>The Kingdom of Heaven is like the foundation of a great building – there are many stones, side by side, that hold it all together, and the building, in spite of many assaults, many earthquakes, many storms, remains standing because of the foundation. A foundation built on faith.
The first of those stones was Jesus and the next was Peter.
Of all the disciples, Peter is, perhaps the one that each of us can find something in which to identify. He’s less than perfect, he struggles to understand Jesus, has great ‘aha!’ moments where he finally gets it; he has moments of weakness and stupidity, he’s not afraid to speak up – remember when he sniped at Jesus, “Look, we’ve given up everything to follow you!” – and yet, when the final accounting is made, he is strong and sure, his love is evident. He’s a corner stone.
As Christians, we can add ourselves to this foundation – and why not? Don’t we possess similar qualities and strengths, weaknesses, as Peter? Who among us, if Jesus showed up at six o’clock some Tuesday night and asked, ‘But who do you say I am?’ would not echo Peter’s response, his confession of faith?
What makes us Christians? Our belief that Jesus is the Messiah. Our faith.
This morning’s Gospel is called “Peter’s Confession of Faith,” and it follows the miracles of the loaves and fishes, and Jesus’ walk on the Sea of Galilee. The author of Matthew tells us that after the walk, the disciples worshipped Jesus and proclaimed him Son of God. Simon Peter takes it up a notch. He says that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. This is the first time that a disciple has used this title. This confession leads to a blessing, a charge, and a new identity.
It begins when Peter becomes the first person to make what the first Christian Confession of Faith. Something new is happening, something new is being built—a foundation of love that will become the body of Christ, the church, by the will of God, and by the power of God, led first by Christ, and then his apostles, and now us.
Jesus gives Peter something more than new responsibility. A new name. To give a name is to bestow an identity. A name tells people who and what you are, your ancestry. To change a person’s name, as God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, and Jacob’s name to Israel, and now Simon Peter, was to alter that person’s identity, relationships, and mission.
Simon bar Jonah becomes Cephas, or Petros – the rock. Upon this rock Jesus gives responsibility and mission – to lead the disciples after his death and resurrection. He has a new purpose, a new identity.
Scripture refers to God as a rock (Genesis 49:24; Deuteronomy 32; 1 Samuel 2:2; 22; Psalm 18, 28, 31, 42, 62, 71, 78, 89, 92, etc.) Isaiah also refers to Abraham and Sarah as a rock: “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” (Isaiah 51:1-2). Given these associations, Jesus does great honor to Peter when he calls him the rock. I’ll throw this into the mix to get you thinking: is the “rock” actually the faith that Peter exhibits when he makes this confession, or Peter? Or both?
We become stones in the foundation all in time and it comes when we are baptized, and when we pronounce the Creed. If you look at the Baptismal Covenant on pages 304 and 305 of the Prayer Book, you will see that the charges made to those being baptized are exhortations to obey, serve and lead in Christ’s name and with God’s help. Similar, perhaps, to the charges Jesus gave Peter. When we answer, “I will” to the questions presented to us, and act upon them, building blocks are added to that set down by Jesus, Peter, the apostles, of all the faithful, and it makes the church stronger. As Paul states in his letter to the Romans, each of us has a gift that differs according to the grace bestowed on us – ministry, teaching, giving, loving, to name a few – and they are the stones, too, that build the body of Christ.
Like Peter, we are rock solid, and there are times when we are stumbling blocks; but the building remains intact. With the strength of our faith, our love of God in Christ, the walls are solid, stable; the church still stands and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
Go in peace and keep building the church,