Wednesday, August 27, 2008

We Confess (Sermon 8/24)

Below is my introductory sermon for the Lutheran Church of Hope. I prayed about this sermon for a long time and thought about it for many weeks before I managed to get one word on paper. It was interesting to deliver it to people I don't know well and who don't know me well yet either and yet we are all living together in hope for what is to come.

Isaiah 51:1-6; Psalm 138; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

We Confess

It was very difficult to know where to begin with this sermon. There are things you want to know about me and things I want to know about you. We are looking at one another and wondering what the next two years will bring. There are lots of new phrases that we keep hearing and keep using over and over. In our newsletters, in our conversations, all around us we hear about “change” and about “transition”.

Though these two things often happen near one another, change and transition are two very different phenomena. Change means something different than before; change almost means the facts. A new pastor, a new church building, the loss of old members, the addition of new members- all these things are changes. In a way, change is not something we can do anything about.

Transition, on the other hand, is. Transition is how we respond to change. How do we re-envision ourselves in this new place, but with all our history behind us? How will we move in new ways in accordance with the changes all around us? We cannot resist change for it simply keeps happening. We can try to resist transition, but then we struggle with our mission and our identity. In essence, we end up asking ourselves, “Who do we say that we are?”

That question is in the forefront of all of our minds today. I wonder who you will say that I am- a good pastor, a strong leader, a helpful teacher, a caring partner in ministry, no good at anything. You are wondering who I will say that you are- a welcoming congregation, a blessing to Anchorage and the Alaska Synod, dedicated servants of God, a group of people with a lot happening.

We get into a little trouble there, though. When we are focused on one another and how we want to be seen, we almost forget the One on whom we are to be focused, the One who has called us by name, the One who says who we are, the One who has brought us all to this place.

In our gospel story, Jesus asks his disciples what they are hearing about him and what has been said about prophets who have gone before. Yet Jesus is asking for more than gossip and even looking for more than mere knowledge. He wants to know what these men see in their hearts- what has been revealed to them through their encounters with God in the flesh. Simon Peter, who always has to be the first one out of the boat, the first one into the crowd and the first one to answer, says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

In my mind’s eye, I can see Peter- a man with rough hands from handling nets, scruffy, wind-blown hair and always covered in dust from walking. I can see him blurting out his response to Jesus before he has even thought about it. “Who do you say that I am?”

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter would have to be as surprised as anyone, except Jesus, to hear those words come out of his mouth. For a good Jewish man, those words would have been nothing, but blasphemy. This man, the Messiah? Son of the living God?

God’s Spirit had been stirred up in Peter- making him as stubborn in faith in Christ as he was in fishing and in friendship. That stubborn faith would make him stick to what he believed to be true. He would stick to his confession of Christ as Lord through his betrayal of that Lord, through the death of that Lord and through the resurrection. He would continue to blurt out the grace of God’s presence in Jesus through the rocky start of the early, early church. He would stubbornly cling to that faith all the way into Rome where he was mostly likely killed for that stubbornness.

From the time Peter uttered his confession of faith change was upon him. He suddenly became aware of a time when he would not be following Jesus in person, but would be leading others to the knowledge of Christ. Peter had to transition from being a physical disciple, actually walking behind Jesus, to being a spiritual disciple, remaining behind after Jesus returns to the Father and instructing others in the faith.

A confession of faith is a scary, scary thing. In those moments in our lives, when we are pressed to say what we believe- we can be as surprised as Peter when the words come out of our mouth. We say yes to things we never thought we would try. Certainly I will go to the Lutheran Church of Hope and work alongside them in mission. Certainly we will accept Pastor Julia to guide us as we look toward our future as a congregation.

But those statements are not our confessions. Those are actions that stem our confession, with Peter, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. We confess that God washes us, God feeds us and God has brought us together. We believe that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that glory reaches us still.

In this gospel passage, through the words of Jesus, we also hear God’s confession of faith in us. That God will use us, just as He used Peter, to be the rocks on which the church is built. We have been given the authority to bring God’s saving word to one another and to the world. And in Paul’s letter to the Romans, we learn that not only do we have the authority, but we have the gifts to do it as well.

In God’s church, in this room, we have gifts of prophecy, teaching, ministering, generosity, diligence, patience and cheerfulness. You’ve seen some of these gifts in the past and we only look to see more of them in the future.

Despite all the changes, God is not making a new church here. The Church, the body of Christ, is already here and God is at work in this body. In this time of transition, we look for the Holy Spirit to transform us, the body of Christ, by renewing our minds and our ministry, so that we may discern the will of God.

And we confess before one another and before God that we have not always gotten things right and we are guaranteed to mess up again in the future. If Peter did it, we can expect no less from ourselves. But we are also called to remind one another, through confessing our faith, that Jesus is our Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Can we confess that? (Amen)

We confess that Christ is present to us and in us today.

Can we confess that?

We believe that God has brought us to this place and given us the authority and the gifts to use for many kinds of ministry.

Can we confess that?

We are a people called to live in hope, live with hope and live for Hope as disciples of Christ- our risen Lord.

Can we confess that?

We believe that we can do all things, included transition through a time of change, through Christ who strengthens us.

Can we confess that?

The words of Isaiah call us to look to the rock from which we were hewn.
We are in this place today because of the faithful rocks who gave their time and talent to see the Lutheran Church of Hope grow. And, even more than that, we are here today because of Christ, our Solid Rock, whose life, death and resurrection made it possible that we can live in the promise of unity with God.

Believing this in our hearts, we will go forward from here together, trusting in God’s grace and goodness that a renewed work has begun in us that will continue until the day Christ comes again.

Can we confess that?

1 comment:

goodcouragegal said...

Great sermon, my friend ... you are a marvelous preacher! Grace and peace be with you...