Proper 16a, August 24, 2014

August 25, 2014

Who Do YOU Say That He Is?
Matthew 16:13-20

16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 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. 18 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. 19 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.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Jesus found the perfect person to build his church upon. Peter was perfect because he was one of us. We don’t know how the other disciples reacted to this big announcement that Peter was the rock upon which Jesus would build his church, but I’m thinking there might have been a group double-take. This is not to say that Peter was any less qualified for the job than the others, but it’s not like he had distinguished himself as the most thoughtful member of the group.

In fact he might best be described as the most impulsive of all the disciples. A couple of weeks ago I diagnosed him as being someone who tended to live a step ahead of the moment as opposed to a person who was fully present in the moment. But willingness to leap before looking seems to have been a characteristic Jesus valued for this job of building the church.

Peter wasn’t perfect, but he had the most essential quality – he loved Jesus. Peter recognized the uniqueness of Jesus and he wanted to serve Jesus.

Peter didn’t fully understand what he was saying when he first identified Jesus as the Messiah. In fact, he would later announce that he had no idea who Jesus was, but Jesus saw that coming. Peter wasn’t perfect, but he became perfect for the job. More than anyone else, he came to experience and to recognize the perfectly forgiving love of Christ, and through it all he developed perfect trust in the resurrected presence of Jesus. Following Jesus Christ isn’t anything any of us are fully qualified to do, but Jesus can do a lot with imperfect people who love him and who want to put their love in to practice.

Peter was the first person to announce his trust in Jesus as the Messiah, and in so doing he became the founding member of the church, but the church stays alive because this question remains alive – who do we say Jesus is? And living people continue to answer this question in the same way Peter did. The church is a mysterious body, and you might even say it’s an ailing body, but it’s a living body. It’s alive wherever there are a few imperfect people who are trying to live with trust in the perfect love of Jesus.

And Peter is our perfect leader. Peter wasn’t paralyzed by his desire to be perfect – Peter didn’t let his fear of doing the wrong thing stop him from doing anything. Peter was going to do something – right or wrong that would reveal his trust in the living presence of our loving messiah. And that is the kind of person Jesus can work with.

Jesus knew not to choose a more thoughtful person as the rock upon which to build the church – if he had done that it would have died during the planning stage. And what I think Jesus understood and accepted was the fact that the church is a living organization. Like us as individuals who continue to grow and evolve – the church is a living body. Jesus chose a rock-like person to be the first leader of the church, and that was a God-inspired decision, but the church is not a stone-like structure – it’s a living creature.

There are many stone structures that bear the name of Jesus, and in some ways the living body of Christ is weighed down by these stone structures. I know we have to spend a lot of our time and energy taking care of these bricks and mortar, but we’ll be ok as long as we know not to serve the stones. A good structure is a fine thing to have, but if it doesn’t contain the spirit of Christ it’s nothing but a pile of stones. A church building without people who love Jesus and who practice their faith is more like a corpse than a living body. A body is a fine thing to have, but when it quits breathing it’s not much use.

I’m in no position to judge between the quick and the dead, but I believe it’s possible for a church to become a dead body of Christ, and that’s the last thing this world needs. Of course there’s always this possibility of resurrection, but our calling is to be a living and breathing body of Christ.

Peter was granted the power to bind and to loose, and we who follow in Peter’s steps are to share in that authority. And while there are people like me who wear official churchy titles – I believe this authority to bind and to loose is a responsibility that all aspiring Christians are to bear. Peter represents all people who make this confession that Jesus is the Messiah – the son of the Living God, and it is up to all of us to bear this responsibility.

The language that Jesus used to describe the authority of Peter to bind and to loose is very connected to some traditional Jewish terminology. It refers to the way in which the leaders of Israel were to guide that community. One of the responsibilities of the Jewish rabbis was to determine which ordinances were binding and which ones could be released. The rabbis were charged with determining proper doctrine and authority and it was often described as a process of binding and loosening.

As much as some people want to portray the Christian faith as an unchanging set of doctrines – the truth is that it’s in our roots to change and to adapt.

The arrival of Jesus himself was an exercise in adaptation. God wanted the people of Israel to go in a new direction – a more open-hearted and loving direction – and that’s what Jesus brought. The self-serving leaders of Israel wanted their petty rules to remain primary, but Jesus replaced their endless ordinances with one ruling principle – the need for love to prevail above all else. This is the message of Christ and Peter got it. Jesus empowered Peter to build the church on this one essential principle, and this power has been passed on to us.

And speaking of passing, a very significant person passed away last week. His name was BKS Iyengar and the fact that there are multiple yoga studios in places like Little Rock, AR can be traced back to his life and work. Iyengar was born into an impoverished family in India 1913, and he was a sick and malnourished child. During his childhood he suffered from typhoid, malaria, influenza, and tuberculosis. They didn’t expect him to make it to adulthood, but at the age of 16 he began practicing yoga, which was about the only form of healthcare that was available to him, and over the next 6 years he regained his health.

He became a very accomplished practitioner of the discipline, and he made a living as a young man going around India demonstrating some of the astonishing yoga postures that he had learned. In 1952 he met a European violinist named Menuhin who was impressed by him and he brought him to Europe where the popularity of Iyengar’s teaching began to grow. He wrote a book in 1965 called Light on Yoga that became the foundational book of yoga instruction for many Europeans and Americans, and it has never been out of print since then.

Iyengar was committed to helping people integrate their minds, with their bodies, and their emotions. He wanted to help people develop a deeper level of consciousness, and he believed that there were these exercises of breathing and stretching that could help people become more physically and spiritually healthy. He once said: How can you know God if you don’t know your big toe?

Another interesting thing about Iyengar was the way in which he understood yoga to be an evolving practice. While conducting a class one day a student pointed out to Iyengar that something he was teaching was contradictory to what he wrote in his book, and he responded by saying he was a living teacher and that was a dead book.

I think BKS Iyengar brought a great deal of light in to the world. He wasn’t dogmatic about a particular belief system, and he brought a nice tool for spiritual growth that fits with any healthy belief system. I’m not what you would call an avid yoga practitioner, but I am a regular yoga dabbler, and I fully embrace the notion that a healthy spiritual practice continues to grow and to evolve.

I don’t believe that the Bible is a dead book, and one of the things that makes it a living book is this message that Jesus passed on about the authority we have to bind and to loose. What is the bedrock of our faith? And what is the fluff? These are essential questions for us. They are essential for us as individuals – they are essential for us as a congregation – they are essential for us as a denomination.

Our denomination is struggling to find it’s way. And we need to be involved in that struggle to help it find it’s way, but we also need to tend to our own church, and to our own selves.

I’ve often heard yoga instructors remind people to breathe as they embark on various yoga postures. You can’t hold any position for long if you hold your breath.

In the same way, none of us are of any use to our congregation or our denomination if we forget to breathe the living breath of Christ. Who do you say that he is, and what is Christ calling you to do? That’s a question we must always continue to ask of ourselves. I think this is what it means to be a practicing Christian, and this is the practice that will keep us alive on every level.

Following in the footsteps of Peter and all the others who have kept this living body of Christ alive is a high calling. It’s a life-long challenge. It’s a life-giving practice.

Thanks be to God for the divine opportunity we have to be a part of this living organization that leads to true life. Amen.


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