multiple choice! The most popular answer is a) “the Church is built on Peter, the vicar of Christ on earth.” This is how most translations will steer you, making it sound like “Peter” and “rock” are essentially the same word, as if the original Greek read “You are a Rock and on you, the Rock, I will build my church.” It’s the most popular answer because this is the way the Roman Catholic Church has insisted on reading it for centuries because the man in the Yellow, uh, er Big, White Hat has a lot riding on this reading, a rather large and powerful religious/political empire, actually…

But this is not the most popular answer with Lutherans like you! Especially those of you who read “The Bible That Studies Itself To Save You The Trouble”—I mean, “The Lutheran Study Bible”. You realize that “Peter” and “Rock” here are actually different words in the original Greek, so you go with b) “the rock on which the Church is built is the confession of faith that Peter makes, much like Luther’s “Here I Stand” confession at the Diet of Worms” (oooh; a diet of worms! What do you think they served for dessert?). Not nearly as popular an answer in worldwide Christendom, but definitely marks you as one of the smart (smart aleck?) kids in class…

Oddly enough, we’re not going “Yes, both!” like we often do with multiple choice questions. Well, not exactly. We’re giving you another choice: c) is “I’m not really sure which answer is correct, because I don’t know Greek at all, and I am mistrustful of lexicons. Maybe we should turn in here and ask directions? Maybe there is some complex, mystical connection between Peter and the Rock such that the Church is built on an amalgamation of stalwart saints, sound doctrine, plus a couple other things that I’ve forgotten right now, but might think of later.” Bit wordy, choice c) is… I apologize for that! It’s the ecumenical or Anglican answer for those who like the way Lutherans say “Yes!” to difficult, multiple choice questions, but don’t want to be quite as cheeky and brash as those Lutherans sometimes are. It’s a scholarly answer; it marks you as the smart rather than smart aleck kid in class…

Have you made your selection yet? On what is the Church built? Is it a) “Peter!”? b) “Peter’s confession of faith”? c) “some combination of a) and b) plus some other stuff we’ve read about but can’t easily put into the form of an answer…”? I’m sorry to test you like this, but you will note, that, so far, there has been no math, nor will there be, I assure you!

Maybe you’re thinking the SAT bail-out answer d) “none of the above” is looking good right now? I must say, I’m leaning a bit toward “d)” myself, because I’m thinking the guy that wrote this quiz probably should not be allowed to give multiple choice tests. But d) “none of the above” is a copout and no answer at all. And Jesus (as you can plainly see in our Gospel!) is demanding an answer to the question of who men say that He is, and hey: it was only by giving a real answer to that question that Peter drew from Jesus the promise that the Church is built on a Rock which Jesus certainly seems to think Peter (and even the rest of the 12!) will immediately recognize without such head-scratching stratagems as we’ve had to resort to in our pop quiz…

I fondly recall an 8th grade catechism class, 9 years ago, in which then Vicar German and my son Christopher had become distracted in talking about fantasy football or Batman movies or both (as they were wont to do) and were not paying attention to the questions in the catechism they were supposed to be studying with me and the rest of the class. Annoyed at both of them, I said “Christopher! What’s the answer?” The question was something like: “For what threefold office is Christ anointed?” But neither Christopher nor Dr. German had any idea what the question was. German, looking sheepish at the example he was setting for the youth, whispered loudly “Just say: Jesus!” Because Jesus is the answer to most of the questions in the catechism. So Christopher smiles and goes: “Jesus!” And I glared icily at both of them; but German just grins and goes: “Is that ever really a wrong answer?” Both of those guys are good company. I miss them both. I think Peter was good company and would have gotten on famously with Brian and Christopher and everyone like them…

When in doubt about a catechism pop quiz, just say: “Jesus!” because no pastor with a clue will likely ever say that Jesus is a totally terrible answer to any question 🙂 So d) is: Jesus! Which do you want to go with? What is the Rock on which the Church is built? Is it: a) “Peter”, b) “Peter’s confession of faith” c) “some combination of a), b), plus Brooklyn’s first round draft pick in the 2018 NBA draft”; or, d) “Jesus”?

See how making Jesus one of the choices changes the question? Why didn’t we think of that right off the bat? Because it is the least popular answer of them all, sadly. Which says a lot about Christendom today, about the guy writing the quiz, about the church and the struggles it has today—when even Lutherans don’t blurt out “The Rock on which the Church is built is Jesus!” Very sad!

Peter’s got IT. He writes in his 1st (only?) epistle “Coming to Him [the Lord, Jesus] you come to a living Stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God, precious; the Chief Cornerstone… and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame!” Paul tells the Corinthians that our Old Testament fathers all ate the same spiritual food, all drank the same Spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock is Christ! (I Cor. 10:4). Ding, ding! Build on people, you’ll stumble; build on your own personal faith, that can wobble. Only standing on Christ alone are you built on solid ground…

I suppose if we knew Greek, knew the Story in Greek, this question as to what the Rock is would never arise. We’d also get the little joke Jesus is making at Peter’s expense—because the New Testament is written in Greek by people who also knew and spoke Aramaic. Jesus says “You are πετρος and on this πετρα I will build My Church…” Petros is a Greek word that means “stone” and is the Greek version of the Aramaic Cephas (what Simon’s friends call him). Petra is a different Greek word, Bedrock, a huge mountain of Rock from which we get the Stones. To be Stone is to be hewn from the Rock which is Christ, a chip off that Block, a living Stone made in the Image of the True Rock…

After Peter attempted water-walking a couple weeks ago, Jesus hung this name πετρος or κηφας “Stone” on him as in “sinks like a stone”. Do you think Peter ever forgot Who caught him sinking? Do you think he ever forgot what he was capable of on his own? Do you think he ever imagined that the Church could stand on anything but the Rock Who snatched him from the sea that day, pulled him back in the boat, and hung the nickname “Stone” on him (very cool name! like the bass player in a Seattle grunge band); their own private joke…?

The Rock is Jesus; and built on Him, even sinking, we stand; and Peace surpassing understanding guards our hearts, minds, on Christ, our Rock. Amen.

Services

22 October 2017

8:30 Divine Service with Communion

11:00 Matins

9:45 – Sunday School and Adult Bible class

Classes for ages 3 and up

Location

Our Savior Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church in Raleigh, North Carolina, belonging to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

We are located at: 1500 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27608.

For directions, use 742 Nash Street, Raleigh.