Reclaim Christianity: August 27, 202

August 27, 2023

 Year A, Pentecost 12                              Matthew 16:13-20                                                                 

was recently talking to a friend who is not Christian, but is considering
becoming a Christian.  While she believes
in Jesus and gets a great deal from Christian worship, she is reticent to
convert because of how her peers perceive Christianity.  She said, “People think Christians are
judgmental and hypocritical.  I am just
not sure I want to be associated with what people perceive as Christianity.”  Unfortunately this didn’t surprise me.  I have had Christians tell me that they no
longer label themselves as Christian because they don’t want to be associated
with Christians as a whole.  I even had a
pastor tell me that recently.  What is
interesting to me is that none of these people who don’t want to be labelled as
Christian have a problem with Jesus, but they do feel the need to disassociate
themselves from Christianity as a whole. 

get it. There have been many times when I have read an article or seen a post
from a Christian that made me absolutely crazy. 
 It’s always the craziest
Christians who get the most press or tend to project their message the loudest.  And this isn’t a recent phenomena.  People have done horrific things in the name
of the Christian faith for almost as long as people have gone by the name
Christian.  So what do we do about it? Do
we find a new name? Do we just give up on organized religion?  Of course not.  Instead, let’s stop letting the minority
define what Christianity is for the rest of us. 
We also have to realign ourselves with the core aspects of our faith.  It’s so easy to get lost in the details or
the things that we disagree on. You know the saying that the devil is in the
details, I think that is absolutely true when it comes to organized

Gospel reading tells us the very core, the essence of Christianity.  Jesus was in Caesarea Philippi when he asked
the disciples who people said that he was. There were many theories—mostly that
he was either a new prophet, or a legendary prophet like Elijah who had
returned.  Then Jesus asked them—but who
do you say that I am?  Peter, who always
liked to have the right answer said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of living
God.”  Clearly that was the right answer
because Jesus replied to Peter, “Blessed are you…For flesh and blood has not
revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven…you are Peter, and on this rock I
will build my church.”

 It’s easy to read these words and assume that Jesus
has just proclaimed Peter to be the rock…which can be problematic given that
only a few verses later Peter contradicts Jesus and Jesus calls him Satan.  What might make more sense is that it’s not
Peter who is the rock…but the declaration that Peter made.  Peter had confessed Jesus to be the Messiah.
That’s what we say in our creed every Sunday. 
That is what we say in many parts of our liturgy. It is the foundation
on which Christianity is built.  Jesus is
the Messiah.   Do you know the word often
used in place of Messiah—the Christ. 
That is why we are called Christians—because we believe that Jesus is
the Messiah, the Christ.  Are we really
ready to give that up because a few people have made us look bad?

There are only two
places in the Gospels where the word church is used, here and two chapters
later in the same gospel.  It’s
interesting that the place that Jesus first mentions the church is when Peter
has acknowledged him for who he truly is. 
The church carries the truth about who Jesus is.  At our best, we represent Christ to the
world.  At our worst, we deviate so much
from the message and identity of Jesus that we actually scare people away from
using the word Christian. And in some ways that’s unfair.  The weight of the Christian identity should
not be on our shoulders.

 It isn’t. 
Peter’s proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah was declared to be the
foundation of the church.  But look at
all the ways that Peter messed up. He contradicted Jesus.  He denied him. He abandoned him.  Jesus never told him, “The church will only succeed
if you can be a good example Peter.”  No,
even when Peter confessed him to be the Christ, Jesus acknowledged that he
didn’t get there by human wisdom or understanding.  He was able to see Jesus as the Messiah
because his Father in heaven revealed it to him.  The Church and the Christian faith has
survived thus far not because of the humans who are trying to follow Jesus, but
because God wills it to be so.  We should
always endeavor to be good Christians, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in
this world.  But we can stop thinking
that we have to save the church or that we have to defend Christianity.  We have a savior and it’s Jesus, not us.

Do you know why it
matters that this interaction with Peter happened in Caesarea Philippi?  Because this was the place where the Greek
god Pan reigned.  The idea of the church
was first introduced in hostile territory.  
At that time and place, they were not surrounded by fellow Jews who were
open to the message of Jesus. They were surrounded by idol worshippers.  Conflict was all around.  And it still is.  Yet neither Jesus or the early church tried
to create culture wars.  Instead of
focusing on who they were up against, they focused on spreading the Christian
message, but not because they were trying to crush some else’s message.   They felt that they held a story that was
filled with love and compassion, a story that would transform the lives of so
many.  So through conflict and
persecution, they held on to the message of Jesus Christ—not because he was a
good guy—not because he was a prophet. 
But because he was and is the Messiah, the son of the living God.

And that is what I hope
you at St. John’s can focus on in the coming months.  You are not defined by the clergy.  You aren’t even defined by the Episcopal
Church or the long history of St. John’s. 
You are defined by Jesus, the son of the living God.  It’s going to be tempting to get lost in the
details of the transition and feel anxious about what may or may not be.  But remember that each one of you is equipped
with the message of Jesus Christ.  Don’t
stop spreading that message because you don’t have a rector.  This is your time to be the church.  Remind yourselves of how amazing it is to be
Christian and be louder and more persistent than the people who are distorting
the message of Jesus Christ.   Don’t ever be ashamed of being a Christian.
Just keep your focus on the love of God in Christ Jesus. If we can do that, the
gates of Hades will not prevail against us. 
That means, not even death can defeat our faith and our church.  Who are we? 
We are Christians.