Message August 27, 2017

Today was a different sort of day in church. No Paulina and no sisters, but we had several visitors so that was really interesting. Two ladies who grew up in our church stopped to be with us. One lives in town but has married into another church, but the other has moved to Montana and she so wanted to come back to our building to worship in the church of her youth. We greeted them warmly and made sure they had a history book before they left. Here is the script of the message they heard, though it really was a bit different. When I have a receptive audience, I tend to elaborate and I really did on the part about the twins and the business about Shakespeare. James was almost afraid he was in the middle of literature class and there would be a quiz in the morning. Ha! Goof off.

The scriptures were: Isaiah 51:1-8, Romans 12:1-8 and Matthew 16:13-20. The title was, “Transitions,” which pretty much describes our life currently. Also we were treated to a duet by our musician and her husband. They are the photo above. The lady who plays for the Methodists and subs for us was their accompanist. They did the duet in the Methodist church earlier in the morning.

Here we are in this calendar/time zone sort of thing that is hovering around the end of summer. I know, I know this technically is not the end of summer, that doesn’t officially happen until later in September when the sun crosses the equator and the earth tilts so that we get colder, but seriously somewhere between last weekend and this weekend and next weekend perhaps when we celebrate Labor Day, summer is for all points and purposes over. Done, finee, finished, kaput. School has started, and even though we don’t have a Sunday School or school age church goers, this is it. And, my garden is believing it too.

On Thursday, Paulina and got into her packed up car and I got into my loaded down van, and we took her off to college for the last time—my last daughter to her last year of college. My sister Melissa is just starting this journey. She took Elisabeth off for her first year, and so the cycle begins anew in the family. As I drove home, west on I-94 into the sunset (appropriately) I wondered how we went from watching the eclipse of the sun on Monday to starting a new year of grade school and high school (if you read the newsletter, you noticed that it isn’t just James going to school this fall) on Tuesday to moving Paulina out of the house on Thursday, well actually she moved in on Friday, but we went up to babysit the twins on Thursday overnight, and that is another story for another day, but believe me those two fussbudgets won’t be torturing me again anytime soon. They cried most of the night for Paulina and me then slept all day Friday for their mother.

As long as this week seemed, I am beginning to understand this business about creating the world in six days. Some days are longer than others and some have more in them than others, and transitions make days and weeks seem longer because of the great amount of difference and change between going into them in the beginning and coming out of them on the other end.

Our gospel lesson this week seems to signal a transition in the life or maybe the word should be in the learning of the disciples. In this passage, Matthew tells us that Jesus asks the disciples who they believe him to be. Interestingly Matthew doesn’t just tell us about the question, but he is careful to give us details about where they were when the question was asked. Now we might not realize that the where has any bearing on the question, but in fact it is fairly important to the question. They are in a place called Caesarea of Philippi. If you know anything about the Roman Empire, or even if you just remember that Jesus lived during the time of the Roman Empire the word Caesarea should make you think of Caesar and perhaps, Julius Caesar, who though he was famous on his own, might be best remembered by being forced to read the play about him that was written by Shakespeare. At least that is where I learned most of my information about him and why I learned about him.

Anyway this place is in an area of Greek influence and was a spot associated with the worship of Baal which we would associate as a place of a more pagan worship. Also Caesarea was not added to this name until Caesar Augustus was the ruler. During the time of Julius Caesar it was just Philippi and I remember it from Shakespeare’s play as where Brutus and Cassius, the leaders of the group who killed Caesar, met up with and fought the armies of Mark Antony and Caesar Augustus. Philippi as it is simply called in the play is a flat plan between these rocky hills. (I shared how Brutus and Cassius were foolish enough to fight on the plane instead of making the other two come and get them in the hills amid the rocks. I also pointed out how the bad guys of a good western movie are never quite that generous. It was a fun discussion.)

Apparently sometime later there was a shrine built there to the glory of Caesar so people could worship him. I am only telling you this to get a background of the area to see that it is a place of worship that does not include a temple to either the religion of the Israelites or a place we would consider as a place significant or holy to the people surrounding Jesus or to the beginnings of Christianity.

So it was here in this completely pagan worshiping un-Christian seeming area that Jesus goes with his disciples and he asks them who people say he is, and then he asks who they believe him to be. Now there are lots of answers of what they have heard others to say Jesus is, but he really seems to be more interested in what they, the disciples, his closest followers believe. And imagine who steps to the front and speaks for the group? Of course it is Peter; he is always stepping up and speaking out. Simon tells Jesus that he believes him to be the Messiah the Son of the living God. He isn’t a king, he isn’t a prophet from long ago, he isn’t just another human leader, and he certainly isn’t a fake God as Baal was. He is the Son of the Living God. This is pretty much telling us that as the Son of the Living God, Jesus is the Son of the only God, the one true God who is above all else.

That is what Simon realizes and that is what he says in answer to this question. And as he gives his answer, Jesus looks at him and acknowledges that it isn’t Simon who has realized this, but God has revealed it to him. Because of his faith, Simon has been transformed and understood who Jesus really was, who he is, and because of it, Jesus rewards him by saying his new name is to be Peter, the Rock and he will be the leader on which the church is built. Because Peter was able to believe in Jesus, to know there was something worth knowing and following, God gave him the ability to see the truth about who Jesus was, and as a result he was rewarded. Peter with the keys to the kingdom was given the task of leadership and we all know that is not always an easy job. As Peter admitted his faith and his understanding he was also given great responsibility.

We also need to realize that understanding of- and faith in- Christ is more than just something we do on Sunday mornings or when it is convenient for us. True belief, true faith leads us to a transformation, a change in how we think and act that probably not an overnight sort of change, but when we believe and really accept Christ as the Son of the Living God as part of our lives we will want to be better in our actions towards others. We will want to care about those around us, those in need perhaps of tangible help and maybe even those with needs that are not so recognizable like someone to care about them, or to stand up for them or even to speak up for them. Who do we say that Jesus is?

Paul in his 12th chapter of the letter to the Romans says: “Do not conform 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.” As Simon was transformed by his faith into understanding that Jesus was the Messiah the Son of the Living God, he was given a greater understanding of his own place in following Jesus, in working to share that knowledge with others. It may seem to us like he was given a great promotion, but for some it may have seemed like a great burden. But when you think of what he realized, you begin to understand the absolute joy he must have felt in the knowledge that he was indeed working with and for the Messiah, he Simon son of Jonah was with the Son of the living God and nothing was ever going to be the same again. His joy must have been unbelievable.

As Paul continues on in this chapter it is to let the people of the church know that they do not all have to have the same talents, the same gifts, but all of them have something to contribute to the life of the church. This is something we need to remember also. Each of us has a purpose, a reason for being. We all have something to contribute to the life of the congregation. A good example of how we work together will happen again this Wednesday. Some are knotters, some line up the pieces and pin the batting to it, others make sure it is straight, some are good at threading needles, some sew the pieces together and some of us are really good at walking from point A to point B pretending we are doing something. And those are not the only things we do as a church, but I think you get the point. Everyone has their specialty and that is what makes a church work together well, and Paul makes that point over and over again throughout this epistle and the many of his other writings. He compares it here to a body. We need all the parts to make the whole work correctly and that is the same with a church.

As we go this week let us remember that each of us has a special gift or for some special gifts that are important to this community of believers and to God’s service, and let us also remember that it is through our faith that we are accepted into God’s kingdom and transformed for God’s service. Amen!

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