Cracked Open and Shining Through

Matthew 16:13-20

Now 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.

Pentecost 10 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran / 8-21-11

Children’s time: Does anyone know what the MN state rock is? It’s not iron – that’s the state mineral. Yes, the Lake Superior Agate! When we go up to the north shore, I love to visit the agate shops. They have all sorts of beautifully carved agates – no two are alike. Agates come in all colors: blues, greens, and pinks. But they don’t look like much at first glance. They’re kind of dull on the outside. They have to be cut open, sanded down and polished. It’s a lot of work! Here’s another example of a rock from around here: a geode. It looks boring from the outside but inside there are sparkly crystals and colorful gems. Do you know what Jesus called Peter in today’s lesson? A rock. “And on this rock I’ll build my church,” he said. What if each one of us were a rock, filled with beauty and riches just waiting to be shared? God knows it’s going to take some time to get us cracked open and polished up – and it won’t be easy. But that’s when we can really shine and share God’s love with others. Let’s pray: God, we thank you that you place beauty and wonders in each one of us to help build up your church. Give us patience and understanding during the hard times in our lives as you make us ready to build your church. Amen.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Once upon a time the animals decided to build a school and have lessons on running, swimming, climbing and flying. The duck did very well in swimming and so-so in flying. But he failed the running class and had to stay after school to practice. And after all that running, his poor webbed feet weren’t very good for swimming anymore! The squirrel was the best climber, but couldn’t swim for his life! The eagle had flying covered hands-down, but he refused to climb, and so flunked that class. The rabbit outran everyone but couldn’t fly. And the gophers decided to open their own private school because digging wasn’t even on the curriculum!

This little story reminds me of how different we all are – and yet, how we each need opportunities to learn and grow. Not knowing where we came from can create real problems.

In our first reading for today from Isaiah 51:1-2 we hear – “Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you…” So what did the people of God see when they looked back from where they came from?

Well, Abraham was as good as dead when God called him into the ministry. And Sarah was way beyond childbearing years. Of course she laughed when the angels told her she would bear a son to carry on their name.

The people of Israel were a nation of slaves, before being rescued by God from Egypt. After that, they spent years wandering in the desert before finally settling down.

Even Jesus was born a nobody – the son of a peasant girl, with no earthly father.

So, where do you come from? Who are you, anyway? What are you made of?

Well, we could start by looking into our own family tree. I’m an eleventh generation American, with ancestors dating back to the 1630s in North America. Before the United States was even recognized as a nation, the Stiles’ had settled in West Boxford, Massachusetts. I’ve had family participate in every major war waged involving the US, dating back to the Revolutionary War. My 6-great grandfather, Asahel, once killed a bear with a cast iron garden hoe, as it came charging up to the house!

I love to hear stories about my family tree! But I also know that we can’t rest for long on the roots of that tree. While those are all great stories to tell… the story that matters most is the one we receive from God. The story we are writing with every breath we take – with every act of courage, kindness and compassion – right now!

Who do people say that YOU are? What legacy of faith are you leaving for those who will come after you? Are you one of those “Rocks” like Peter, whom God has chosen to build upon? And how will you answer his question: “Who do you say that I am?”

His disciples could have said, “Why, you’re Jesus, or course, from Nazareth.” Or, “You are a great prophet – you’re our rabbi – our teacher.” Others standing there may have been harder on him, “You’re a nobody Jew, born in a barn, of an unwed mother – an illegitimate child!” But Peter says, “You are the Messiah. The son of the living God!”

Jesus doesn’t say “you’re right” but he does bless Peter, and give him a promise to work through him in the future.

Jesus finds the “rock” in each one of us and intends to build on that Rock a church. There is a solid place in you – even if you feel like a nobody, with nothing to offer. You came from God, belong to God, and are being fashioned into his masterpiece.

When people crack you open to see what you’re made of, there is gold, amethyst, sapphire and diamonds! What else could there be – but that which the creator placed within you when you were being knit together in your mother’s womb? You may not look like much on the outside, but never underestimate the Rock from which you were carved.

And don’t be afraid to chip away at each other – to find out what’s inside – and to help build up the church using all the gifts each member of the body brings.

One of the ways we do this is through the binding and the loosing, which Jesus explains to Peter. “I give you the keys to the kingdom – whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven / whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Today, we call that “discernment.” Binding and loosing was more of an interpretation of the law not an abolishing of it.

Mark Allen Powell shares an example of this from the Talmud: “For example, the question was raised whether one might be guilty of stealing if one finds something and keeps it without searching for the rightful owner. When is such a search required and how extensive must it be? The Talmud states, “If a fledgling bird is found within fifty cubits of a dovecote, it belongs to the owner of the dovecote. If it is found outside the limits of fifty cubits, it belongs to the person who finds it” (è. Β. Bat 23b).4

There’s some binding we need to do as a community – and some loosing. This is how God makes us that “cornerstone of the community.” Not without some cutting and hard won polishing – will he be able to build that church upon us.

So, where does this leave us? When we know which rock we were carved from… when we know where we came from… whatever story that might entail… when we know how we have been adopted into God’s family… we can trust that through the carvings and the polishings and the shavings – God is doing a new thing – making us ready for building a church – so that others can see God’s love shining through us.

Let us pray: O God, we give you thanks for the beauty and worth hidden in each one of us. Crack us open and let your light shine through us as you build your church on these living stones. Amen.

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