Sermon for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

You know with all the things going on around the world lately it seems like there is no shortage of what “camp” you can say you belong to. And just with that, it seems like there isn’t a shortage of things to complain about either, regardless of what camp you identify with.

I’ll give you some examples of what I mean, and I’ll start off with an easy one: we all identify as Lutherans here. At least, we all are here listening to (or reading) a sermon prepared by a Lutheran pastor largely trained at a Lutheran seminary. There are joys and woes to be Lutheran. A joy is that we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran reformation this year, a woe is that the Lutheran church (especially in Canada) has the lowest membership count in history. And we might complain. We say that it is because of the conservative Christian fundamentalists that give churches in general a bad name, so people stop coming. Or we say that our people are stolen by those denominations of a more evangelical nature that put on a good show but throw good and sound theology and doctrine out the window. We say that it is the whole millennial generation that would rather drink their specialty brews play on their iPhones than go to church. It is all their fault.

Or maybe we see ourselves as a conservative Christian fundamental. You come to listen to (or read) a Lutheran sermon because that is what your upbringing has taught you to do and you love the Lord and give thanks for all your blessings. But you complain of the left-leaning liberals out there who throw out the rules and commandments of the bible for the sake of tolerance and acceptance. You complain about how the churches of today don’t have any discipline and tote a watered-down gospel. You complain about the number of souls that haven’t been won for Christ because of the cheap, wishy-washy “God loves you anyway” theology people like so much these days. It’s all their fault.

Or maybe it isn’t about religion. Maybe you are sick of the policies and bylaws of the political party you didn’t vote for, whether they made it into office or not. Maybe you’re glad that your candidate was running or still has influence in the way things are going, but maybe you’ll complain about those who have different political ideals than you do. Maybe you’ll complain about the policies and taxes that are put into place, because they are inconvenient to you. Maybe you’ll complain with how the city or province or country is run because it isn’t how you would run it, or at least it isn’t the result that you would have ensured. It’s all their fault.

Or maybe you are a visual minority of some sort, and don’t fit into the “young-to-middle-aged-straight-white-male” category. And while you may be comfortable in your own skin and how you were born, you might complain about the unaware and unseen privilege of the young-to-middle-aged-straight-white-male, and how they have been inadvertently oppressing you and your kind for generations. You might complain about how unfair the world treats you in getting a job or being heard because of your demographic. You might complain about how racism or sexism is still alive today and the way you are treated everyday only fuels that anger. It is all their fault.

Or lastly, maybe you are part of that young-to-middle-aged-straight-white-male category, and while you have enjoyed privilege for much of your life, you are tired of the fingers pointed at you for how you were born. Reverse racism, privilege profiling, #notallmen, it’s just not fair for you. Everyone thinks you got the job because of your demographic instead of your hard work and persistence. And they still say you can’t jump or play basketball. It’s all their fault.

There is no shortage of camps for us to belong to and identify with and with that, no shortage of reasons to be angry and to complain about there are disagreements. There is no shortage of bucks to be passed and fingers to be pointed when we aren’t treated as we deserve according to our value and worth. There is no shortage of places where the blame could be placed when we aren’t identified as people who are loved and should have voices heard.

“Who do people say that I am?” I hear Jesus asking this with an almost child-like sincerity. Like I did, as a young man, I remember I was a bit too concerned with what other people thought of me (especially girls). The disciples answer Jesus with sincerity and candidness, telling him what they have heard. It must have been kind of awkward, actually, as Jesus asks them “Who do people say that I am?” in Caesarea Philippi, quite literally the city of Cesar, a place of much pagan worship and riddled with images and sculptures of gods and various idols. He asks them “Who do people say that I am?” in the midst of many differing images, idols, and ideologies, where there is absolutely no shortage of identity. Awkward.

But from there it just gets even more awkward as after all the answers given by the disciples, Jesus asks specifically, “but who do you say I am?”

Uh oh. This isn’t really a question you want to answer directly, at least not on the spot. This is the kind of question that you need time to reflect on, ponder, and rehearse so you give the right response.

“The Messiah, the Son of the living God” out blurts Peter. Oh, well, ok then. We can roll with that. At least, Jesus seems to before what happens next week, which we’ll talk more about next week. But for this week, Jesus seems to really dig what Peter has to say, praises him, reminds him his name sounds like the word for rock and says that the church will be built on the rock, and gives Peter the keys to heaven. Man that sounds pretty sweet.

But what does it mean to confess that Jesus is the Messiah, the saviour of the world? What does it mean to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, God incarnate, God with us? What does it mean to identify Jesus as the King above all kings, the Lord above all lords here in Caesarea Philippi, surrounded by a bunch of other kings and gods and no shortage of camps that would disagree with you?

And really, I am not sure if Peter even gets it at this point… but again, we’ll talk about that next week. This week however, Peter says the right things and is blessed because confessing that Jesus is Messiah is a breakthrough in how we see the world. Believing that Jesus is the Son of God is understanding just how much we are loved by God. Identifying Jesus as Lord and King invites us into a new and different way of life, not conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of our minds, informing us by grace, fuelling us with mercy, and empowering us with the salvation and forgiveness of an everlasting God.

See, it is no small thing to identify Jesus as Messiah, because then we are identifying ourselves as God’s children. We recognise God’s welcome for us and all people. We see how radical God’s love and grace are that all people could and would be regarded as joint heirs with Christ. These are the keys to the kingdom of heaven that Jesus was talking about, not actual keys for the gates and the authority to decide who is in and who is out like so many cartoons and jokes tell us about Peter, but they are the keys to unlock the vision of heaven here on earth. They are the keys to open up the way of God’s love spreading throughout our lives, our communities, and around the world. They are the keys to transform us into seeing the world as Jesus does, a world of pain and hurt and evil, but a world in dire need of healing, forgiveness, and peace.

See, this is good news. In a time when the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, in a time when the world seems so full of darkness and hatred, in a time when the world is filled with people wanting to identify with different camps just so they could fight and argue and complain about others who belong to different camps or just don’t agree with them, we have Jesus breaking down those barriers, tearing apart the walls, removing all the obstacles and barriers that stand between “us” and “them” and revealing to us all that we all are part of the same body, the same family, the same human race.

While we here in Canada have been lucky to not have faced some of the atrocities that much of the world has been facing lately, we still have a share in some of the evils, the bigotry, and segregation. Even here in one of the “nicest” and “friendliest” countries in the world, we aren’t free from racism and sexism and a variety of other “ism’s”. Even here in a country where many think our national motto is “sorry”, we have judgemental and malicious and downright hateful people too. So in my travels around the internet I came across this video with a tag saying “this is the national anthem that we didn’t know we needed”, and I thought the video has a good message:

Not only did this song and video make me laugh for its creativity and witty humour, it carried a very important message for us. That message is that even when it is almost impossible not to identify ourselves as part of some sort of camp, that doesn’t mean that our camp is better than others. While we see others as different from us in terms of their beliefs and ideologies and even sexuality, that doesn’t mean that we are more right than they are. While the world might be at odds against itself because it can’t seem to agree on what is the best way of doing things, that doesn’t mean that we have to conform to that way of thinking, but instead we can be transformed by the message and gospel of Christ, proclaiming forgiveness and justice and peace. We have the keys to unlock that in us, through Jesus Christ our Messiah.

As we near the end of summer and resume the regular grind of life, may we constantly be transformed and renewed by the gospel, that we may constantly work to bring heaven on earth. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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