Many traditions have naming ceremonies. In the West we even have ceremonies to name ships, but this blog/sermon is a different sort of naming inspired by Matthew 16: 13-20
Simon, son of Jonah. Simon Peter.
You’d think it would be obvious to the close-knit group of Disciples just who Jesus was. But they all thought and imagined different things.
Jesus starts off, though, by trying to find out from the Disciples who the people think he is. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
The Hebrew expression “son of man” (בן–אדם, ben-’adam) appears 107 times in the Hebrew Bible.
In Judaism Son of Man refers to normal human beings, ordinary folks.
But people are seeing Jesus as not merely a normal human being–he is someone more, bigger, and they are trying to name him in terms they understand–the people say Jesus is John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
When Jesus asks the Disciples who they say he is, Simon Peter is the one to pipe up with the answer. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus seems genuinely pleased at Simon Peter’s response but he doesn’t elaborate on just what Messiah means. Instead, he proceeds to name Peter. 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.
Wow. What an accolade. Peter who has named Jesus the Messiah, is now named by Jesus as Peter the Rock, a man who will be foundational to the Church.
Can’t you see them giving one another a hug, punching each other’s biceps?
Yet what might Peter have understood about being the rock, the foundation of Jesus’ church?
Messiah ben David is who Jews were awaiting. It means “Messiah, son of David”. To Peter, a Jewish man, it must have signified a great political leader who was descended from King David. A person specially annointed as a King, a person who was going to carry on Jewish traditions, a person who would free the people. For sure, Jesus was to Peter the leader he’d been awaiting, someone who’d freed him from being a fisherman, teaching him, and now naming his potential.
So here is Peter, charged with the fulfillment of the name God has given him, which in Greek, the language of the New Testament, means the Rock.
Yet he started out as Simon, son of Jonah.
Simon is a Hebrew name which means to be heard.
And is Peter ever heard! Always in the forefront, a blustery, determined, forward sort of person who cares deeply and often acts impulsively and sometimes unwisely:
He walks on water for a moment, but soon begins to sink…
He tells Jesus no way is the Lord going to wash his feet, misunderstanding the humble nature of true Discipleship.
Contrary to Jesus’ instructions, he cuts off the ear of a servant of the High Priest.
How often do we act contrary to the call of God in our lives because we have not fully understood?
Does anyone have perfect and complete understanding?
There is a storm arising in the Presbyterian Church over the LGBT issues and same sex marriage.
I do not intend to tell anyone how they ought to think or what they ought to do, but rather explore the issue of how we name ourselves as followers of Christ.
Peter, the Rock of the Church, is our example of how we might be renamed, and how we often don’t get it right.
Peter is unable to stand by his friend, Jesus. It is heart-breaking.
Jesus predicted on the night of his arrest. “I tell you the truth,” “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.
Later that night, Jesus was arrested. Luke 22:54-57 … they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. Peter followed at a distance and when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.
How are we here at Bates to hold up our intention to follow Christ?
People on either side of the LGBT, same sex marriage issue believe they are right, and many of us walk a middle path, not a hundred percent certain.
All of us in our religious communities are trying to be good people with good intentions. We might well respect our gay brothers and sisters but still oppose same sex marriage.
Are we right? Are we wrong?
When should we take the Bible literally?
Marcus Borg in his book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, casts some light onto how we might understand the movement of the sacred, of God, in our lives.
He says, if we insist the Bible is the inerrant word of God, we are compelled to follow the Bible in every fundamental and see the laws of the Bible as God’s laws. The ethical question becomes, “How can one justify setting aside one of the laws of God?”
The Bible, Borg tells us, in his opinion is a human product, a way two religious communities–the Ancient Hebrews and the new Christians–tried to understand God.
In Exodus, when Moses is on his way back to Egypt, “The Lord met him and tried to kill him.” Thanks to his wife, Zipporah, who circumcises their son, God lets him alone. If we take this literally, we would assume God is punitive and malevolent.
Whether or not we eat cuckoos is irrelevant to us, but was a law those ancient ones were taught. Who knows why?
We are selective in what we take from the Bible. We apply what suits us, not taking into account that the writers of the Bible were human, and although inspired by God, were not God. A flute cannot make a sound like drum.
