Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Individual Faith, Divine Gift

January 16, 2018 - The Confession of St. Peter, transferred

Audio of this sermon can be heard here.

Human beings have been attributing spiritual significance to life for at least 40,000 years. Throughout human development, we have learned new ways to describe the sacred and have gained new insights into the divine will for humanity. We have found names for God, even if they are sometimes unnamable. We have produced images of God, even if they are sometimes forbidden. We have adapted the stories of God and God's people to fit our modern understanding, even if they are supposedly unchangeable. But, throughout it all, through each of our intellectual developments, despite all of our advancements in the psychology of religion, God is not what we make him but who God reveals God's self to be.

Although it's on the calendar for Thursday, in our parish, we are celebrate the feast of the Confession of St. Peter. Not the feast of St. Peter, which is observed in conjunction with St. Paul on June 29. It's the feast of Peter's confession--the moment when Peter said to Jesus, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!" There are other occasions in the life of the church when we celebrate not an individual but an event, and the feast of Peter's confession gives us the opportunity to think about the nature and content of our faith.

In Matthew 16, during a period of intense conflict with the religious elites of his day, Jesus steps aside with his disciples and asks them, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they reply, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." Then, Jesus changes the question, sharpening it, and asks, "But who do you say that I am?" to which Peter replies, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." To us that might seem obvious. By this point, we've made it through 15 and a half chapters of Matthew's gospel account. We've watched the disciples watch their master do the sorts of things that no ordinary human being could do. But Peter's insight--this confession of faith--is more than just a connecting of the dots. This is God reaching down and speaking to and through Peter so that humanity might finally see what God is doing through God's Son.

Jesus' response to Peter makes that clear: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven." God is the one who showed Peter the truth. Sure, the epiphany involved Peter's intellect and experience. But the inclination to trust God--to believe that God was doing something particular in the life and ministry of Jesus--came from above. God pulled the veil back. God spoke to Peter's heart. God showed him who Jesus was, and God does the same for us.

God is not what we make God to be. God is who God is, and we see that which God has revealed to us. "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" Jesus asked his disciples. Well, who do people say that he is? Some consider him a wise teacher. Some lean on him as friend. Some think of him as a spiritual guide. Some make him out to be their personal champion. Some use him as the poster child for their own cause--their moralism, their charity, their crusade against other-minded people. And you might find some sympathetic connection between what matters to you and the gospel of Jesus, but the Son of Man is not the prophet you want him to be. He is the Lord. And to follow him means to confess him as Lord of your life. He's in charge, not you. He isn't what you make him out to be. You are the one who was made through him.

We might like to believe what we want. We might decide to leave aside those dogma that we find unattractive. We might want add those twists of our own creation. Our understanding of who God is and our articulation of what God wants may be grounded in our own context, but the truth of the gospel is not relative. It's more than doctrine or dogma. It's more than right or wrong. It is God who is God. And the faith that we confess is not the application of our minds to a specific set of beliefs but the yielding of our lives--our hearts and souls and minds and bodies--to the Lord. May we, like Peter, find the gift of faith. May God give us the ability to set aside our own constructions and cling to God alone.