12th Sunday of Pentecost August 23, 2020
First Reading: Isaiah 51:1-6
Second Reading: Romans 12:1-8
Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20
Prayer of the Day:
O God, with all your faithful followers of every age, we praise you, the rock of our life. Be our strong foundation and form us into the body of your Son, that we may gladly minister to all the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Hymns of the Day
If you don’t have hymnals at home,
look up the hymns on YouTube or other websites.
There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy – ELW #588
We All Are One in Mission – ELW #576
Chris Is Made the Sure Foundation – ELW #645
Built on a Rock – ELW #652
Reflection on Matthew 16:13-20
by Pastor Kelli Schmit
Introductions and identities are important. Many are memorable and rather quotable: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Just as memorable is: “I am Moana of Motunui. You will board my boat, sail across the sea, and restore the heart of Te Fiti.”
Maybe you’re more of a Parks and Recreation fan, and love how the character who went by Jerry for years, it turns out he was really named Gerry, but he was too shy to correct anyone on his first day of work. But through the series he was also called Larry and Terry, so who knows. And this confusion and apathy fits who the character was.
This gag and these introductions are memorable because names and identities are important. Today we hear Jesus ask the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter nails the answer. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Simon Peter gets it. Gold star. Most improved swimmer. You wanna be like this guy.
But poor Simon Peter doesn’t get to bask in his glory for long. In just a few moments, in the very next story actually, we hear Jesus tell him, “Get behind me, Satan.” And much later, we know that he will thrice deny even knowing Jesus. With Simon Peter, we see someone who both completely gets it, and who completely misses it – all in the same person. This gives me quite a bit of hope because sometimes I think I am crushing it, and sometimes I think I’m being crushed by it. I need Simon Peter because I am Simon Peter.
But, in his better moments, Simon Peter correctly identifies Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. I was struck by the word “living” that was added in there. Saying that Jesus was the Son of God would have been correct. At his baptism, when Jesus came up from the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son.” So “Messiah, Son of God” would have been a perfectly fine answer. Simon Peter would still have earned his gold star, but the word “living” was included. This means something.
This means that God is the God of the living and those living anew in God. God is about life – protecting life, affirming life, restoring life, hoping for life, navigating life, working towards fullness of life, saving life, and resurrecting life. God is the living God. Present tense. God isn’t a past-tense God. God is not a “checked out – be back in five – on a coffee break” sort of God. Our living God is still going, still working, still moving, still creating, and still generating life. God is working toward life for all of creation. We see throughout the scriptures how God is consistently the living, actively present-tense, God.
Abraham and Sarah thought they would be childless, but through one tiny baby, they not only became parents, but God did them one better and promised that they – and all their descendants – would be God’s people forever.
When the Israelites were ripped from their Promised Land and forced to live in captivity in exile, God spoke to the people through the prophets, revealing to them that God’s living word was still being communicated even in Babylon. And then God called them to come back home. God made the wilderness like another Eden, filling the land with joy and gladness and songs of thanksgiving.
Two men from the Gadarenes were possessed by demons, demons who recognized who Jesus was. Jesus commanded them to leave the men and go into a herd of pigs, who then drowned. The men were empowered to return to their families and their communities. They were made whole and had another chance at life.
Time and time again – throughout generations and eras – God continues working for, moving towards, creating, and generating a fullness of life for all whom God loves. And we are drawn into this endless, living story.
Like Abraham and Sarah, we yearn for wholeness and comfort in our relationships. It is devastating when the future we dreamed of is either cut off or fades out of view. We desperately want to be in community and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. In the midst of adversity, God creates spaces for relationships to thrive, for companionships to develop, and presents reasons to hope…and we – collectively, as a community – are brought to life.
Like the Israelites plucked out of Israel and flung into Babylon, our whole world has been plucked out of a land that was familiar and comfortable, and we’ve been flung into uncharted territory. There is chaos in this pandemic exile but, even though we have not returned home, God promises to always be with us – no matter how near or far off “familiar and comfortable” may be, and God will be with us every step of the way, filling the land with joy and gladness.
Like the men possessed by demons, we are inundated by voices that tell us we are not worth loving and some of us are told we’re not worth living. Be it our paycheck, our gender, our skin color, our address, our size, our family, our education, our age, our whatever it may be, there are plenty of voices out there that say we don’t matter – that tries to limit who we are and who we were meant to be. But God directs those voices to the bottom of the baptismal font, God makes us whole, and God proclaims, “I made you. You are mine.”
