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There were two sets of texts one could choose for today. The 2nd Sunday of Epiphany or the Confession of Peter. It was a no brainer for me because I have a deep fondness for Peter. Mainly because he’s a total dumb ass and that just makes him really easy to relate to for me. So, confession of Peter it is.
It was expected in the fundamentalist church I grew up in that if you were a real Christian then you offer yourself to God by confessing Jesus and deciding that he is your savior. I think it’s easy to think that making a statement of faith or confessing Christ is something we do as individuals FOR God. The action is decidedly from us to God. We kind of like the us-to-God direction of things because then we can make sure we see to things ourselves. It’s like the other Gospel lectionary texts for today. We chose the confession of peter readings but the other option for this Sunday was the calling of Phillip and Bartholomew. In that text Jesus (and these are the actual words used) Jesus finds Phillip. Then Phillip goes and finds Bartholomew and says “I found Jesus”. Fool. A verse and a half ago I’m pretty sure it said that Jesus found your sorry behind. But I think this is what we do. God creates something in us or in our lives and we say “look what I did!” But in our Gospel text for today Jesus makes sure to point out that the source of Peter’s confession of Christ was God, not Peter.
See, when we confess Christ, God becomes both the subject and the object of our confession. Jesus makes this point. He tells Peter “God created this faith in you”. And seriously, Jesus has a point because Peter is about the last guy anyone would expect to get something right for goodness sake, because in the Gospel texts, Peter is like, a total baffoon. Think about it.
In this verse he might be the Rock on which the church is built and all that but 3 verses later he’s Satan. Look it up.
Here’s my theory. I think the scribes cleaned this verse up. My theory is that Jesus really said “You are Peter – dumb as a rock. On whom I will build my church”. And this is our legacy to this day. It’s Peter who tries to walk on water and sinks like a … you guessed it., rock. It’s Peter who when he was so uncomfortable by Jesus’ transfiguration said “Uh, should I build some stuff?” It was Peter who later in the story cuts off the ear of some poor sod who came to arrest Jesus. And, lest we forget, it was Peter who denies Jesus. A few times, know what I mean? This is the guy on whom the church is built. Dang. But by choosing Peter and not someone less idiotic Jesus has given us great hope.
What if Jesus chose some really pious, guy who always did everything right, never said dumb stuff and who was like, really perfect. Where could the rest of us fit in? Instead, by choosing Peter, dumb as a rock, we are now forced to see that it’s not about us and our strivings and efforts and right answers. Now with the likes of Peter at the helm we are forced to see that it is God who comes to us, not us who make our way to God. Luther said in his Small Catechism that “I cannot by my own understanding or effort comes to my Lord Jesus or believe in him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel and enlivened me with the faith.”
Now this gives us great hope; much more hope than if everything depended on us believing the right things and doing the right things and saying the right things all on our own. That’s never been what the church is supposed to be about. The choice of Peter as the rock of the church frees us from the demands of personal piety and perfection and getting everything right. We in direct lineage to Peter – we the idiotic Christ-deniers, are free to be the Body of Christ, which is where the second part of our text leads us.
Like Peter, God has created faith in us too. But in us as a body. The faith of the church is not created just in me or just in you but in the Body as a whole. The faith that God created in Peter which then led to Peter’s confession of Christ was for the benefit of the whole church.
I often have people say to me “I can’t say the apostles creed because I’m not sure I believe all of it” Well, do I believe every line of the Apostles creed when I say it? Sometimes yes, but sometimes no. But here’s the thing. In a congregation….for each line of the creed there is probably someone there who believes it. So we are covered. Because it’s not my creed. It’s the church’s creed and I, thank Jesus, am a very small part of the church. When we confess our faith, the Body of Christ carries the faith for one another. As a body. On each other’s behalf. God creates faith in community where we daily convert each other to Christianity. In Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together he speaks to the need for us to confess our faith because "The Christ in our own heart is weaker than the Christ in the Word of our sister’s; our own heart is uncertain, our sister's is sure." And this our sister’s is uncertain but ours is true. Sometimes we are the ones being lowered by our friends through the roof to Christ, sometimes we are the ones doing the lowering. This is being church. Where, through Word and sacrament we reenact and remind each other of God’s promises. Promises like the one in our text. Did you hear it? Jesus gives us the promise here that the gates of Hades will not prevail against his church. A promise that the death dealing forces within our culture and within our world and within ourselves will not prevail against the broken and blessed body of Christ. He promises that the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light - - a light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness cannot, will not, shall not overcome it. So to the church Christ promises that death will not overcome. He says that what we bind on earth will be bound in heaven and what we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. So we go about binding. In the waters of baptism the promises of God are bound to you. In the proclamation of the Word the Gospel enters your ears and is bound to you. In the bread and the cup the kingdom of God is bound to you. What we bind on earth will be bound in heaven and what we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven
So we go about loosing. It’s known as absolution. Sins are loosed. Your sins forgiven, your shame washed away, your conscience unbound. This is heaven in the earthiest of elements; water, bread, wine, words.
So here we are as The Body of Christ celebrating The Confession of Peter. Here we are, the inheritors of a church built on a dumb ass. But swimming in the promises of God who promises that the gates of Hades, the death-dealing forces and even all of our idiocy will not prevail against the messiah, the son of the Living God. The true light shining in the darkness.