Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sermon for 21 August 2011, Proper 16A

The Rev. Paul J Cain
Matthew 16:13-20
On This Rock
Proper [16] (A), 21 August 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The disciples, in some ways, are still clueless. Reason and experience cannot grasp what faith can. It is not being a descendant of Abraham that saves. It is not citizenship in a particular nation, skin color, or race, or color, but it is creed. Who is your Savior? Believe on the Lord Jesus with all your heart, soul, and mind. Trust and pray in humble faith, our precious gift from the Lord. The Canaanite woman of last week had a Savior, and so do you.
Today’s text skips over Jesus healing many, feeding four thousand, the demand of Pharisees and Sadducees for a sign, and also Jesus’ clear teaching that the false teaching of those religious leaders spreads like leaven in dough.
In the middle section of Matthew 16, Peter says the right things by faith, by a direct revelation from the Father. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Peter confessed. And our Lord responded, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah…And I tell you, you are Peter…” Peter, as a nickname, would be like calling him “Rocky” in English. Watch next week for Peter’s new second nickname.
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, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
What Jesus says about Himself in verse 20 is just what Simon Peter confessed in verse 16. This is most certainly true. What makes this text controversial and front-page news in July and August of 2011 is the continued disputed meaning of verse 18: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Roman Catholics claim that this is where Jesus makes Peter the first Pope. Lutherans and others respectfully object. More on that later.
Let’s handle verse 19 as a way of better understanding 18. In verse 19 Jesus says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Clear enough, except for the word, “you.” “You” here is singular, not the plural “you” of the South, “Y’all,” the plural “you” of the old northwest, “youse guys,” or the plural “you” of parts of some eastern mountain states, “y’uns.” In verse 19, “you” means Peter. Does that make Peter the first Pope? Does that mean that Mr. Rocky is the only one with this authority to bind and loose, forgive and retain given him from the Lord? No and no. And those are the questions we are trying to answer in verse 18.
Consider the fulfillment of Matthew 16:19 in John 20: “19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
What’s different this time? The difference is in the word “you” in the original Greek. There it is plural. Translated into Texan, Jesus really says, “Peace be with y’all. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending y’all….Receive the Holy Spirit. If y’all forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if y’all withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Here’s my point: Verse 19 ultimately did not refer only to Peter. Nor does what Jesus says in verse 18: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Roman Catholics claim that this is where Jesus makes Peter the first Pope. Lutherans and others respectfully object. It is not that Lutherans are “anti catholic.” We are very much in favor of what Christians have everywhere and always believed about God, Christ, sin, and salvation in the Bible. Lutherans have been one of many groups throughout Christian history that have objected to the papacy because of what Roman Christians claim about that office.
In the last month, politics and theology have collided when it was revealed that a candidate for President of the United States quit membership in a Lutheran Church. The full article is found online at the Wall Street Journal.
[The full article is printed here for context. Sections in bold were read aloud.] I’ll only read the relevant theological portions.
American political reporters aren't known for their vocal support of Roman Catholic teachings. But when they discovered recently that Minnesota Congresswoman and Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was once a Lutheran, they began defending the papacy as if they were the Vatican's own Swiss Guard. They asked with concern, could Catholics even vote for a former Lutheran?
Ms. Bachmann's former church, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, hasn't followed the mainline Protestant church practice of regularly revising its doctrines. The Lutheran confessions, or statements of faith, are found in the Book of Concord, first published in 1580. They explain the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone. Accordingly, they don't believe the pope's authority comes from God.
This shouldn't be surprising to anyone familiar with the Reformation, but it hit the press hard. "Michele Bachmann leaves church accused of anti-Catholic bias," the Los Angeles Times reported. The Atlantic Monthly: "Michele Bachmann's Church Says the Pope Is the Antichrist." From the Washington Post, we learned that the Lutheran Confessions use "unfortunate wording."
To be sure, the "antichrist" rhetoric is strong. Found in Martin Luther's Smalcald Articles, such language is part of a tradition that reaches back into the 10th century. As a National Council of Churches Committee has written, "Not only dissidents and heretics but even saints had called the bishop of Rome the 'antichrist' when they wished to castigate his abuse of power."
During the Reformation, Catholic statements against Lutheran beliefs were similarly strong. The Council of Trent's canons declared that anyone who believed in justification by faith alone was to be "anathema," or cut off from the church.
These words shock modern ears. But in the Reformation era "there was a much greater degree of rough and tumble in the way Christians addressed issues and those with whom they disagreed," explained the Rev. Paul McCain, publisher of a 2005 reader's edition of the Book of Concord.
Still, the unlikely media frenzy over Ms. Bachmann's former church obscured some important points. Accusations of anti-Catholicism notwithstanding, Lutherans (unlike some Protestants) actually affirm that the Roman Catholic Church is part of the Christian church, noting that it retains the preaching of God's word and administration of the sacraments.
Reporters also missed the distinction between individual popes and the papacy. The Protestant Reformers certainly weren't fans of Pope Leo X or other individual popes who abused the office's power. But the Lutheran opposition was and is mainly to the papacy's claim to speak with authority equal to or surpassing the word of God, and to its claim that membership in the Catholic Church is a condition for salvation.
"In each of these teachings, the papacy placed itself in clear opposition to the foundation of the Christian faith, and therefore in opposition to Christ himself," Wisconsin Synod President Mark Schroeder said in a statement this week. "Although the Catholic Church may have softened the way in which it refers to these doctrines, it has never repudiated or corrected them," he added.
Some Lutheran church bodies have said that the teachings on the papacy were true at the time they were written but are no longer in effect. Certainly the original historical context is key, when the memory of popes who had abused indulgences, murdered rivals, launched wars and squandered church resources was fresher. Today, Lutherans still hold that the office represents an unbiblical authority to speak unilaterally for the church.
And yet the current pope, Benedict XVI, is particularly close to the Lutherans. As his biographer John Allen has written, the Lutherans are to Pope Benedict what the Orthodox were to his predecessor John Paul: "the separated brethren he knows best, and for whom he has the greatest natural affinity." Indeed, far from the sectarian battles that reporters may envision, the fact is that confessional Lutherans and Pope Benedict are partners in the battle against what he has called the "dictatorship of relativism."
Catholics and Lutherans know where they disagree and why. They'll be forgiven for taking a pass on the media's new interest in resolving their disputes.
I pray for a reconciliation and unity of all who confess Christ on the basis of Scripture. I pray also for a more respectful and civil public and theological conversation. Further, since the Wisconsin Synod is particularly close in doctrine and practice to the Missouri Synod, as I have stated before, I pray that we will one day be in fellowship again, as we were for work on The Lutheran Hymnal. This would be one step toward a godly reconciliation of all Christians under the uniting power of God’s word.
On what basis do Christians today defend their teaching that the Papacy, while a possibly helpful human institution, is not a divinely mandated position in the Church?
The ESV Study Bible says: Matt. 16:18 you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. This is one of the most controversial and debated passages in all of Scripture. Roman Catholics have appealed to this passage to defend the idea that Peter was the first pope. The key question concerns Peter's relationship to “this rock.” In Greek, “Peter” is Petros (“stone”), which is related to petra (“rock”). The other NT name of Peter, Cephas (cf. John 1:42; 1 Cor. 1:12), is the Aramaic equivalent: kepha’ means “rock,” and translates in Greek as Kēphas. “This rock” has been variously interpreted as referring to (1) Peter himself; (2) Peter's confession; or (3) Christ and his teachings. For several reasons, the first option is the strongest.
[Here, I must strongly disagree. Those are the three main interpretations, I find it uncomfortably strange for an American Evangelical study Bible to agree with Medieval Roman theology.] à
(More ESVSB) Jesus' entire pronouncement is directed toward Peter, and the connecting word “and” (Gk. kai) most naturally identifies the rock with Peter himself. But even if “this rock” refers to Peter, the question remains as to what that means. Protestants generally have thought that it refers to Peter in his role of confessing Jesus as the Messiah, and that the other disciples would share in that role as they made a similar confession (see Eph. 2:20, where the church is built on all the apostles; cf. Rev. 21:14). Jesus' statement did not mean that Peter would have greater authority than the other apostles (indeed, Paul corrects him publicly in Gal. 2:11–14), nor did it mean that he would be infallible in his teaching (Jesus rebukes him in Matt. 16:23), nor did it imply anything about a special office for Peter or successors to such an office...

