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Sermon - “On This Rock”

Grace to you and peace in Jesus Christ, who builds his church out of people like you and me. Amen.

In our gospel lesson today Peter gets a new name. In fact, his first name is Simon. But because of something he says today, Jesus starts calling him “Peter,” which means “The Rock.” And Jesus says to Peter, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

Now when I think of The Rock, do you know who I think of? Yeah, this guy. [show picture] Dwayne, “The Rock” Johnson. The Rock started out as a professional wrestler. He’s six foot two, 262 pounds. He’s got 23 inch biceps, and he can bench press over 400 pounds. He’s a ten time world wrestling champion. And he’s an action star as well – playing superheroes like Black Adam and action heroes like Luke Hobbs in the Fast and the Furious. If anyone should be called “The Rock,” it’s Dwayne Johnson.

Simon Peter, on the other hand, seems to be the exact opposite of The Rock. He’s a peasant fisherman from Galilee, and he’s always making these embarrassing mistakes. There’s this time when Jesus is walking across the water, and Peter jumps out of the boat, and tries to start walking towards Jesus, but then he becomes afraid and starts to sink. Then there’s the time when Jesus is transfigured on the mountain, and Peter has no idea what to say, so he says, “Hey Jesus! Why don’t we build three tents here – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah?”

And then there’s Peter’s biggest blunder of all. He promises Jesus that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes, but when the going gets tough, Peter denies Jesus three times! It seems like Peter is always sticking his foot in his mouth. He’s always leaping before he looks. He seems like the opposite of a strong, unshakeable character like “The Rock.” And yet, Jesus says to Peter, “Peter, you are the Rock, and on this Rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

Obviously, it’s not because of Peter’s unshakeable character that Jesus calls him the Rock. Far from it. Instead, it’s how Peter answers when Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter answers: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

Now, notice that Jesus doesn’t say to Peter, “Great job, Peter! You got the right answer! Now here’s a hammer and some nails – go build me a church.” Instead, Jesus is the one who is going to build the church. And not out of bricks or wood or stone either. Jesus is going to build his church out of people. And he’s starting with Peter. With The Rock.

And you know what? Jesus is still building his church today, out of people like you and me.

And when we gather as a community of faith… when we gather around Word and Sacrament, when we pray and sing together, when we love one another and serve our neighbour, when we gather and confess Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, then we are being the church that Jesus calls us to be.

When I was pondering that phrase this week, “on this rock I will build my church,” it reminded me of the song, On This Rock. That was the theme song of my very first youth gathering in Halifax in 1998, when I was 14 years old. I remember feeling so amazed by being surrounded by youth my age from across Canada, singing, and worshiping God, and sharing their faith with one another. On This Rock is still one of my favourite songs:

On this rock, awed by your creation

On this rock, seeing Christ in every face

On this rock, Lord, you’ll never leave us,

Because we’re on this rock, firmly anchored in grace.

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of accompanying our youth group to another youth gathering, CLAY 2023 in Waterloo. CLAY stands for Canadian Lutheran and Anglican Youth, and this year’s theme was “Ashes & Embers.” It was an amazing experience. And you know what I witnessed there?

I witnessed Jesus building his church.

I witnessed Jesus building his church, as young people sang together at the top of their lungs, and danced and jumped to worship songs.

I witnessed Jesus building his church, as they prayed together.

I witnessed Jesus building his church, as they explored their faith, and tried new things.

I witnessed Jesus building his church, as they showed compassion for one another, and as they expressed a hunger for justice.

I witnessed Jesus building his church, when, at 11 o’clock on Saturday night, some of our youth came up to me and said, “Pastor Jeremy, there’s a late night prayer service at the chapel tonight, and we’d like to go.”

On this Rock I will build my church, says Jesus, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.

As a congregation, and as a shared ministry, you are preparing for a transition. Transitions can be anxious times. They can sometimes be scary. Sometimes transitions cause us to lament, or to wonder what the future will hold.

During times like these, it’s easy to focus on questions like, “How will we keep the church open?” As if the church is a building that we built, and it’s our job to keep the doors open.

But the church isn’t the building. It’s a living community. And we didn’t build it – Jesus did. And you know what? Jesus is continuing to build his church today, in new and wonderful and mysterious ways.

So perhaps the question is not, “How are we going to keep the church open?” but rather, “Where is Jesus building the church today? And how can we be a part of that?”

And as we ponder that question, God promises to be with us, and God’s Spirit will be stirring, opening our hearts to new things, and showing us how to be the church that Jesus has called us to be.


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