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July 1, 1979

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

MATTHEW 16:13-19

Today we introduce a new minister, and begin the long process of getting acquainted. This long, lovely and beautiful process begins with simple introductions and immediate, superficial observations. When we introduce Pam to the church, our immediate observations include the fact that she is very pretty, she speaks well, she reads well, she has poise and charm. Besides that, we add the fact that she is a minister freshly ordained so we know she comes to us with enthusiasm. She isn't worn out like the rest of us yet. We know that she has made commitments to Christ and the church, and she has been ordained by the church, given authority to preach, to administer the sacraments, and to lead congregations. 

Likewise, we begin the process of introducing the church to Pam. I'd like to introduce to Pam St. Paul's Church. We are it—not the building, not the property, but the people. I think she will come to find that St. Paul's church is very alive and active. St. Paul's is a growing church. Our attendance at worship services the first five months of 1979 increased an average of 30 a Sunday. We are a growing church. We are a very active church. We are a very healthy church. We have all the ages represented without an overabundance of any one particular age, we have a good healthy selection. St. Paul's is financially solvent. We're in the black which is unusual. And St. Paul's is a caring church. We respond to need, whether it's Haven of Peace or world hunger. Whenever a special appeal comes, this church responds quickly. There's love and there's warmth in this church. Sometimes we're a little shy to meet the stranger and help the stranger feel at home, but we're a loving and a warm church. So I introduce St. Paul's to Pam. 

But, in the church there's more to introducing than just those beginning and introductory comments. There's more to introducing for introducing is a great part of what we are about as a church. In our lesson this morning from Matthew 16:13-19, Jesus took his disciples apart to a quiet place. They had been working together, walking together, living together for months, years. They already knew each other in deep and intimate ways. They already knew each other probably better than many people do in their human relationships. But, Jesus took them apart to introduce them to a deeper dimension. 

He began by asking, “Who do other people say that I am? What do others say?” And they said, “Some say you're Elijah, some say you're Jeremiah, some say you're John the Baptist.” And then he made it very personal and said, “Who do you say that I am?” And Simon, son of John said, “You are the Christ.” A very simple phrase—You are the Christ—but oh, but  what that meant in that day! “The Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”. “You are the Messiah.” You are the one that for centuries we've been longing, hoping and yearning for. As we suffered under the yoke of bondage to Rome, and to Persia and Babylonia, we yearned and hoped for somebody to come to release us, to free us, to save us, and Christ Jesus, you are the one, you are our hope, in you we pin our dreams and our hopes for deliverance, for salvation. What a statement Peter made! So Jesus, on that occasion, introduced himself to the disciples. 

One of the tasks of the church is not just to introduce ourselves to each other, but to introduce Jesus to each other, not to introduce Jesus to you for the Lord already knows you. The Lord knows you and loves you through and through. But the task is to introduce Jesus to the many people who have no idea of who Jesus is, and what the presence of Christ can mean in their lives and in our world today. Very few know, and the task of the church is to introduce Jesus to each other as the Christ, the Messiah, the hope, the fulfillment of our dreams and expectations, our salvation. And this introduction must become very personal. It begins by asking, “Who do others say that I am?” which is the place of teachings, that’s the place of our history, that’s the place of pointing us to Wesley, Luther and to the Bible, to look at what others have said, and have experienced about Jesus. 

But, it must not stop there. It must come down to each one of you to say, “Who do you say that I am?” Who do you say Jesus is? The introduction must become very personal—one to one. What does Christ mean in your life? Is Christ a guest who you're nice to on occasion? Or is Christ an emergency squad—Oh, Lord, help me—who comes on his fire engine, his rescue squad? Or is Christ a stranger who comes in in and out of your life, and you don't even know he’s been there? Or is Christ your Lord, your Savior, number one in your life, number one in your priorities? Is that what Christ means to you? The business of the church is to introduce Jesus on a very personal basis. 

