Sunday, August 21, 2005

Pentecost 14 - Year A

When Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI, most Roman Catholics believe he is carrying on the tradition that began in today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel.

“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”

Roman Catholics believe Peter was the first bishop of Rome, which would make him the first pope, they say. Succeeding popes are successors of Peter – the rock, upon whom Christ says he built his church.

That’s quite the declaration. But if we back up a few verses, we find that Jesus wants to know what others are saying about. He puts a poll in the field and gets these answers:

“Can you believe it? Some folks actually think you’re John the Baptist with his head re-attached!”

The group laughs.

“This will blow your mind, Jesus; others are saying you’re Elijah, or Jeremiah, or Isaiah, or Amos or Micah, that you’ve miraculously popped out from the bible.” says someone else says.

They laugh again to each other.

“But who do YOU say I am.”


The disciples weren’t expecting the question to be turned around on them. They shifted their eyes back and forth, each hoping the teacher would call on someone else.

Finally, Simon Peter, of the walking-on-water fame, blurts out:

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

The disciples stare at Peter. Had he gone too far? Such an outburst would be blasphemy if he is wrong. Saying such things out loud is a great way to earn a stone sandwich. They wait for Jesus to erupt.

But Jesus’ eyes dance.

“Well done, Simon! You couldn’t have figured this out on your own – because you’re not that smart - but God has shown you what I’m all about.”

The disciples gasp.

“From now on I’ll call you “Peter” - which means “Rock” – the rock upon which I’ll build my church. And not even all the forces of evil will be able to destroy it.”

“Umm, Jesus, you know that this is Simon Peter you’re talking about, the guy who tried to stroll across the lake and almost drowned?” Satan probably whispered in Jesus’ ear.

“You know, Jesus, what Peter is going to do when you are arrested. You know what’s going to happen. You know that he’ll fail miserably when his loyalty is tested. He’ll run like a coward when you get nailed to that cross. C’mon Jesus, give me challenge. If he’s the poster boy for God’s people, then God’s church will be a sand painting; one gust of wind and it will all disappear. If Peter’s in charge, it will be that easy to destroy.”

“You’re right,” Jesus probably smiled to himself, “Peter is not a rock. But he will be. The same power that showed him who I am is the same power that will transform this small, petty, impulsive nobody, into the servant of God that will turn the world upside down.”

Of course, this didn’t happen over night. It takes time to make a rock. A lot of time. Millions of years. God may have that kind of time lying around but we don’t. So God goes to work on Peter. Just like how God goes to work on us, changing us into people we wouldn’t expect to be.

Last Tuesday evening, Brother Roger, founder of the Taize community in southeastern France, had his throat slit by a mentally ill Romanian woman while saying evening prayers as 2500 pilgrims looked on in horror. A violent end to a peaceful man.

This simple monk, this protestant pastor who built bridges to the Roman Catholic community and the rest of the Christian world, held an influence that was not the product of hard worldly power. His was a power born in prayer, in humility, in service to the world.

He didn’t begin as a great influence. Brother Roger just wanted to find a peaceful place to pray with his friends. Soon, young people from all over Europe came seeking after God among these humble protestant monks. Soon, thousands of young people came from all over the world. He had created the Taize community.

But of course, Brother Roger didn’t mean to begin a worldwide movement of Christians dedicated to breaking down barriers, reconciling historic hurts, and bringing followers of Jesus together from all over the world to a small town to pray, to sing those familiar chants, to read scripture, and to wait on God. God turned a simple stone into a solid rock.

Taize became a worldwide centre for prayer. And no one was more surprised by this than Brother Roger. If you had told him back in 1940, when he first gathered his friends to pray, that in 2005, a Lutheran church in southern Alberta would be singing their songs, I’m sure he would have been mystified by such an idea, if not terrified. But, God the master-builder was hard at work.

Martin Luther talked about oratio, meditatio, tentatio, three disciplines one needed to become a preacher. I would extend his recipe to how one deepens their discipleship of Jesus; he said that it was through oratio (prayer), meditatio (deep study of scripture), tentatio (suffering) - the cross - that people grow in discipleship.

That’s certainly true of Peter and true of Brother Roger, and that’s definitely true of many people I’ve met.

“Pastor, let me buy you a coffee, I want to talk to you,” he said.

“What’s on your mind?” I asked sitting down behind my mug.

“I have cancer and I’m going to die.”

I guess when you’ve given an expiry date, small talk doesn’t seem all that essential.

“How do you integrate all life’s experiences and put them on a trajectory toward one final focal point?” he asked.

“Huh?” I asked.

“What is it all about? What does life mean, anyway?” he bursts.

To be honest, I had no idea to how to answer this fellow. I mean, how do you begin to answer a question of such cosmic proportions with eternal consequences?

So I did what I was trained to do. I shut my mouth and let him talk.

When our coffee was finished we went for a walk. We talked about our favourite books, authors that changed the way we think, and the big names who crossed our paths.

“But y’know,” he said, “The guy who sweeps this sidewalk is just as important as the great writers and other big names we’ve talked about. The kid who stocks the shelves at the Safeway is just as vital to our world as the politicians who make our laws. The crew who collect our trash is just as significant as the doctors who save our lives.”

The cynic might say that my ill friend is compensating for the goals he’s not achieved, justifying the paths not taken, coping with the life he failed to live, now that the end of his road is on this side of the horizon.

Others might say that he’s begun his path toward understanding life and his place in the world. They might say that through his experience of suffering and dying, God is opening his eyes to the way God looks at the world. Where he had been a stone, he is quickly becoming a rock.

Prayer, deep study of scripture, suffering – especially suffering – the cross. That’s how this person is awakening to the world as God sees it. That’s how Peter became the rock Jesus chose him to be. That’s how Brother Roger became the influence God intended for him.

That’s how God grows you into the disciple God wants you to be. That’s how Jesus builds his church. Amen.


Blogger Broken Messenger said...

Nice post, Kevin.


8:42 AM  

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