à In contrast, The Lutheran Study Bible gets right to the point: 16:18 Peter. See note, Mk 3:16. on this rock. Peter’s rocklike confession of faith was the solid foundation on which Christ would build His Church (7:24–27; Eph 2:19–22). “Certainly the Church has not been built upon the authority of a man. Rather, it has been built upon the ministry of the confession Peter made, in which he proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (Tr 25). [Jan] Hus: “Christ is therefore the foundation by whom primarily and in whom primarily the holy catholic church is founded, and faith is the foundation with which it is founded—that faith which works through love” (The Church, p 73). à I will build My church. The Church is the assembly, or gathering, of all believers. Christ is the builder of the Church, and each individual member is a living stone (1Pt 2:5). This passage and 18:17 are the only times “church” is used in the Gospels. See pp 1901–2. gates of hell. Figure of speech, meaning what causes a person to enter hell (Ps 9:13; 107:18). [The Venerable] Bede: “The gates of Hell are wicked doctrines, which seduce men and bring them to Hell” (VB, p 154). Death will not overcome the Church because it rests on the living Son of God (1Tm 3:15). “God’s eternal election does not just foresee and foreknow the salvation of the elect. From God’s gracious will and pleasure in Christ Jesus, election is a cause that gains, works, helps, and promotes our salvation and what belongs to it. Our salvation is so founded on it that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16:18)” (FC SD XI 8).[1]

à Politics and controversy aside, the main idea of today’s reading from Matthew 16 is the answer to Jesus’ question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Our confession of the Nicene Creed today is a fuller version of the right answer, correct because it is the one the Father revealed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is our congregation’s confession of faith. This is our church body’s confession of faith. This is the Christian confession of faith at all times and in all places. Christ is the builder and the cornerstone of the Church. Each believer is a living stone built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Christ has built the Church of which He Himself is Head. He is our mighty defender. “Our salvation is so founded…that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible (1616). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.