Saturday, August 20, 2011

The church, definitely a motley crue

Matthew 16.13-20


A cheater, a hot-head, an adulterer, a drunk, a deserter, a murderer, a nervous wreck, a gossiper, a harlot, a worrier, a doubter, the impatient, a moody person, a stutterer, the old, and even the dead. That is quite the collection of people, don’t you think? Let’s say you were given a project to get done. The only stipulation is that you have to get this project done with this motley group of people. And this isn’t like Burger King – You can’t get it your way. These are your people, and you either work with them or you don’t get the project done at all. By a showing of hands, how many of you here today would be excited to enter into this kind of a project? How many of you would even attempt to do something important if these were the people you had to work with? How many of you would rather have a good group of Norwegians or Germans from the old days instead?

Believe it or not, the church we gather in this day is standing here because of the lives of that group of people. That group of people that includes people who have done terrible things in their lives. Don’t believe me? Every single person from that group I just mentioned is a major character in the Bible. Jacob was a cheater, Peter had a temper, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer, Gideon was insecure, Miriam was a gossiper, Rahab was a harlot, Martha was a worrier, Thomas was a doubter, Sarah was impatient, Elijah was moody, Moses stuttered, Zaccheus was short, Abraham was old, and Lazarus was dead. From that group of people, you can tell the story of just about every major event beginning with Genesis and ending with Revelation.

When I think about the history of God’s people, a history that we are grafted into in our baptism, a part of me is strengthened and assured that God works within the world even amongst all of our failings. In knowing this, I gain a comfort that God’s will within the world has not been and will not be thwarted by the ways we separate ourselves from each other and from God. But even more than that, I know that no matter what happens to us here in this day, in this congregation, God will still be our God and we will still be God’s people. In fact, that’s really what the word “church” means: a people who are “of the Lord.” So, even if lightning strikes our steeple, we will be a people of the Lord. Even if a great flood washes our building off of its foundation, we will be a people of the Lord. Even if finances dictate that we do things in a different way from the ways we have done them in the past, we will be a people of the Lord. That will not change because it cannot change. No earthly force can ever remove us from the claim that God has placed upon each and every one of us – nothing!

But also, in reading our Gospel for this day, I also see that this history and this heritage that we have inherited from that motley bunch of people is something that we have confidence in, not because we are smart enough to walk through these doors on the weekend, but because God works this miracle of faith in us each and every day. What is it that Jesus says to Peter after Peter makes that bold proclamation that Jesus is, “the Messiah, the Son of the living God?” Jesus tells him, “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father in heaven.” Peter’s very own confession of who Jesus is comes not from within himself, but by the power of the Holy Spirit working in him, giving him the confidence, the trust to declare out loud who Jesus is. Now, Peter doesn’t exactly understand what all that means. In fact, he goes on from that place continuing to stick his foot in his mouth, denying that he even knows who this Christ is, and then arguing with Paul (the murderer remember?) about what it means to be a Christian.

And this is grace, because if it is left up to us, we will surely never become anything more than the things the mar others, ourselves, and our lives. We would never be any more than Murderers, adulterers, cheaters, deny-ers, doubters, and even the dead. For our trust lies within the one who is able to even pick us up out of our graves and gather us up into new life. We are God’s people, and God will never turn his back on us. Yet, God also continually calls us into a new way of life, a way of life defined not by the things we have done or not have done, but by what this Messiah, this Son of the living God has done for us. With that, this church has a foundation that cannot crumble no matter what the world may throw at us.

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