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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

“Will You Come Through?”

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Matthew 16:13-20

“You can’t take it with you.” That’s what they say. But I heard of a man who figured out a way that he could take it with him when he died. He was a very wealthy man, and as he lay on his deathbed, he ordered that everything he owned be sold, converted into gold ingots, and put into a briefcase beside his bed. He died, and sure enough he took his briefcase full of gold ingots with him. But when he arrived at the Pearly Gates, there was Saint Peter, who told him he couldn’t bring it in. “but I have to!” the man said, “This briefcase contains everything I worked for all my life! I have to have it!” “What on Earth is it?” asked St. Peter. So, the man opened his briefcase and showed Peter the gold ingots. “You want to bring in street paving stones?” Peter asked. 😊

I’m sure you’ve heard dozens of stories about Peter at the gates of Heaven, but how did poor Peter get credit for having this job anyway?

It all started with the story in our Gospel lesson today. When Jesus renamed Simon Bar Jonah – or as we would say, Simon Johnson – when Jesus renamed him “Rocky.” Actually, He called him “Petros” which means a piece of rock, or a stone, or a pebble.

Tradition says that Rocky was big – the “big fisherman” he’s been called. Bigger than Rocky Marciano or the character that Sylvester Stallone played in the “Rocky” movies. The Bible tells us he was loud and aggressive. Time and again we read that “Peter answered and said…” when nobody asked him anything!

At Jesus’ transfiguration, Luke tells us that Peter started talking “but he didn’t know what he was saying,” and “while he was speaking” a voice came out of the cloud, saying “This is my Son… listen to Him.” (Luke 9:33,34)

In next week’s Gospel lesson, Peter is talking again, and Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You’re a stumbling block to me.” (Matt. 16:23)

Then, in the 10th chapter of the Book of Acts, Peter is led to the house of the centurion, Cornelius. In verse 34 we read, “Then Peter began to speak…” In verse 44 we read, “While Peter was still speaking… the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message…” and they began “speaking in tongues and praising God.”

So, Peter had to be shut up by God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit! I remember Tim LaHaye saying he decided to read the four Gospels straight through to see what impression he got. And the thing that struck him was that Peter was always talking!

Yes, Peter – or Rocky – was the big one all right, bigger than life, and he was big in more ways than one.

He was a big bumbler, which should make all of us love him right away, when we think of all the ways we’ve made a mess of our Christian lives – all the time we’ve tried to do the right thing and blown it. About the time we think we’re doing everything pretty well; we go and pull a boner.

Of course, Peter never did it half-way. When he made a mistake, he did it so everyone could see and hear it, loud and clear. When Judas came with a gang to arrest Jesus, Peter pulls out a sword and whacks off a guy’s ear. Fortunately for him, Jesus put it back on.

A rock can be used to build a solid foundation, but a rock can also be tripped over. So, it was for Peter, and so it is for us. Sometimes we’re really working for the Lord and His Kingdom in the ways we act and the ways we treat each other. And at other times we’re just in the way – stumbling blocks.

Do you ever feel like that? Like everything you do turns out wrong? You try your best to do what’s right, but you just can’t seem to get it right. That’s the way Peter was, and I suppose it’s at least some comfort that Peter blew it over and over again and was still made an Apostle.

Peter wasn’t only a bumbler; he was also a big talker. He could take care of himself – didn’t need anyone else. Independent. Self-sufficient. “I can wash my own feet, Jesus, so you can keep your towel to yourself.” Like a four-year-old who says, “I can do it myself,” and breaks the cookie jar on the floor. Or the elderly person who refuses to use a cane or a walker, then falls and breaks their hip on the floor. “I can make it on my own,” says someone who’s sicker than they think. “I’ll do it my way,” says someone whose marriage is a shambles. “I don’t need anybody else,” say so many in our time, “least of all God!”

Peter, even after Jesus called him “Rocky,” often thought he could make it on his own. And time and again he blew it, just like you and I do. We’re such big talkers when we join the church. All those promises. All those things we’re going to do for God. Right!

“No, Jesus,” Rocky said, “No way would I deny you.” Of course, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. His Galilean accent gave him away. You could tell a Galilean a mile away. All he had to do was open his mouth. It was like taking one of you southerners and dropping you into Maine! And the servant girl picked him out just like that. “I know you, you’re one of them. You talk funny.” And Rocky, the big talker – the little pebble – started to swear and say “No way lady. I don’t know that man!”

And the rooster crowed. And Rocky cried like a baby. The big talker who thought he was a somebody was now a nobody – afraid of a little servant girl! Rocky throws in the towel.

Jesus knew he would. And He knows we all will sometimes when the chips are down. Jesus looks at all of us, big talkers that we are, and says, “I know that you’ll Peter out, just like Peter himself.” “I know that most of the time you won’t witness. You won’t share. You won’t forgive. You’ll find excuses not to give of yourself. I know all this.”

Jesus knows all this and yet He still went to the cross for us, and He still forgives us. Why? Do you suppose He sees in us what He saw in Peter? Some spark of potential? Some spark of penitence? That’s what love is all about, isn’t it?

Peter was a bumbler and Peter was a big talker. But Peter was also a risk taker. It was a risk to leave his home and his fishing business to follow a carpenter-preacher who had no place to lay His head and seemed determined to turn everything upside down.

And it was a risk to make that great confession when Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” What he said wouldn’t be popular with the religious authorities, and eventually Peter would be executed because it wouldn’t be popular with the government authorities either.

But the inspired confession that Peter “the stone” made is the “rock” on which Jesus has built His church: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The place where Peter made his confession of faith is a significant one. Caesarea Philippi, named for Tiberias Caesar and Philip, son of Herod the Great. It’s in what today we call the Golan Heights. A temple was built there by Herod the Great for the worship of Caesar. Originally it was called Paneas in honor of the Greek God, Pan, the god of nature, of fields and forests and wild animals, whose shrine was also located there. So, this place where Jesus had taken His disciples to ask them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” and “Who do you say I am?” was an especially pagan place. And Peter answered for the group, “You are the Christ – the Messiah – the Deliverer promised by God – the Son of God.” And not an emperor who claimed to be god, nor any of dozens of Roman and Greek gods – like Pan, half man and half goat – but the true and only real God – the living God!

And Jesus, standing with a hundred-foot-high cliff behind Him, said, “Simon, you’re ‘Petros,’ a real stone of a man, and your inspired confession of faith is the ‘Petra,’ the rock upon which I’m going to build my church.”

Rocky – or Peter – still had a ways to go. Next Sunday our Gospel lesson will tell how Jesus began to explain His coming suffering, death, and resurrection, and how Peter rebuked Him for saying such things. He came on strong again in Gethsemane, wielding his sword; then down again as he denied knowing Jesus; up again as he ran to the empty tomb; down again when he said, “I’m going fishing;” up again when Jesus showed up at the lake and filled their net to overflowing.

That’s why I like Peter so much – I can relate to him. And I think some of you can, too!

But after Jesus ascended into Heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to live in Christians, Peter never looked back again. Oh, he still had things to learn. And he still made mistakes. But nothing would stop him now. Nothing at all. Not even his own bumbling or his big mouth. Now he was ready to risk his life if need be. Now he was ready to stand up for Jesus and be counted in His Kingdom. No more timidity. No more denial. No turning back. Just the recognition that his strength came from Christ.

And on that strength Peter started a new life. And on his confession of faith Jesus started a new church and a new era in world history.

So, you see, in the end Rocky came through. But that’s not the question, is it? The question is, will you?


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