But, there's more to introducing. Not only do we introduce ourselves to each other, and not only do we introduce Jesus to us, but there's another dimension. Jesus went on to introduce Simon to Peter, and they were one and the same person. Jesus introduced Simon Peter to himself! After Peter made the declaration, “You are the Christ”, Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, happy are you because flesh and blood didn’t reveal this to you. You didn't come to this realization by any means of your own. God revealed to you my identity. As God revealed to you my identity, so now I will reveal to you your identity.” And Jesus went on to say, “Simon, you are greater than you think you are. You are bigger than you think you are. Simon, yyou are going to accomplish far more than your wildest dreams can imagine. Simon, you are Peter. You are a rock and on you I will build my church. On you and others like you, I will build my church.” 

Jesus was making a play on words which does not carry over into English. Jesus spoke Aramaic, and he used the word “kepha”. “You are kepha” which means rock. In Greek, the word is Petra or Petros. The New Testament is written in Greek.”You are Petra” and  Petra in English is Peter. And Petros is the Greek word for rock. So he's making a play on words. If Jesus had been speaking English, he would have said, “Simon, you are Rocky and as a rock, on you I will build my church.” He gave Simon a new name and a new identity. He introduced Simon to himself. He looked at Simon and he saw Peter. He looked at wishy washy Simon and he saw Peter, the leader. He saw through all of Simon's inadequacies, he saw through all Simon's weakness, he saw through the time when Simon denied him, when Peter denied even knowing him in his cowardliness, Jesus saw through all the weakness, all the inferiority, all the inadequacy, all the mistakes, all the failures, he saw through all that garbage to Peter, the leader, the one who would be strong and dynamic, the one who would be such a force in the building of the church. Jesus saw Peter.

Notice this new identity for Peter came after he knew Jesus. After he confessed Jesus as Lord, then he received his identity. This era in which we live when everybody is searching for their self identity—who am I?— our self identity comes clearer to us when it is grounded in Christ. God gives us our identity after we know God. In the church, when we meet one another, our introductions need to be grounded in God. In the church, when we're introduced to each other, and we get to know each other, we look at each other through the eyes of Christ. We see each other as God sees us. The challenge is to look at each other as God sees us. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:16, “From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view.” We look at each other and see not the weaknesses, not the errors, not the ugliness, not the dirt. We look at each other and we see what God sees. We see what is beautiful, lovely and good. We see what can be built upon. As a foundation on the rock, we can make the church into the fellowship—the people of God. That’s how God sees us. 

When Christ looks at you, what does he see in you? As Jesus introduces you to yourself, what kind of message are you getting? That's the business of the church. And this is done within the context of the church introducing Jesus to each other, introducing ourselves to ourselves and introducing ourselves to each other. 

Jesus had some very strong words in this passage about what is the church. He said to Simon, “You're a rock and on this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The powers of death shall not prevail, the forces of evil shall not prevail. That’s the promise and how the forces of evil impinge upon us as we try to be the church—constantly tempting us, seducing us to be lazy, to have other commitments higher, to put other priorities ahead of the church. How tempting it is to get complacent, fat, lazy and forget what we are about. The forces of evil get us to lay down and sleep—like a mighty tortoise moves the church of God. But, Jesus promised the gates of hell shall not prevail. 

Then he said to the church, “I give you the keys to the kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. And whatever you loose on earth should be loosed in heaven. Whatever you forgive on earth shall be forgiven in heaven. Whatever you do here on earth, it shall be done in heaven.” This is serious business that Jesus has entrusted to the church which preserves the Bible, teaches the Bible, translates the Bible, the church which fulfills, embodies the Spirit of Jesus. It's the church's task. No other institution, no other club, no other group does what the church does. The church introduces Jesus, introduces ourselves to ourselves and builds up the people of God. No other institution can do what the church can do. What we do has eternal ramifications. Eternity begins right here. What serious business is the business of the church! 

It is appropriate that we celebrate Communion today as we make introductions. For in this most holy Sacrament, Christ is present as in no other act. Christ is present in the service of Holy Communion. As we come today, let's be open. Come in a spirit of prayer and celebration to eat of the body and drink of the juice. Let’s be in a spirit of openness, that Jesus may be introduced, that we may be introduced to what is godly in each other, that we may discover our own identity, our own possibilities and uniqueness in what God has created us to be. Let us come.

© 1979 Douglas I. Norris