13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,[a] the Son of the living God.” 17 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. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter,[b] and on this rock[c] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was[d] the Messiah.[e]
There is an old saying “I feel like some one pulled the rug out from under me.” People have used that phrase or idiom to mean that usually all support and assistance has been removed. When someone loses a job, all financial support has been removed. Not to mention the psychological aspect of sense of purpose and self-worth. When someone receives a diagnosis from a doctor it can feel like the rug has turned into a series of waves on the ocean. It keeps rocking the person back and forth through waves of guilt and anger, panic and lethargy. In our world of living through Covid-19 we have been exposed to very raw emotions as well.
We have been told how to live and relate to one another in public settings. We have seen businesses closed down, restrictions placed on hours of operation, the number of staff that can be in a building at a time, and asked to stay apart and wear masks. Some have seen loved ones get very sick, others have lived in quarantine for 2 weeks, and yet others have grieved someone’s passing. The physical toll is one thing but the emotional toll that is pulling the rug out from under many people. Our older relatives and friends are experiencing isolation on a grand scale. They yearn for family and friends physical contact and ability to move about freely. Yet they are vulnerable adults to the virus and are trying to protect themselves and their family so they are staying isolated for the greater good.
What does relief of all of this look like in our world today? How can we keep the rug from moving on us? We seek to be able to trust in something. We look for anything that will literally ground us and stop the waves of emotional hurt. Help can be found in the Word of God. Today’s passage from the gospel of Mark and Paul’s letter to the Romans reminds us of who we are and what truly can keep the rug from moving.
Jesus was dealing with the religious leaders again and defending himself when questioned about cleanliness and practicing the washing rituals which were a big deal if you remember the story from last week. Jesus and his disciples go to a new town Caesarea Philippi. This town was in the northern part of Israel by Mount Hermon and the Jordan River. It was a city founded by Herod who built it to honor Caesar Augustus. Herod willed the city to his son Phillip who took over after Herod died in 4 AD. This city was known for two things which help create the setting for the conversation. The first it was an example of power and what money could buy, it was elaborate and filled with monuments to the Greek god Pan from the underworld. And second, it was known as sin city, a modern-day Las Vegas. No respected Jewish person would be caught dead going there. It promoted drinking, gambling and sex. Nothing good can come from the malfeasance that occurs in a place like that.
It was here among the most sinful and needy people that Jesus asked the question of his disciples, first who do others say that I am. And secondly who do you say that I am. It is interesting that when the first question is asked about what others say, John the Baptist and Elijah are thrown out as names he might be. The place where they were standing was next to Mount Hermon, the place where in one week or ten days depending on the gospel you read Jesus will take three friends, they will climb Mount Hermon and then they will meet Elijah and Moses at the transfiguration. But before we get ahead of ourselves, we focus on the words Peter says. When asked by Jesus who he thinks he is, after seeing people healed, people given food and walking on water with Jesus he replies, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
What a profound statement. Not only does Peter recognize that Jesus is the one that all of Jewish history has been waiting on, but also the Son of the Living God. So many times, when we think of God we keep God in a special place, locked away, and at a distance, so we can call on God when we need something or we are out of options, but not too close to influence our everyday decisions. Peter recognizes another way of thinking about God. Peter sees God as active and moving along with them as they are experiencing these revelations of the kingdom of God. There is no way all the things could happen that he has witnessed if Jesus was not truly the Son of God. The real ruler and king of the world is not Herod’s son Phillip but Jesus standing in their midst.
Jesus turns to Simon and names him Peter which means the rock. Petros in Greek or Cephas in Aramaic, all names that are associated with Peter now in the Bible. Jesus says that he will build the church upon him and the gates of Hades or Hell will not prevail against him. Remember again where they are standing. In the place that Pan the god of the underworld lives and is celebrated and sin is common, this is the place for a church. It’s such a stark revelation when looked at in this light. A church would never be built among such filth could it? Shouldn’t churches be built on hills where people can see and worship, among people who will have money and fame and fortune to support it? It should be built in the suburbs where there are no housing projects and people of color and poor folk do not dare live. Jesus recognizes that people who are living in the streets and are in need because the rug has been pulled out from underneath them over and over need a place of refuge, a church a group of people who will care for them in the name of the Living God.
Jesus then throws down the gauntlet against Satan and tells Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The kingdom has been opened and the gates of hell are now closed. Evil has lost the great battle when we seek to open the gates of God’s reign. The ways we treat one another, the way we love each other are the things that get bound in heaven. When we judge and finger point and turn away from helping our neighbors those will be lost and not come into the kingdom of God. The evil, the wicked the rug moving moments will be tossed aside and only the good will prevail in God’s kingdom.
So here is the twist in all of this, if the keys to the kingdom were given away 2K years ago why are we so jacked up today? Why do we still fight among ourselves and judge people who are worthy or not worthy to receive our help, financial support, shared views in government, and just basic human decency? Why can’t we realize we are all in this together and work to do what is right for our friend, our neighbors and the stranger and the alien? The answer is simple and ugly—when we dehumanize people and make them less like us and more like them that we believe are evil, we can turn our backs and walk away.
Yet Paul reminds us “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” When we can echo the words of Peter and claim the messiahship of our Lord Jesus then we can no longer be of this world, but transformed to think like Jesus did when he was here and to move as the Living God moves us today. Paul says very clearly, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
Paul reminds us that faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit. We individually have been given gifts to build up the kingdom of God. The one that we turn our backs on has too been given a gift from the Holy Spirit. The person who is lonely and needs a phone call because of the pandemic is yearning to use their gifts. The one who lost a job and now needs federal assistance or welfare as some call it never dreamed this would happen to them, but they have gifts from the Spirit as well. The church is truly built in the middle of pain and suffering, and we are called to minister in the midst of sin city. The rug keeps moving only when we refuse to stand on a corner of it with someone else and stop the waves. While we are standing on that rug it never hurts to remind ourselves that Jesus is the messiah the Son of the Living God. Amen.