12th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one whose salvation is forever. Amen
Have you ever had a song pop into your head
and act kind of like a soundtrack for your life?
Maybe you’re getting psyched up to do something
and all of a sudden you hear in your head
the opening chords of Eye of the Tiger,
bum, bum bum bum, bum bum, bummmmmmmm.
Do, do de de do do do, de de dum dum dummmmmmmm
and it really seems to fit.
Or perhaps those of you who associated with young children a few years ago
when Frozen was at its height of popularity
find yourself at times channeling your inner ice queen
when faced with something out of your control
and all of a sudden Elsa is in your head singing “Let it go, Let it gooo” anyone?
Well for me sometimes this happens with hymns,
I read a piece of scripture
and all of a sudden there’s a hymn running through my head,
many hymns are adaptations of scripture
or reference scripture
so that’s usually the connection
and this is what happened
when I read the gospel for this week,
Jesus asks the disciples who they say he is
and when Peter responds “You are the messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus praises him and says
“and I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church”
upon reading this I heard the opening phrases of the hymn
“Built on a Rock” (of course accompanied by a big pipe organ)
“Built on a rock the church shall stand, even when steeples are falling”
and these two phrases became the soundtrack to my week,
I’ve been walking around humming and singing in my head
“built on a rock the church shall stand, even when staples are falling”
Now sometimes earworms just get stuck in our heads
but with this the words were more persistent,
and when I thought about it, it made sense to me
why this hymn connected with this gospel
kept following me,
they both have to do with identity,
and the question of who and what defines us
in the midst of turmoil.
Right now this is something that we are all struggling with,
many of the things we have used to identify ourselves
both as individuals and as communities
have disappeared or changed over night,
which leaves us wondering who are we now?
If I can’t work who am I now?
If there is no Husker football who are we as Nebraskans?
Or at least what will we do on Saturdays in the fall?
if we can’t gather in the same way for worship and fellowship
who are we as a congregation?
All these steeples,
the things that have pointed to our identity
have seemingly fallen
and we’re left wondering who we are
and where we are to turn for answers.
But here’s the thing,
while steeples are the most visible points of church buildings,
they are a sign that even from far away proclaims ‘here is a church’
they are not the most important part of the architecture,
that honor falls to the foundation
the base upon which everything else is constructed
and so when those things that point us toward our identity fall
we must return to the foundation.
Isaiah points this out in our first reading
“Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you;”
the prophet is speaking to those in exile
who have been removed from their homeland,
who are wondering how can we be the people of Israel
if we are separated from Israel?
the prophet exhorts them to go deeper
when searching for identity,
back to Abraham and Sarah
who never saw the promised land
but who first received the promise of God
to create from them a great nation.
The prophet is reminding the people
that even when it seems like everything normal is gone
there is a deeper identity and promise,
the promise from God that
“my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.”
This is the foundation Jesus is building for his disciples
as he sits them down in Caesarea Philippi,
he knows that he will soon be heading to Jerusalem, and his death
at which time
all the disciples’ points of reference for their identity
will crumble around them
so he starts to put who he is in perspective,
first he asks “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
and the responses he gets are the equivalent of spires,
people who point to God but who are not God,
“Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”
the people on the outside
focus on the most visible parts of Jesus,
but then he turns to the disciples,
the ones who have gotten to know him intimately,
who have heard him teach without the great crowds around
and he presses them “But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered, ‘you are the messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’”
Peter gives the right answer as to who Jesus is,
but note that Jesus is quick to point out
that Peter didn’t come up with it on his own,
the truth was revealed to Peter by God the Father
and the faith given to Peter by the father
allowed him to speak the truth.
This faith is what Jesus is going to use
as the foundation of the community that gathers in his name,
faith that comes as a gift from God.
As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”
God gives faith,
and Peter trusted God
with a trust that Jesus could build on,
trust that accepted the truth
even when it didn’t make sense.
a gift from God,
is the foundation
And our soundtrack hymn notes this,
while it begins “built on a rock the church shall stand, even when steeples are falling;”
“crumbled have spires in ev’ry land, bells still are chiming and calling calling the young and old to rest, calling the souls of those distressed, longing for life everlasting.”
Yes the spires that point to identity may fall
but they are not everything,
as Paul Westermeyer remarks in the Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship:
“The church bells in stanzas 1 and 5 provide the frame and point to the center. The clue is in the bells the hymn references, both in a general and a specific sense. What church bells do generally lie behind the hymn, as, for example, in the inscription on the Danish church bell that was rung in West Denmark Lutheran Church, Luck, Wisconsin from 1937 until a fire in 1985. It tells what church bells are ‘chiming and calling’ about.
To the bath and the table,
To the prayers and the word,
I call every seeking soul.”(Hymnal Companion 501-502)
The font and table,
prayer and word,
these are the rock from which we were hewn,
and the quarry from which we were dug,
at the font God washes us,
promises that nothing will separate us from the love of God.
Giving us our primary identity as child of God
At the table God reminds us of that identity
forgives us for our shortcoming,
feeds us to strengthen us
and sends us out into the world.
In the word God speaks to us
reminding us of the promises of God,
the promise of salvation,
salvation that lasts despite exile, destruction, pandemics,
salvation that lasts forever.
Salvation, the gift to us from Christ,
The Rock on whom we stand.
1 Built on a rock the church shall stand,
even when steeples are falling;
crumbled have spires in ev'ry land,
bells still are chiming and calling--
calling the young and old to rest,
calling the souls of those distressed,
longing for life everlasting.
2 Surely, in temples made with hands
God the Most High is not dwelling--
high in the heav'ns his temple stands,
all earthly temples excelling.
Yet he who dwells in heav'n above
deigns to abide with us in love,
making our bodies his temple.
3 Christ builds a house of living stones:
we are his own habitation;
he fills our hearts, his humble thrones,
granting us life and salvation.
Where two or three will seek his face,
he in their midst will show his grace,
blessings upon them bestowing.
4 Yet in this house, an earthly frame,
Jesus the children is blessing;
hither we come to praise his name,
faith in our Savior confessing.
Jesus to us his Spirit sent,
making with us his covenant,
granting his children the kingdom.
5 Through all the passing years, O Lord,
grant that, when church bells are ringing,
many may come to hear your Word,
who here this promise is bringing:
"I know my own, my own know me;
you, not the world, my face shall see;
my peace I leave with you. Amen."
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.