Category: Sunday Morning Sermon
Speaker: Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
“ALL IN A NAME”
Pentecos t 12 A
August 27, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church
Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
I like it when you wear your nametag. It is important because at Christ Church we do not want people to feel anonymous, disconnected or unimportant. In this church people matter because they matter to God.
It is difficult to have a meaningful relationship with anyone without knowing their name. A name is a “handle” by which we can single someone out and let them know we care. When someone knows our name, they have a “handle” by which to grab our attention and focus their care. Wearing your nametag helps that to happen when you are here.
One of the most important tasks of new parents is to choose a name for their child. It is not be to taken lightly because the name they choose is the name with which that child is going to have to live with for the rest of his/her life. We would never think of using some names. Ever since 9/11, few in this country have wanted to name their son Osama. Ever since World War II, few have wanted to name their son Adolf.
Today’s Gospel tells about the giving of a name. There is a “birth” here. There is a dramatic “new beginning,” but it has nothing to do with the birth of a baby.
It happened near the magnificent port city of Caesarea Philippi. With all its temples and opulent buildings it symbolized the religion and power of the Roman Empire. Surprisingly, in today’s Gospel we meet a very different kind of god with a very different kind of empire who rules with a very different kind of power.
Today’s Gospel is the turning point of the Gospel of Matthew. After this dramatic event, Jesus makes his final trip to Jerusalem. So far in Matthew Jesus has been popular, captivating the attention of the masses with his preaching and healing. He is a celebrity. Now he turns to his disciples before he begins the most important journey of his life. He asks them for the results of the latest Gallup Poll. “Who do people say that Son of Man is?”
The disciples faithfully report the results. Obviously, Jesus has been creating a stir. Some think that Jesus is John the Baptist come back from the dead. Others think that he might be the prophet Elijah or Jeremiah.
Interesting, but Jesus wants to know what the disciples think of him.
Then Simon, son of Jona, the big fisherman, suddenly blurts out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, (the Messiah, the king for whom the Jews for centuries had been waiting to deliver them from their enemies).”
Thrilled with Simon’s answer Jesus compliments him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!” To mark the significance of this dramatic occasion, Jesus gives Simon a new name. Jesus gives him a new nametag. From now on Simon, son of Jona, you are Peter!
That sounds like a very ordinary name to us. I have known many Peters. However, that Jesus chose this name was no accident.
The name Peter actually means “rock.” Peter would be the rock on which Jesus will build his church! In hindsight, it seems like a good name for Simon. Peter literally became a rock-solid leader in the early church. He was there at Pentecost when the mission of the church began. There he preached the church’s first sermon. He carried the mission of the church to its first gentile convert, Cornelius.
However, at this point in his life Simon had not been the rock-solid character that his new name said he was. He had been an impetuous, impulsive, open-mouth-insert-foot kind of guy. Sometimes he appeared weak and cowardly. He had jumped out of his boat and walked on water only to lose faith and sink. In next week’s Gospel, Peter, the Rock, will panic and criticize Jesus for wanting to go to Jerusalem and face his enemies. Jesus will rebuke the Rock and call him . . . Satan! Even worse, in Jesus’ darkest hour of need in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter flees cowardly into the night. Soon three times he denies ever having known Jesus. So much for being rock-solid!
Perhaps Jesus rewarded Simon with a new name for being the first disciple to pass the test and correctly answer the question “Who do you say that I am?” Just so the rest of the class does not miss the significance of this brilliant answer by the smartest kid in the class, Jesus gives him new name. Is that what Jesus intended with this new name?
No. It had nothing to do with Simon’s supposed brilliance. Simon recognized Jesus not because he was so smart, but only because God revealed it to him. It happened to him. It was a gift, bestowed upon Simon purely out of the grace and mercy of God.
Have you ever had something just happen to you out of the clear blue, something for which you can claim no credit, something which could only be described as pure gift, as pure grace?
I vividly remember as a young boy my first bicycle. It was one of those heavy, balloon tire models. Today you only see them in museums. It had coaster brakes. One day the brakes would not work. I carefully took them apart. (At that time in my life I still lived with the delusion that I could fix such mechanical problems.) I saw that inside the brake there were these strange little steel balls, ball bearings, running around loose. Oh, I get it! They were out of order and all I needed to do was re-pack them. I did and put the brake carefully back together only to discover that the brakes still did not work. I did this three or four times with no success.
Then my father came home and saw that I was futilely seeking to become a mechanical genius. He took one look at what I did and smiled. I could work on re-packing the ball bearings until the day I died and nothing would change. Why? I needed to get new ball bearings. The old ones were misshapen and worn-out. After a quick trip to the hardware store and a new set of ball bearings, I was back on my bike with the brakes working better than ever.
I would never have been able to fix the bike, if my father had not REVEALED the solution to me. He had made it all possible. I was ignorant of bicycle mechanics. I thought I knew what I was doing. I was sure that I had done everything right, but I was a fool. I needed this gracious, undeserved revelation from my father.
That is precisely Jesus’ point. Simon would have been forever ignorant of Jesus’ identity, if God had not revealed it to him. To mark the significance of what had happened, Simon had to have a new name. Jesus gave him a new nametag.
Jesus knew what kind of person Simon was. He knew that he was anything but rock-solid. Nevertheless, in spite of Peter’s ignorance and foolish impetuosity, Jesus graciously re-names this bumbling “bull in a china shop,” this “open-mouth-and-insert-foot” fool, and says, “Simon, put this on your nametag, . . . . ROCK!”
It was as if Jesus was saying to Simon, “You may not feel like much of a rock. You may often feel weak and confused like you did when you stepped out of the boat and began to sink, tossed about by the irrational and deadly storms of life. You may doubt your place in the universe and wonder if your speck of a life matters in the grand scheme of things. Stand up! Have no fear! Do not worry! You are mine and I am yours! You are a rock! You matter! On you I will build my church!”
Wow! Who does Jesus think he is to talk like this? Does he think he is God or something? Running around the world talking like this can get you in trouble. It can get you killed. It did. But God raised Jesus from the dead and declared to the world that Jesus had every right to run around this world and make bumbling fools and crumbling weaklings like Simon into solid rocks.
This promise changed Peter’s life. Yes, Peter continued to stumble. Jesus called him “Satan” for trying to talk him out of going to Jerusalem. He fled Jesus on the night of his betrayal and denied ever having known Jesus. Nevertheless, after Jesus had risen he met Peter on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius. There he reminds Peter of his nametag. Jesus pins back on Peter the nametag he had given him that day at Caesarea Philippi. Peter believed the promise of his nametag and discovered that he could live with a sense of boldness and freedom that previously would have been impossible.
Peter’s story is our story. Purely out of grace and mercy God has given us a new name, a new nametag. God knows all too well how much we are like Peter, weak and cowardly. Nevertheless, God loves us and sends Jesus to prove it.
Today we rejoice with many of you who remember that day when Jesus met you, when at your Caesarea Philippi God proved his loved for you, when water was poured and God’s promise was spoken. At your baptism, God looked at you and declared, “You are ROCK! You are my beloved son/daughter! Jesus is your big brother. I am your dear daddy! I promise to treat you just like I treated him! You can count on it! From now on you will be a CHRISTian.”
That promise changes our lives, just as it did for Peter. Remembering and trusting the promise of our new nametag, like Peter, like ROCK, there is a skip in our step. We do things differently. We can be rock solid for the Kingdom of God. We boldly care for the world. We dare to love as Jesus loved. We have nothing to fear. Not even the gates of Hades, the gates of Hell, can prevail against us!