A Moving Temple of Living Stones Matthew 16.
13-20 If you’re someone who listens to popular music from the past 40 years, there’s probably a song you really like where you’re mistaken about the songwriter. For years, I was convinced that this beautiful song “To Make You Feel My Love” was a Billy Joel tune. But when you’re around serious music people, they will correct your wrong understanding. Somewhere along the way someone told me, “that’s a Bob Dylan song.” I have since learned that, if I’m unsure of the songwriter while listening to a beautiful melody with thoughtful lyrics, I’m guessing the songwriter is either Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. / There’s a Jimmy Webb song I remember from my teenage years a) that I didn’t know was a Jimmy Webb song because I didn’t know who Jimmy Webb was and b) it never left my memory because of the story it told through one particular image. In the signature style of American poets, Jimmy Webb uses the image of a house to be his storyteller in his song, “If These Walls Could Speak.” If these old walls,/ If these old walls could speak/ Of the things that they remember well,/ Stories and faces dearly held/ If these walls could speak./ If these old fashioned window panes were eyes,/ I guess they would have seen it all.” The song goes on to tell the story of a family—of cherished shared memories, of arguments and apologies, of an identity forged through relationships that shapes the future. As Americans we often tell stories through houses we have lived in. Houses have shaped our past, given us a heritage, and orient us to the future. I’d like to suggest a similar approach in reading these passages of Scripture, from Matthew, Isaiah, and Psalms, but drawing on the prevailing image given in these Scriptures. Whereas Americans personify walls and houses as telling stories, the Jewish authors of Scripture are fond of using rocks and stones as the recurring image for their stories. We enter the story through images and the Proper 16; Apostles Anglican Church; August 21, 2011 1
“Listen to Me. based on the fact of who God is. He says “look to the hole of the pit from which you were dug. It’s why we hear Isaiah (turn to verse) saying in his generation.
Look to Abraham your father.” Notice how Isaiah tells the story of Abraham in a whole new way. But I do want to understand what God is saying to me. No offense to geologists.Scriptures teach us which images are most important. That’s the question I believe these Scriptures address. a rock upon which other stones could be laid to rebuild a pure and holy people. // The biblical pattern of imagining a new future always begins with a new consideration of our past. That’s why Isaiah calls him a ‘rock. Sarai. Abraham’s grandson. Rocks and stones don’t seem very exciting at first. 2011 2
. Jacob.’ The world was sinking in self-destruction and God needed a man of solid faith. Apostles Anglican Church. but I’m not interested in the composition of rocks. Odd as it sounds. August 21. Let’s look at these stories in a new way so that our vision of ourselves and our future looks different to us.” Isaiah is saying God’s rescue mission of the world began because the world was sinking down in the depths of idolatry. for I
called him alone. / It’s interesting that stones keep showing up in significant moments of the biblical story. becomes the chosen son in whom the Proper 16. you who follow after righteousness. and blessed him and increased him. You who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were hewn. and to the hole of the pit from which you were dug. the stories that stones tell expand our vision of who we are and who we will be. where God would make him the father of many nations. That’s why Abram is called to a new place. especially in Abraham’s family. especially when it concerns who I am in relationship with Him. But Isaiah dramatizes the calling even more through the image of a rock being dug from a quarry. The familiar version is Abram was called from a foreign land to a promised land with his wife. and to Sarah who bore you. That’s why Abram is given a new name.
and David. / What’s especially significant for our purposes is that Jeroboam set up an idolatrous shrine not only in Proper 16. Few were more destructive in Israel’s history than one of her earliest kings. When Jacob woke up he said. Immediately we think of Israel receiving their identity as God’s people when the Law is written on tablets of stone. Immediately after he receives that blessing. 2011 3
. Jeroboam built a shrine with golden calves.” The problem was that Jeroboam didn’t descend from David. August 21. extending forgiveness and mercy. “God Himself was here and I didn’t know it. Jacob. with angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. He was an impostor. In that dream the Lord spoke his promise and blessing over Jacob that all the families of the earth would be blessed. The pattern pervades the Scriptures. The place is different because God is here. God’s rescue mission for the world is initiated through Abraham. You’re probably familiar with the famous dream Jacob has next. he sets out on a journey to find a wife. This place will be called Bethel and the house of God will be built here. turned it on its side and vowed it would be the pillar for a sanctuary.nations will be blessed. Thousands of stones are stacked to build Solomon’s Temple so that God would be present with his people. What did Jeroboam do? Where Jacob turned his stony pillow into a pillar for worship at Bethel. But another pattern exists in God’s rebuilding plan through Israel. a monument to tell all Israel: “I am Jeroboam. King of Israel. yet it is brought down again and again when Israel turns to idols and rejects the love of God. finds a stone for his pillow and falls asleep. He comes to a town called Luz in his journey. The name must change.” How did he begin building that sanctuary? He took his rocky pillow. Apostles Anglican Church. Moses. Jeroboam. Joshua builds a monument with twelve stones upon crossing the Jordan to receive the land promised to Abraham. There are several more events wherein we see stones employed to establish Israel on solid ground. poured oil on it. a royal usurper.
