January 17, 2016
The Confession of St. Peter
The Rev. Rod Sprange
Psalm 23; Acts 4:8-13; Matthew 16:13-20
I have a couple of confessions to make. The first is, when I first knew I was preaching this week I thought we would be using the propers for this Sunday - the second after Epiphany. But because tonight begins the feast of the Confession of St. Peter, we give that preference. The Gospel for the the second Sunday after Epiphany is the story of the Wedding at Canna, where Jesus turned the water into wine. I thought I’d finally got to the bottom of that mystery and it’s a meaning - and was quite excited about sharing some thoughts with you. Then the spoiler! Shelagh reminded me that we would in fact be using the confession of St. Peter, which is very appropriate. So onto plan B.
My second confession is that I used today’s Gospel text as the basis of my sermon not that long ago - we looked at the question of ‘who do you say I am?’ That would have been a good approach for today, but I figured you’d be onto me if I repeated it.
So there are we are, or rather here we are - talking once more about this so called ‘confession’ of St. Peter. I think when we hear the word confession we usually think it means confessing to something we have done which we likely shouldn’t have. In fact a simple Google search will give you just that answer. Even defining confession as something a person or group wants to keep secret.
Well none of this is what the confession of St. Peter is about - and if you listen carefully to the invitation to recite the Apostle’s Creed the Officiant will say - “Let us confess the faith of our baptism...” Confess the faith of our baptism!
Well I hope we don’t feel this is a guilty secret - I hope it’s not something we want to keep secret - I pray that it’s something we want to share, boldly, enthusiastically and with great joy. That’s what Peter did. In this sense a confession is the act of professing where we find the anchorage of our lives, where we find solid ground, our home is built on this rock.
Let’s travel back to that wonderful day on the road wth Jesus. Jesus’s group had expanded and crowds of people were being drawn to this itinerant teacher, preacher, healer.
Imagine you are one of the disciples, it’s an exciting time, you are one of those closest to this remarkable person. You are part of a new and vibrant movement. You have witnessed some remarkable things and heard some wonderful new teaching. You are eating and drinking with Jesus of Nazareth and your heart is on fire wth hope and expectation.
While you are walking the long, hot, dusty road to the next town, Jesus asks you all a question. “Who do people say that I am?” You’ve heard many different things expressed by the crowds - “he’s John the Baptist - no he’s Elijah - no he is Jeremiah or one of the prophets”.
Then Jesus stops in the middle of the road and turns those piercing eyes on each of you in turn - it’s like he can see right into the depth of your very being. And he asks you “But who do you say that I am?” You look at one another in consternation - that’s a hard question, isn't it? you kind of think you know; you know who you want him to be, but are you going to be the one to say it out loud - what if the others laugh? What if Jesus is scornful of your reply? Then suddenly, the big guy, one of the fishermen, the blustery Simon blurts out “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!”
Silence. It’s out there. It can’t be taken back. How will Jesus respond. All eyes skip from Peter to Jesus - all waiting.
Then the gentle smile and those wonderful words “Blessed are you, Simon Son of Jonah! For flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven”.
Your eyes open even wider - not a sound is made, the sounds of the wilderness seem to fade away as these words sink in. Then he says “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” And he says even more which seems mysterious to you at this time.
Imagine Peter’s reaction to this - Jesus has named him Cephas which means the Rock (in Greek it will be translated to Petros - also the Rock).
When someone, like Jesus, names you they are making you theirs and you will become what they have named you.
What a moment! But what did Simon Peter mean when he said “you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”? Just a little while later on their journey and we learn that he hadn’t fully grasped the enormity of his confession. Jesus will begin to teach them about what it means to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, that he must go to Jerusalem and be killed. Peter is angry with those words, he doesn’t understand, the Rock seems a little less firm, and we will see The Rock actually crumble in fear in Jerusalem and deny his Lord - the Messiah, not once but three times.
But later still we see Peter given back his faith - his eyes and heart opened to the true meaning of who this Jesus is in his encounters with the Risen Christ - and he indeed does become the human rock at the heart of the new Jesus movement in Jerusalem - despite the threats and opposition of the powerful. Peter learns to trust, his with becomes rock solid.
But let’s examine Peter’s confession: he got the words right but it took him time, and experience of the risen Christ to really come to understand just what he had confessed.
I think it’s the similar with us - we confess our faith in the saying the creed - but parts of it can be difficult for us. We confess our trust in the Trinity - but can’t really quite grasp it. We confess our trust in God, yet become fearful and discouraged by the world in which we live - by the violence, the inhumanity, the greed and suffering, the very raping of our island home - the Earth.
The story of Peter’s confession and the rest of his life, as we read in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, can be a comforting help for us.
Some of us get a blinding moment of insight into the Holy, just as Peter did on that day. For other’s of us we get small quiet glimpses, or we gain a little more faith from the faithful lives of others we respect. Some us were born into a family of faith and can’t remember not having believed.
Whatever our story of faith we need to remember, as Paul taught us, in this life we can only see dimly - but we are called to strive to understand more, and to allow our hearts and minds to be filled with the knowledge and love of God, and of His son Jesus Christ - through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Faith is a hard journey - often taking us through the wilderness. I have heard faith described as a continuum - on one end is the committed atheist who believes there is no God - on the other end is the person of Jesus going to the cross, with absolute belief and trust in God who he called Father or Abba.
Where am I on that continuum? Where are you? Sometimes I seem to take a few more steps forward towards faith like Christ’s, and at other timrd doubts send me back a step. Peter took a huge leap forward and a few days later a big step backwards. It’s common, it seems to be part of human journey.
The important thing about this image of the journey of faith is not so much where you are on the continuum - closer to the beginning - or closer the faith of Christ. What matters most is the direction you are facing. As Jesus kept his face resolutely on Jerusalem and his destiny - so we need to keep our faces resolutely pointed towards Christ and the Trinity - even though we may take a few backwards steps - if we keep our eyes firmly on the goal - we will be rewarded.
So, I encourage you to learn as much as you can about this our faith, that Jesus is the Messiah, the on of the Living God. This confession is the true Rock on which his church is built. So take part in Bible studies, talk about your faith with your friends and family, argue about how you understand God and Christ. But argue with humility and grace - and with humour. Much of Jesus’s teaching seems to have occurred around the meal table, with the wine flowing. His group would apparently become a little rowdy in their discussions.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were a bit too noisy in a restaurant or other public place, having a joyful argument about our faith? If we were pointed at and people wondered about us? If people became curious to know what we were so excited about, what we were so passionate about?
I encourage you to confess together the faith of our Baptism - even if you don’t understand it all, or have difficulty with parts of it, say it together and may the Holy Spirit fill you with the knowledge and love of God and his only Son Jesus Christ our Lord, and may God Bless you as Peter was blessed, Amen