August 30, 2020

“Rockin’ On”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Exodus 3.1-15

Matthew 16.11-28

August 30, 2020

Stories in the Bible often explore who God is, who we are, and our relationship to God and to one another. Both of the passages today deal with the identity of God and Christ and those who serve God. We know that when we seek our identities and do not know where we stand we can struggle with how we relate with others, especially how we fit into groups. In this time our identities might have shifted somewhat. I’m still a pastor, but now I fancy myself a bit of a televangelist. I’m still a parent, but now I’m sort of a teacher/assistant. All our identities have shifted. I think to those who are speakers and authors, who still do those things, but have to find ways to do it on a virtual platform. Singers are still singers, but they cannot do so in public, so they have to find other ways. Comedians are making jokes to empty rooms, waiting for a laugh that doesn’t come. Teachers are not just teachers anymore, they are also tech support and crowd control, keeping kids appropriately distanced. No one is unaffected, and no identity stays exactly the same. How has your identity changed? We remember that we are reformed and always being reformed – and sometimes that reformation is easy because we have some control over the pace or ways it happens, and sometimes it is thrust upon us. The good news is always that God is present and God is the same.

Jesus, in our Gospel reading, is interested in who others think he is, and it seems to be helpful for him in knowing this information because it determines how close the future he is about to describe will come to fruition. The public is not quite sure who Jesus is, as they guess John the Baptist and Elijah and prophets. Without prompting, Peter calls him the Messiah, Son of the Living God. He got it! When a student understands what the teacher has been saying all along, they are ecstatic! Jesus isn’t ready for this news to go out, though, so he tells them not to spread that information around.

Jesus also calls Peter “Rock.” You might remember back to the scripture passage we read not too long ago about being living stones. The church is built of living stones – of us, of God’s people. We all build the church, our gifts working together. As UCC minister Rev. Liddy Barlow wrote, it is as if Jesus is building a cairn, a stack of stones and lifting his prayers through the people all around the world.[1]

The conversation with Jesus and Peter continues. As I mentioned, Peter gives the perceived identity of Jesus in the community, but also his own perception of Jesus. We know the identity others give us isn’t one that we have to ascribe to, but we also cannot always change someone’s perception. The identity of Jesus as Messiah and Son of the Living God leads him to death on a cross. More specifically, his identity as a trouble maker, a community organizer that is disturbing the peace, who is challenging the status quo has him killed. Of course, they are not ready to hear this.

It doesn’t say that Jesus tells them every detail of what will happen, but that Jesus “showed” them. Perhaps it was storytelling, but we know sometimes Jesus’ stories fell on brains that could not fully comprehend. Perhaps he drew pictures, or gave some other means of explaining so that people could fathom – yet another way Jesus communicates with us in ways that we can understand.[2] Yet, Peter will have none of it. No one wants to hear that their good friend must die. He has a human reaction – he says, “No! This can’t happen!”

Peter sees Jesus, and the role of Messiah, as a specific identity.[3] Even as he articulates Jesus’ title correctly, he misunderstands the full implications of the concept of Messiah, or is misinformed about the idea in Jesus’ context. This isn’t what Peter expects, or probably any of the disciples.

We are living in the time of unexpected. My guess is that you didn’t have plans to be where you are in 2020, but just as we go kicking and screaming into the unknown, it still happens. The same is with Peter. He doesn’t want Jesus to die – yet he does not have control over it. This is a tricky theological claim for some – the idea that Jesus had to die for our salvation. It can be jarring to think that anyone had to die for something as great as salvation. Theologians have debated many times – was there another way that Jesus could have brought us to the same result without death? Theologian Marcus Borg argued that Jesus knew that if he continued to cause a stir among the leadership of the community he would probably be killed, but that Jesus probably didn’t even realize the salvific portion of it.[4] According to Borg Jesus did not see himself so much as a Savior, but someone who was bringing people together – assembling them and teaching them.

We assemble the church on the solid rock – on Peter, and we live as living stones, building the church of God in the world. It is important to note how many times Peter makes mistakes. We shouldn’t point out the mistakes of others, but I think in this case it is reassuring to know that Peter makes a lot of mistakes – he denies Jesus three times, he denies Jesus’ death here, and he makes numerous missteps over the course of the Gospels. Jesus still called him the Rock, and made him, this imperfect being, the base of the church. He messed up, and God called him anyway. We mess up, and God calls us, too. Christ is the cornerstone, the one sort of keeping us all in check, but we still have times when we hit those jagged edges or curves of our humanity that leads us in a different direction.

Moses, another leader called by God, was also not perfect. Today we read about the adult Moses, as we skipped over his time after the basket, and he is tending sheep. He sees this burning bush, and he could have walked by, but he doesn’t. He approaches it with awe and trepidation.

God tells him he should take off his shoes because he is on holy ground. When have you been on holy ground, and how did you know it? Many religions have this sense of removing one’s shoes on sacred ground – Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam. This is not something that we do as Christians. Maybe there are other ways that we recognize sacred ground. Maybe we have other rituals around holy ground.

Moses is beginning to receive his identity as a liberator of the Israelites, and he asks God about God’s identity. God tells him that God is the God of Moses’ ancestors – showing the depth and time that God has been around, as well as a familiarity. To say something along the lines of, “Your father and I played racquetball together,” or “I used to have lunch with your mother,” shows some identity and connection. Then God says, “I am who I am,” which can also be “I will be who I will be.” God is identified as past through the ancestors, present, and future through this word.

This week, find that sacred place – and do so out in the world. You have a rock, and I encourage you to write a word or phrase or scripture on it, and leave it somewhere. We could bring our stones here and stack them, but God calls us to be living stones, out in the world.

Creator, Rock, and Redeemer, we thank you for the ways you have spoken to our ancestors, the way you speak to us today, and the ways you will continue to speak in a hurting world. May we find great peace in being living rocks, sometimes tossed by the sea, sometimes finding rough edges, but always steady on you. Amen.

 

[2] Charles Hambrick-Stowe, “Matthew 16.11-28” in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 20.

[3] Jin S. Kim, “Matthew 16.11-28” in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 20.

[4] Marcus Borg, The Meaning of Jesus (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), 82.