So we face this dilemma. How are we to respond to a General Assembly ruling that allows Same Sex marriage in the church?
What are the deeper issues?
Peter is a reminder to us of just how limited we are, even when we mean to do what is right. Peter certainly had good intentions but he denies his friend, Jesus, more than once.
How can we know what is right?
Jesus teaches and demonstrates a resounding lesson, time and time again. That is the lesson of inclusiveness and forgiveness.
We so often fall far short.
Take divorce. I am divorced. I never thought that would happen to me. I was married 26 years to a man I loved. We had a good life. No children. I was 44 when I discovered my husband was having an affair and they were expecting a baby together.
It would be easy to condemn my ex. I had right on my side. At the time, I was enraged.
My rage stopped radios, mangled tapes, and caused me to fall down a staircase. That was when I sought God to help me forgive, because this rage within me was tangible and it was dangerous.
The grace of forgiveness I sought came in answer to my prayer almost immediately, but my understanding had only just begun.
Understanding is a lifelong process of deepening awareness.
I found myself reflecting over my life with Martin, and began to recognize it hadn’t been all his fault, that there were many issues buried within our psyches that contributed to the betrayal and abandonment.
Reflecting about this same sex marriage storm arising in all Churches, causing schisms makes me wonder are there underlying issues for the church and for us as individuals when we vehemently wave our fists and cry out against the injustice, the immorality.
We feel betrayed.
And it seems like a betrayal when something you’ve been taught all your life, or like me trusted for 26 years, is now not merely in question but has been overturned. Your life is in a turmoil. Your beliefs are challenged. You want to do the right thing. But you are confused, hurt, wounded, uncertain and angry.
Anger, unexamined, causes blindness and destruction.
Church splits are also incredibly complex.
When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses onto the door and split the Roman Catholic Church, he had some good reasons. But he was not acting only out of his understanding of Scripture and the need for faith versus rigid belief. I am not going to repeat his words, but he was vehemently against women. He viewed them as evil, temptresses, almost subhuman. Yet down the road, in time, his view changed. God was certainly in this softening of Martin Luther who later married and had six children.
Sometimes reconciliation is neither possible nor desirable, but surely the God of inclusiveness, the God who welcomes all people, doesn’t want us to live in isolation from one another, breaking up our religious communities.
Betrayal is an opportunity to forgive. Betrayal is an opportunity to look within and seek the help of Christ.
In today’s New Testament reading we find Peter and Jesus slapping hands, smiling, getting along, but it’s not too much further down the road of their relationship when Peter is going to utterly deny Jesus Matthew 26:73-75: After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Peter wasn’t strong enough to stand up for right, for his best buddy. He just wasn’t strong enough. He was weak and afraid. He didn’t fully understand. Do we blame him? Do we condemn him? Or do we learn to embrace and forgive him, to raise him up so he might live into his full potential.
Borg says, “Being Christian is about a relationship to the God who is mediated by the Christian tradition as sacrament. To be Christian is to live within the Christian tradition as sacrament and let it do its transforming work within and among us.”
We don’t have the answers. All we can do is keep on trying to grow in our understanding, our tolerance, and our behavior within our community.
Simon Peter is still Peter, a fisherman, an impulsive guy, a man with a mission, a man Jesus renames as Peter the Rock. It isn’t that Peter is suddenly a new person. He isn’t, but step by step, day by day, he grows in strength, wisdom, and character.
Peter is more than he was, more than he could ever have been if he had not encountered Jesus, his friend, teacher, Rabbi, helper, and healer–the man-god he betrayed three times, the same man-god who forgave him, and forgave him, and forgave him.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Charge: The Son of Man grounds you on solid rock; The Son of Man names you. May your name become known for love, wisdom, forbearance, persistence, and faithfulness.
Blessing: May you be filled with a heart of forgiveness in the small matters of everyday life. So that when the big issues arise, you are ready to kneel and cry out to God: even this, help me to forgive.
Pray, Sing, Love, and Be a Help
Native American version in honor of Saint Kateri Takawitha: They’ll Know We Are Christians (Peter Scholtes).wmv
Jars of Clay – They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love
Pilgrims: They Will Know We Are Christians by our Love