Matthew 16: 13-20
As I was doing my homework for this sermon I ran across a couple of comments made by others in my profession. The first one was simply to acknowledge that today is the 24th Sunday of Coronatide! That’s 20 weeks longer than Advent and 17 weeks longer than the season of Easter! It’s hard to believe that our church buildings have been closed and my living room has been transformed into a sanctuary for 24 weeks. The penitential season of Lent is only 40 days.
The other thing I read was a comment made by some pastor who said, “It’s not what we do, but what God does.”
That we haven’t been able to gather to worship as we have always done has produced hardship on so many of us, but it has also offered some creative ways of being faithful people who look for and find God’s presence and blessing. God is at work in all of this.
If you look at each of our readings today, it’s there. We are most certainly participants in the work God is doing, but what God is doing is what matters.
From the mid-wives who save infant’s lives to the mother of Moses who hides him and Pharaoh’s daughter who finds him. God’s work is being done.
It’s in the Psalm where the waters did not overwhelm the Israelites or for that matter, even us! God is present to guide them and us through the storm.
It is in Paul’s letter to the Romans where he writes about the grace God has given him – even him. And that each of us has unique gifts unlike anyone else so that this work God is doing can be accomplished.
And in the Gospel of Matthew after Peter says Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus says back to Peter, “here are the keys to the kingdom and you will be the foundation of the Church.” But it is God who binds us together to continue to do the work we are given to do.
It’s not what we do on our own, but what God does through us. And what God does is forgive, protect, fight for, love, challenge, and save.
The Church usually calls this Gospel today “The Confession of Peter.” After being the one to blurt out what seems to be the correct answer to a pop quiz, Jesus changes Simon’s name, and basically gives him a check for $100,000 AND the new car! But in the midst of it all, he says, “but you really didn’t come up with that all on your own – God put it in you to say it!”
In case you think Peter lives happily ever after, come back next week, because he gets knocked down pretty hard just a few verses later. But, that is for next week.
In all of these examples, times were challenging. The people in these stories were oppressed. They were no doubt frightened and fearful. I can’t imagine people didn’t find themselves feeling angry, grieving, hopeless. But God was always doing something to lead them in the right direction. How did these people stay faithful and hopeful?
How do we stay faithful and hopeful in times like now? The pandemic has caused so much death and misery. Isolation has challenged normally stable people, but overwhelmed people with mental health issues. It’s knocked our education system on it’s head and brought financial crisis to millions. And if that wasn’t enough, we find ourselves struggling for racial and gender equality, the Gulf of Mexico is being threatened by two hurricanes, and California is literally going up in flames! We are in the middle of such toxic political and civil discord that it would make a grown person cry. It often does!
How do we stay faithful and hopeful when all that is going on? We cannot send our kids back to school in the next couple weeks. We may have lost a job or half our retirement. Some have forgotten what it’s like to hold or be held by another human being. Our cities have become places of violence and rioting.
The balm would be to come together to support each other. To eat a meal with friends – any meal – but especially for us, a Holy one! It would be time spent with those who are frightened, to share our fears and offer or receive a hug. And it would be so nice to enjoy sports or a new movie or a concert to stave off the hard things in life for a couple of hours. But we cannot gather safely and so our hearts are being broken and our hope is threatened. It’s easy to feel frustrated and angry and hopeless with all that’s going on.
Think for a moment about what it is you’ve lost in these last 24 weeks. Pause
Let’s name that. It’s OK. It’s actually prayer – perhaps the best kind of prayer because it says we need God to protect us, fight for us, love us, and save us.
God is still doing what God does. God is still at work hiding us, finding us. Saving us from the overreaching waters. Still creating places within us that nurture hope and bring out acts of courage and caring. God is still building the Church.
It is the way we can now gather to give thanks and worship God. It isn’t what we’re used to, but God has brought together the body of Christ in all of its variations to be here in this moment. This gallery view of each face is a mosaic of blessing and hope.
God has shown up to create a new way. It is known in Zoom knitting, Zoom Compline. It is known in food distributions and donation drives that not only serve those in need, but has give others of us work to do to be channels for God’s work to be done.
It has created opportunities of justice and peace in the form of protests and offering black and brown people more hope than they’ve had in years.
Does it solve all our problems? No it doesn’t. But it shows us that God shows up in all kinds of ways to create new kinds of hope.
Now think for a moment about what it is you’ve gained in these last 24 weeks. Pause
It is as simple as a note or a phone call. As complex as searching for treatment or a cure for this disease. It is as challenging as carrying a sign in the streets. It is as merciful as caring for the sick. It is as giving as donating goods to your favorite charity. It is as life-saving as giving blood.
God is here with us, putting not just words in our mouths to say Jesus is the Messiah, but using our hands and feet to build up the City of God! That is showing the world what God does! That is giving us the keys to the kingdom if you will, That is providing the doors to be wide open to let everyone in for everyone deserves to be held, and hopeful, and nourished, and comforted, and challenged, and saved.
The Reverend Patty Baker, Vicar
St. Clare Episcopal Church