Sermon for August 24th 2008
The Revd. J. Michael Povey, at St. Margaret of Scotland, Sarasota.
Thus says the Lord:
"Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
you that seek the LORD.
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;
for he was but one when I called him,
but I blessed him and made him many.
For the LORD will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the LORD;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.
Listen to me, my people,
and give heed to me, my nation;
for a teaching will go out from me,
and my justice for a light to the peoples.
I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,
my salvation has gone out
and my arms will rule the peoples;
the coastlands wait for me,
and for my arm they hope.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and those who live on it will die like gnats;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my deliverance will never be ended."
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;
For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.
When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.
All the kings of the earth will praise you, O LORD, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.
They will sing of the ways of the LORD, *
that great is the glory of the LORD.
Though the LORD be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.
The LORD will make good his purpose for me; *
O LORD, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Thank you for your welcome to St. Margaret of Scotland Church. My name is Michael Povey and in retirement I live in Sarasota, next to the Bobby Jones Golf Complex. I served four congregations in Massachusetts, and moved here just over two years ago.
Peter makes his confession of faith in Caesarea Philippi. As the name suggests it was a Roman City. Nearby was a popular shrine to the so-called god, Pan. So Jesus and the disciples are, as they were in last Sunday’s gospel, in alien territory.
Much has been made of Peter’s confession, as if it were unique. Little has been made of the same confession made by Martha of Bethany (see John 11). I’ll leave you to ponder why the confession of faith made by a man has been exalted, whilst the same confession of faith made by a woman has been all but ignored.
“You are Peter”. There is humour here. Jesus is calling Simon by a new name, “Rocky”. We know that Peter was anything but rocky!
And my quirky mind likes to think that Jesus is rolling his eyes when he says “on this rock I will build”. Maybe it’s sardonic humour: “on this rock?” “Couldn’t I have done better than Peter!”
“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church”. That is the source of the Roman Catholic Church’s claim to be the Church established by Jesus.
It’s at least probable that Peter was martyred in Rome, but those lists which name Peter as the first Pope are un-historical.
Now for a wee bit of history.
As the Jesus movement grew and became a Church, certain Cities achieved a great importance in the life of the Church.
There was Jerusalem, where James the brother of Jesus had been martyred.
There was Alexandria in Egypt, a great centre of learning in the Roman Empire. Legend has it that Mark died there.
There was Antioch in Syria, another center of learning, and we know that Peter lived there at one time.
We also include Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), the reputed home of Andrew.
Finally there was Rome, where Paul was martyred, and perhaps Peter too.
The Churches of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople and Rome were afforded special honour because of their historic foundations. Their chief Bishops were known as Patriarchs.
But Rome always claimed a place of supremacy, based on the belief that Peter had been its first Patriarch, or Pope, and that he and Paul had ended their lives there.
In due course (and that covers many years!), as the Roman Empire first divided into the Western Empire (Rome) and the Eastern Empire (Constantinople), the Churches of Rome and of Constantinople drifted apart.
Meanwhile the Churches of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria were weakened by bitter theological dispute.
In the East, the Church of Constantinople remained strong. It included modern day Greece, and moved north and east into lands we now know as Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and most importantly Russia. When Constantinople (the second Rome) fell to Islam, Moscow became known as the new Rome.
In the West the Church of Rome filled the power vacuum left by the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire. The Popes assumed much of the glory and splendour of the Emperors. They added the words “Pontifex Maximus” to their growing list of titles - a title which had once belonged to Roman Emperors. (That’s of course the source of the word “Pontiff” to describe the Pope.)
To this day there are Patriarchs in Istanbul, Alexandra, Jerusalem and Antioch, including some rival Patriarchs. And Rome still claims supremacy.
All this begs some questions.
Did Jesus in fact intend to found a Church?
There is but one slender reed of biblical evidence to support this. It is our text for today. “On the rock I will build my Church”.
It’s at the very least strange that Jesus said no more than this if he intended to begin a new religion called Christianity?
But Jesus does speak a lot about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a realm where the lost and the least find a home. It is the realm where “though the LORD be high, he cares for the lowly”.
Whatever else we think, the Jesus movement did grow into a Church.
But in New Testament times there were no Patriarchs or Popes. There were local communities of faith in which the leadership or ministry was shared by many: as St. Paul says in the Epistle, communities where the ministry is based on gift and not on status. There were teachers, givers, leaders and compassionate ones.
How often we want to be, or to have, leaders who have status and authority,
How infrequently we want to be, or to have, leaders who givers known for generosity, or compassionate ones known for cheerfulness!
Those words about loosing and binding on earth are most always interpreted as referring to Priestly ministry in the Sacrament of Penance. I believe that to be a very narrow view,one which misses the point.
For remember, Jesus is always teaching about the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of heaven. Those are not places, but they are states of being which come about when God reigns.
Our call as followers of Jesus is to live into the values of God’s Kingdom - justice, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, healing etc. It is in that realm that the binding and losing happen.
In Realm of God the binding and the loosing happen in us.
When we are motivated by anger, jealousy, pride, greed, lust, malice, gossip – you name it, we are binding ourselves.
For example, we may think that we have good reasons to be angry with her or him, but the anger retained does us the greater damage as we bind it in our hearts.
But how lives change and our lives change when we let loose with compassion, forgiveness, mercy, gratitude, faith, hope and charity. It’s our own souls which are loosed. They loosed for the blessing and healing of the world.
And the Church becomes a signpost to God’s realm only when it is a place in which we are unbound and let loose!