The characters may change but it is still the same word, the same work, the same living God. In the past, here with us now, and will be with us forever. The living God is not old news but breaking news, breaking into our time and place and reality today. If it’s about death and destruction and limiting people’s wholeness and humanity, then it’s not from God. God is all about protecting, affirming, saving, and resurrecting life. That is God’s very identity and God’s very work in the world.
When asked who he says Jesus is, Simon Peter said, “The Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This leads us to wonder how we would answer that question. What adjectives, what descriptions, what characteristics do we give Jesus?
This is not just a fun little devotion question, brain teaser, but the way we identify Christ influences and shapes our actions in the world. Scholar Eric Barreto wrote about how Jesus’ question isn’t only about figuring out who Jesus is, but it is also about – and I quote – “shaping a community molded in light of his actions and teachings. And so these questions of identity are not just a matter of definition but of formation, not just doctrine but discipleship.”
So who do we say that Jesus is? How do we see him moving in the world? Does our discipleship reflect what we see and what we proclaim?
Is he the teacher of an expansive inclusivity or the teacher of limitations and exclusions? Is he the healer of ills or the ignorer of needs? Is he the Savior of nations or the Savior of the people that I like?
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t easy. It is not easy to model our discipleship after someone who embraced, healed, and saved people, especially people I would rather exclude, ignore, and dislike. Discipleship is not easy work, and sometimes we will be like Simon Peter and get it totally right…and sometimes we will be like Simon Peter and get it totally wrong. But the living God keeps working towards life – affirming and restoring our lives while modeling and inspiring our work to do the same.
And I see the living God at work in you. You keep showing up to these virtual worship services, whether it’s live or the recording. Week after week the living God draws you to worship. You show up for others who are showing up for you, and I see the God of life in your determined and faithful hope.
MLC’s committees and ministry groups continue to gather on Zoom, all to ensure there is not a lapse in caring for and supporting the mission of this congregation. Mental health resources are collected and shared, Bible studies are created and formatted, outreach efforts are pivoting and being redesigned, and the administrative functioning and benevolence of this congregation continues to unfold. This work is far-reaching and it is life-giving.
CLM staff – and all teachers everywhere – are changing how they offer care, support, and instruction to the students they dearly love. The question isn’t “if” but “how.” And these adjustments are taking place within the educational opportunities we will have for disciples of all ages coming this fall.
A number of people in our part of the Body of Christ stepped out in faith and participated in a conversation about race and racial justice. Members of this community felt called by God and then trusted one another enough to engage in this multi-faceted and complex subject matter, and the amount of listening, respect, and honesty that was shared continues to inspire and humble me.
And taking a step back, the 138 congregations in this geographic area that make up our synod – we are electing a new bishop next weekend. Because of covid, instead of 500+ people gathering in one space, we’re are doing this incredibly important work from our living rooms. This was no easy task to organize and pull together, but God’s people are determined to support the work of the larger Church, and it is beautiful.
Your commitment to God’s call of discipleship – your commitment to worship and ministry and teaching and justice and the larger Church – it is beautiful. It is the work of the living God. In short, you, dear people of God, are where I see the living God at work in the world. Thanks be to God, who is all about life.
 “Go Far With These Moana Quotes,” ohmy.disney.com, accessed August 20, 2020, https://ohmy.disney.com/quotes/2018/04/06/moana-quotes/.
 “Gary Gergich,” parksandrecreation.fandom.com, accessed August 20, 2020, https://parksandrecreation.fandom.com/wiki/Garry_Gergich.
 Dennis C. Duling, footnote to “Matthew 16.16” in The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised and Updated NRSV ed. Harold W. Attridge (San Francisco, HarperOne, 2006), 1696.
 Eric Barreto, “Preach This Week, August 24, 2014, Gospel Reading, Commentary on Matthew 16:13-20,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2162 (accessed August 16, 2020).
Let Us Pray
Let us pray: God of life, you are with us through wind and wave, through fear and panic, through faith and struggles to trust. Find us, wherever we may be, and draw near to us with the assurance that you will never leave. When we are battered by storms, give us courage. When the waters our calm, inspire us to support those overcome by storms of their own. We pray all of this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.