but also in Israel’s northernmost city. he asked his disciples. Pan. Nowhere was the God of Israel to be found in Caesarea Philippi. the city became the red-light district of all Israel. shows us that God’s new rescue plan for the world is breaking out through Peter. In those dark. ‘who do men say that I. The more Israel pursued the pleasures of their own hearts at Dan. they further they descended back into the pit from which their father Abraham was called. the Son of the Living God. now Simon’s confession shows us the Mighty Deliverer’s new plan: God Himself is the foundation. watery places. In Dan especially. August 21.” Interesting place to ask the most significant question of your followers. isn’t it? And I believe it’s entirely intentional. am?’” Jeroboam had been a spiritual wrecking ball and centuries after his death the spiritual climate in Caesarea Philippi was desperate.Bethel. spoken in the midst of a pagan threshold. 2011 4
. Dan. No wonder Caesarea Philippi was assigned a nickname by the ancients: “the gates of hell. devoted to the Greek god. “When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi. the Son of Man. spiritual undertow in those waters. Just as Abram was rescued from pagan Ur to become the rock of Israel. At the base of that cliff. “You are the Christ. In those shadowy places.” That immediate faith. // Now why is Dan significant to us? Dan is about as far to Caesarea Philippi as we are to Cedar Bluff Road. Pan’s worship required prostitution and all kinds of lewd acts. drawing victims into the chaotic underworld of Hades. “Who do you say that I am?” Simon speaks up and says. God Proper 16. Jeroboam’s policy of pagan worship infected Bethel and Dan for centuries. covered the whole side of a mountain. Instead a massive pagan sanctuary. desecrating Jacob’s sanctuary. the ancients perceived there was an evil. Apostles Anglican Church. Statues of Pan and other gods were carved into the rock face. Look again at the Gospel lesson printed in your bulletin. a cave system is found where fresh springs flow to this day. embedded in this massive cliff.
for You have magnified Your word above all Your name. Flesh and blood cannot accomplish that magnificent revelation. Some speak about how Peter receives the supreme office of church leadership from Jesus in this moment. saying. the solid nature of his name is like a family name—it describes all who make Peter’s Proper 16. the rocky pillar that stands defiantly in front of the gates of hell.” Peter was entirely incapable of discerning Jesus’ identity on his own.” I hear the psalm we prayed this morning in Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi with renewed meaning: “I will praise you with my whole heart. the new Abraham. ignoring the unique role of this man in the history of Christ’s Church. before the gods I will sing praises to you. Even if the name “Rock” is meant for Peter only. there will never be another Peter. “You are the Christ. Peter is the rock. There will never be another Abraham. But how great is the mercy of our God. not only that He Himself becomes the rescue plan for all creation. Apostles Anglican Church.Himself is the cornerstone. Jesus of Nazareth. 2011 5
. Yet Peter’s faith in Christ and his changed identity have fathered an entire Church. and praise Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth. I will worship toward Your holy temple. August 21. and Simon becomes Peter. but that He would give us the gift of faith which we cannot manufacture in our own strength. But Christ alone is the foundation of the Church. turning away from those crumbling temples to turn towards the Temple of God in human form. Our world has infected us with so many false gods that we cannot recognize the living God made Flesh with our own eyes. But we need not assign Peter the office of pope to appreciate that his faith and witness are truly unique. Some would emphasis Peter’s confession only. // I know what some other interpreters of this passage will say. an office that each pope carries on as the head of the Church. just as Abraham’s faith brought forth the sons and daughters of Israel. not the foundation.
to be a holy priesthood. / Hear Peter’s own words. no more Temple in Jerusalem. Peter the Rock. Peter finally sees himself as he is. As soon as Peter’s eyes are opened to see who Jesus is. written in his first epistle near the end of his life. My identity finally becomes grounded when the Spirit opens my eyes and I confess.” There’s a dozen more things I’d love to unpack about our identity and the promises that Jesus has given to us. I’m often asked Proper 16. to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. // What does all this mean? Who are we? We are the Temple of the Living God. “I am this.” And then He tells me who I am and to whom I belong. “You are the Christ. August 21. a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious. But it will be enough to end on this thought: the Temple is on the move. 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house. Apostles Anglican Church. When we leave here we become chapels scattered throughout this city. “As you come to Jesus. we understand our own story entirely differently.” Then Jesus: “You are Peter—the Rock. However hollow or empty I feel in myself. I am that.” we become living stones entrusted with the gospel of forgiveness in our generation. He still grounds our identity in our strong confession of faith.” Only in recognizing who the Son of God can we possibly understand who we are. We are the Temple of God—Christ the Foundation.” Searching for our identity without Christ only spins us in a circle of endless confusion. the sure foundation that stands firm in any storm. but Peter’s encounter shows us it’s a dead end. There is no more sanctuary in Bethel. I become solid because my identity is grounded outside myself. From Peter’s confession. I can’t alleviate this inner emptiness or discover my identity in saying.good confession. 2011 6
. “Jesus is the Christ. in the very person of Christ Jesus. So many are searching for identity within themselves. and we who follow that good confession saying “You are the Christ.
they’re in school. but every once and a while I give the right answer. Wherever we go. The only reason to tell anyone to come here on Sunday is because living stones are gathered here. Amen. and the Holy Spirit. the dead-bolted doors of human hearts fling wide open because He has given us keys that unlock what no other man can open. August 21. speaking the gospel of forgiveness and love that has makes us solid in His name. not only for our own identity. are gathered here. living stones built on the foundation of Christ Jesus. The only reason to invite someone to this place is because the Lord Jesus and You. In the Name of Jesus. / But this building is just a building. Apostles Anglican Church. they’re working. they’re at home. Jesus entrusted us with a family name. these stones don’t breathe. but that that family might grow. knocking on the doors of human hearts. “where’s your church?” I don’t always do this because it would be obnoxious. that all might become solid. the Son. His Churchy.
Proper 16. In the name of the Father. 2011
. Wherever we gather.” Inevitably I’ll end up giving people a polite answer about our building and all the details of our meeting times. built on the rock.through the week by people who know I’m a pastor this question. may we stand firm in Christ Jesus. whether in this room or any another. “it’s Tuesday. always remember who you are. laid on the foundation that is Christ Jesus.