Summary: An challenging exploration of what it means to be the church here and now. This is a re-work of a much older sermon of mine, which feels as relevant now as it did years ago. The analogy was used from another source, although I cannot now remember where that source is.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus involved in situations where a number of profound questions are asked. Questions such as Pilate asking what is truth, or what is power, and today our Gospel leaves us with another when he asks his disciples, ‘But who do you say that I am?’
On the face of it, it seems to be quite a simple question, Jesus wants to know how the disciples view him, and it is Peter who answers on their behalf. ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
There at Caesarea Philippi this would have not only been a bold statement but also a risky one, as this region had tremendous pagan religious connections where many of the world religion were on display, which would have made this profession a dangerous one to make.
It was with this danger in the background that Jesus chose to ask one of the most crucial questions of his ministry. We could speak of Jesus as prophet, holy man, teacher, or spiritual leader, and few will object. But speak of Him as Son of God, divine, of the same nature as the Father, and people outside of the Christian faith will line up to express their disapproval.
Nevertheless we find in our reading today the profession of Christ as the messiah, the verbalisation of that which the disciples had likely suspected for some time.
However, this confession although significant in itself, is not the most profound part of our scripture. Jesus then went on to say, ‘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’
For centuries Christians have argued over what Jesus meant when he said this, if we were Roman Catholic then it would be an easy answer, as they believe that Jesus was commissioning Peter to become the rock of faith, and build his church, this is how Peter became the first pope.
But what if Jesus words were meant in another way, a way which is much more profound, and holds a different significance for all who profess Christ as Lord?
We all know that Jesus would often speak in parable and analogy, and perhaps this is one of those times, when we need to look deeper into the words, and not just take them at face value!
The conversation that prompted these words wasn’t a private one between Jesus and Peter, he was talking with the twelve, and Peter was the one who answered Jesus question on behalf of them all.
Could it be that the rock that Jesus will build his church upon is in actual fact the truth that reveals to us that Jesus is the Christ?
If this is so then it has ramifications for each of us. Christ wasn’t just preparing one person for the task of building his church; he was preparing the way for countless Christians across the centuries to personify and embody this calling.
It is with this in mind that we turn our attention to Paul’s words in the passage from Romans that we heard. ‘so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another’
As the Gospel teaches us that our belief lies in the cornerstone, which is Christ, then the epistle shows us that the church, the people of God are not autonomous individuals who work alone, rather that we are called as one people to work together to continue the work that has been handed down from one generation of the church to the next.
But carrying out the work alone is not enough; it’s only a part of the whole. As Christians we are called to help and support each other. But it could be argued that there are other secular institutions and organisations who do the same for their members, and they would be right.
So what separates us from the activities of these secular bodies? The answer lies in the meaning behind the words of our Gospel, The church is built in unity through people confessing together that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. That is the foundation of the church, and all of our activities
In Ephesians it says. ‘For you are…built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.’
The cornerstone or the bedrock of the church is Jesus Christ himself. And upon that bedrock are the apostles. Those unlikely, uneducated Galilean men, fishermen, tax collectors, who left everything to follow Christ, are the foundation stones of the church.