Perugino, approximately 1450-1523. Christ gives the keys of the kingdom to Peter, detail, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
Perugino, approximately 1450-1523. Christ gives the keys of the kingdom to Peter, detail, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

O God,
you blessed Abraham and Sarah,
and made them a great nation.
Keep us in remembrance
of the rock from which we are hewn,
that the waste places of our lives
may blossom to your glory. Amen

RCL readings for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost may be found here.

I’ve been fascinated by rocks ever since I moved out of the piedmont south into more hilly terrain when I was a kid. Boulders protruding from the hillside, old stone walls marking boundaries, chunks of granite hewn from deep quarries have all captured my imagination. We  think of rocks as hard, impenetrable, sturdy, strong, everlasting and unchanging, but in fact  rocks began as liquids and were formed and solidified through a long process of cooling and undergoing pressure. Despite their strength, they are not indestructible. If you have sharp enough and strong enough tools you can cut them or break them; if you have explosives you can blast them apart. Exposed to natural elements over time—wind, water, the steps of humans and other creatures, rocks can be worn away, eroded, reduced to dust. In fact, the rocks we see are undergoing a constant process of erosion, much as we humans are undergoing a constant process of aging.

Barre Gray granite Barre VT revdrkris
Barre Gray granite Barre VT revdrkris

Rocks as metaphors or images of strength and stability are found throughout scripture. In Isaiah, Abraham and Sarah are compared to a rock or quarry—the foundation from which the people of Israel were hewn. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus uses the house built upon the rock as a metaphor for those whose faith is strong enough to withstand trials and tribulations. And in today’s gospel Jesus calls one of his disciples, Simon Bar Jonah, “Petros” or “Peter”, the masculine form of the Greek word for “rock”, and goes on to say that “on this rock, I will build my community.”

The name “Peter” is familiar to us, but “Petros” or “Peter” was not used as a name in the pre-Christian era. So what was Jesus up to when he called Simon Bar Jonah “Peter”? In Greek literature, petros was a sign of imperturbability and firmness, traits similar to those of rocks. These traits have hardly seemed to characterize Simon in our gospel narrative so far. Although he sometimes seems to “get” who Jesus is (in this passage, he seems to have a flash of insight,) at others he back peddles and flounders, and we know that when Peter will eventually deny even knowing Jesus when he is arrested.

How might Simon Peter serve not only as the foundation of Jesus’ community, the one we know as “church?” And how might he be a model for us as we seek to be disciples?  Perhaps it’s in his willingness to change, his openness to momentary insights, or his inner strength and sturdiness that eventually allows him to weather the tumultuous days of the early church.

Not only does Jesus promise to found his community on Peter and his witness, he also promises him the keys to the kingdom. It’s easy to imagine Peter with the keys to the pearly gates of heaven; what other ways might the metaphor play out? If Jesus is proclaiming the here-and-now realm of God, what might the keys to that realm look like for us? How might we use them to unlock the kingdom and help to fully instantiate it?

If Peter just isn’t your guy, perhaps you might want to consider the various gifts of the Spirit Paul outlines in his letter to the Romans. How do we identify our gifts? How do we use them in the world?

Lots to ponder! Join the discussion with your questions, your insights … whatever you’ve got!

 

14 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary~~Keys of the Kingdom edition

  1. I am going with Romans, though I am extending to verse 21. The question at the forefront of my prep thus far has been : How would you/your life be different without faith? How has God acting in your life changed who you are?

    I think I will essentially be talking about sanctification…now to reawaken my Methodist side in preparation for that topic.

    My early thoughts (such as they are, hard to write them the first day back from vacation) are here:
    http://ministerialmutterings.blogspot.ca/2014/08/looking-ahead-to-august-24-2014-11th.html

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  2. The church where I’m doing pulpit supply (last week and this) uses two readings, so I’m using Romans and Matthew.

    Continuing from a theme I started last Sunday with putting the church (the body of Christ) in place of Jesus with the Canaanite woman, I’m thinking of “Who is Jesus? Who are WE?”

    If we accept that the church is the body of Christ – the hands and feet of Jesus in this world, then we collectively are anointed. The church people meet on Earth is the Jesus people imagine in Heaven. What we say and do as Christians has real consequences.

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  3. Since Enneagram 7s are known to always go for the laugh, I’ll play to my strengths. There’s someone famous (I can’t remember who) that said, “The problem with living sacrifices is they keep crawling off the altar.”

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  4. I’ve been planning to adapt a sustainable sermon on Matthew and Isaiah for a supply gig this Sunday. It emphasizes the idea that certain ideas and practices are handed down to us; they represent the rock from which we are hewn:
    “Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the LORD. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” (Isaiah 51:1, from the alternative Hebrew Bible reading)
    Honestly, it’s a very listener-friendly sermon, with the conflict being presented one about how the different sides of my family said grace at mealtimes. I’m looking over it today to see where I can bring in the difficult but unavoidable topics in the news right now, but I will admit to being both moved to speak of them and hesitant to do it in a friend’s congregation while he’s on vacation. On the up side, maybe they’ll be glad to have him back. It’s my second time preaching there this summer, and they liked my complex sermon on Abraham and Isaac, with tons of Biblical context and a challenge for how we live today. I guess I’m looking for encouragement to speak about it but also caution if others think I ought to hear it.

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    1. Martha, I would invite supply preachers to challenge the congregation. This may be self-serving, but I find it helpful to have them get a perspective that shows them that others are also “out there” at the edges of comfort–or beyond.

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  5. Oh, my. Once again, God shows her sense of humor. I have just learned of a parishioner who has contacted several others to tell them that I am not Christian and do not believe in the divinity of Christ. He is supposedly quoting from a sermon of mine. It is so wrong, and I’m wracking my brain to figure out what I might have said that he heard in that way. He will definitely be in church on Sunday as he is providing some music. An opportunity, I guess, to explore, “who do you…who do we…say that I am?”

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  6. Thanks for your reflections, Gord. I am also preaching on Romans 12 – and I’m wishing I could remember my off-the-cuff remarks on this text yesterday at the nursing home! It will be a shorter message, because I want to give people time to complete a spiritual gifts survey as part of worship (and I’m not exactly sure of the logistics for that exercise yet, either). I hope to get people thinking about their giftedness apart from recruiting leaders/workers for the coming year, so I’m glad this text allows us to do it now, a couple of months before nominating season heats up.

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    1. Thanks for the suggestion – I have half a sermon on Romans 12, and I think I’ll just quit before it becomes rambling and move into a spiritual gifts inventory with the congregation. Great idea!

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  7. I am supplying at a different church than last week where I compared Peter’s “if you are who you say you are…” of the week before with the Canannite woman’s “Lord”.And used the woman’s being “other” to bring in the horror and conflicts in the world. Peter is the perfect foil for higlighting humanity’s weaknesses so I plan to stay with him. I will try to again bring in the troubles in the world. I don’t see how we can avoid doing that at this time. Last week’s congregation appreciated it because, as many said: “we are all worried about it”.

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