Reflection for the eleventh Sunday after Trinity

“Upon this rock, I will build my church.”

Reading: Matthew 16: 13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to 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. 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.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Reflection

When excavation work was carried out recently in the cathedral at Trim, it revealed a medieval stone wall under the foundation of the present building. This was most likely part of the earlier, much larger church which stood on the site dating back 700 years or more. And of course, there were earlier church buildings here prior to that since perhaps the fifth or sixth century. All of this reminds us of our ancient Christian heritage and the people who went before us and handed down the faith through the centuries to the present day.

Today’s gospel reading brings us right back to the foundation of the church by Our Lord, when he said: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church”. The Greek work Ekklesia, translated as church, is attributed to Jesus only twice in the gospel. It refers not to a building, or an institution, but to a community.

Matthew, Mark and Luke each recount Peter’s confession: “You are the Messiah” (or Christ). This remarkable declaration came in response to the question put to the disciples by Jesus: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” It would appear from their answers that many people thought Our Lord was a prophet, somebody who would point the way to God’s promised Messiah. The disciples had gradually come to the realisation that their master was much more than that and Peter was the first to articulate it. Jesus was the promised one sent by God – the Messiah.

Only Matthew records the words that follow Peter’s declaration of faith when Jesus commended Peter, saying that God had revealed this truth to him and the statement, “You are Peter (meaning rock) and on this rock I will build my church”. The community which Jesus inaugurated was to be a community of all those who, like Peter, place their faith in Christ. They were to be the building material from which the church was to be made.

Our Lord went on to make powerful statements about this community, the church. It will withstand and overcome the forces of evil. “The gates of Hades will not prevail against it”. Right from the beginning, this small community faced opposition and persecution, yet it survived and thrived and has continued through two millennia. Even under communist dictatorships, when all religion was suppressed, the church lived on.

Our Lord entrusted his power and authority to his church. Peter was conferred with “the keys of the Kingdom” – a symbol of authority signifying that the future church would act in the name of Christ. This was not just a human society, but one with divine authority. This community was to bring the Good News of Christ to the world.

It is remarkable, however, that all this was addressed to Simon Peter. He is the disciple with whom we can most readily identify – faithful, but flawed. Peter, the rock, who at one moment is boldly treading water, and at the next is sinking like a stone when his faith failed. Peter, who at one moment is full of understanding and then, is found lacking in faith. Peter who confessed Jesus as the Messiah, but who denied him following his arrest. Yet despite these weaknesses, Peter and the other apostles became the building blocks of Christ’s church, which spread the gospel through the known world. By the grace of God at work within us, we can all be moulded and enabled to serve Christ and his church.

The church has failed many times to live up to its calling as followers of Christ. At times it has abused the power entrusted to it, sometimes self-serving rather than self-giving. Today’s epistle reading from Romans chapter twelve is appropriate as we consider the role and purpose of the church. St Paul urged the Christians in Rome not to be conformed to this world (and the ways of worldly power), but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, so that they may discern what is the will of God. The advice that follows is something we all need to heed: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think”. Perhaps if that advice was taken to heart, there would be less division in the church.

During the current pandemic, in a time of great uncertainty, when church buildings were closed for worship, it is easy to become despondent and worried about the future of our church. Let us remind ourselves it is Christ’s church. Nothing can prevail against it. And despite the uncertainty we live through, he is its sure foundation. Amen.

Prayers of intercession

Let us pray to God for his church and the world.

God our Father, grant that your church, mindful of the privilege of its foundation and the duty of its commission, may ever confess the faith of Christ your Son and Redeemer. Bless this diocese, its people and Pat, our bishop. Strengthen us in the faith, guide us to know and do your will and equip us for your service.

Lord hear us. Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for our country, our government and all in leadership. Guide them to serve the common good. May they fulfil their responsibilities on the firm foundation of justice and truth. We pray for all who make and implement public health policy, that they may take effective measures in preventing the spread of the COVID 19 virus. May all our citizens act with responsibility and care for the welfare of others. Protect and strengthen all healthcare workers.

Lord hear us. Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for world leaders, the United Nations and the European Union. We pray for the people of Belarus, that they may achieve the aim of a fairly elected government that will serve its people with respect for human rights and justice. We pray for the people of Lebanon and especially for those who have suffered through the disaster in Beirut. Protect the injured, the homeless and all who have lost jobs and businesses.

Lord hear us. Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for our homes and families. We ask your blessing on all children and young people preparing to return to school. Support all principals, teachers and staff as they prepare to reopen schools, that they may be safe and healthy environments for learning and growth.

Lord hear us. Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for all who are sick in our hospitals, nursing homes and at home. Watch over all who are undergoing medical treatment or tests and those facing surgery. We pray for all who are worried or anxious and those who have suffered mentally through isolation. Grant them your peace, healing and strength.

Lord hear us. Lord graciously hear us.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with us all evermore. Amen.

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