You and I are called-out and sent as God’s anointed in the world, anchored on the moving foundation of God’s love in Christ; and even death can’t stop such a church.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 21 A
Texts: Isaiah 51:1-6; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Listen to me, you people who pursue righteousness, Isaiah says.
Listen, you who seek the God-Who-Is. You who long for God to take the beauty and wonder that we see every day in the creation and apply it to the barrenness and devastation we also see in our world, apply it to our society and culture and life together on this planet. Listen, Isaiah says: to find that, look to the rock you came from, the quarry from which you were cut. The Rock that is your God.
Then God’s voice takes over: Listen to me, God says. I will bring salvation, deliverance, justice as a light to all people. What you hope for, I will do, God says. This is the rock our hope stands on.
And today the Son of God seems to repeat that promise. The rock on which I build my church, says Jesus, God-with-us, is so strong nothing can prevail against it.
But Jesus may be seeing it differently.
Jesus speaks of the “church,” the ecclesia, literally “the ones called out.” He says the gates of Hades cannot prevail against such a called-out community of God’s people. Hades to the Greeks is like Sheol to the Hebrews – not a place of punishment, just the place people go when they die. So Jesus says here the church will be sent to the very gates of death itself and break them. The church is moving, according to Jesus.
So, we are built on a rock, the trust we share with Peter that Jesus is God’s Christ, God’s anointed. But we’re not supposed to huddle up as church in our fortress on that rock, defending ourselves there. To be church is to be called out and sent. So we’re on the offense here, riding on a moveable foundation – the rock of our trust in God’s Anointed One – to bring God’s light and love and healing to the places of death and shadow and pain in this world.
To do this, Paul says God will transform you for this work, if you allow it.
Paul urges, “don’t be conformed to this age,” and that makes sense. If you and I are called out and sent into the suffering and pain of the world to bring God’s healing and restoration, we have to be different than what causes that suffering and pain. It does no good if we’re sent out and act in ways that perpetuate oppression, violence, suffering, the death we are sent to break through. We need to be different.
And that’s the hope: you can be transformed by God in Christ. So can I and all who follow Christ. Be transformed, Paul says – it’s not something you do, it’s done to you by God in Christ. Be made different, Paul says. Let God make you into Christ. And you will be part of God’s restoration and healing as Isaiah sees.
And every single transformed child of God is needed, Paul says.
You and I, and all anointed to be Christ in the world, are all part of one body, the Church. The called-out ones.
But we’re also all different, and that diversity is gift and blessing. To bring about the restoration God promises, it will need all kinds of people, all kinds of gifts. This is a world-changing plan.
So, Paul says, God needs people with compassion. And God gives some that gift. God needs people who are good at encouraging. God gives some that gift.
God needs people who are prophetic, who hear God and speak that word. God needs people who can teach, people who are generous in their giving, people who are able to minister to others. And God gives all those gifts, as needed for the plan. And many more gifts are needed, and are given – Paul’s list is only partial.
So our diversity, your difference, is critical, absolutely necessary to the plan of healing all things.
Now, we don’t hear it today, but this calling out and sending is a difficult path.
We only heard the first half of this Gospel story and the first half of Paul’s proclamation to the Romans. Next week we’ll hear the next parts of both. Next week Jesus will say he will suffer and die to break the gates of death, and asks all who follow to be ready to take up their lives of love sacrificial, too. Next week Paul will put a shape to the transformed life, a life of self-giving love, of honoring others, of peace-making. All very challenging, all costly.
Peter’s problem with this suffering path is evident next week. But we all have those moments where it seems too much for us to handle. So remember it’s fully part of what today’s readings call us to be and do.
For now, though, hear the joy.
You who pursue righteousness, who seek the God-Who-Is, rejoice. God is restoring and healing all things. Through your transformed mind and heart, and your specific gifts and calling. Through mine. Through all God’s anointed Christs in the world. And the gates of death can’t stop this – no oppression, no evil, no structures, no systems – nothing can stop the called-out anointed ones who bear Christ in the world.
And maybe you’ve realized what this also means – if the gates of death can’t keep out this love in this life, they’ve got no chance to stop God’s love in your death or mine. This promise of God we trust is also the foundation that moves with you through your death into the life that is to come. So you never need to be afraid.
Because nothing harmful can prevail against such transformed servants of God, against the love of God in Christ Jesus that is moving out into the world for the life of all things.
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen