Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

Fragile, living stones - a "Passion" series based upon 1 Peter 2:4-10
"the stone of fear"

Message preached March 21, 2004
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Matthew 16:13-23

Order of Worship

            I was named for my grandfather, a stubborn Swede by the name of Oscar. Hold on, you may be wondering how I could be named for my grandfather, since I am Peter and he was Oscar. Well, it might be helpful to know that his full name was Oscar Sylvander Peterson. My uncle was also named for him, only he officially went by Oscar. I knew him, though, as "Uncle Pete."

            As many of you know, I identify deeply with a Bible character who shares the same name as me, my Uncle, and my grandfather. He was known as Simon bar Jonah, the "bar" meaning "son of" Jonah. He was also called "Peter" or, in the language of the New Testament, "Petros." He was a simple fisherman with an Aramaic name, Simon, and a Greek name, Petros, which may indicate that his upbringing wasnít as provincial as we might think at first glance. He wasnít exactly a "redneck" Galilean. He was bi-lingual. How many of us speak two languages fluently?

            One positive aspect of the recent film, "The Passion of the Christ," is that the characters donít speak in English. We know what they say through subtitles at the bottom of the screen. In this movie, there is more than one language spoken, between the Aramaic of the everyday folks in Palestine, the Latin of their Roman overlords, and the Greek which served as a connection between the two. I say this is positive, because we often seem to think that the world revolves around our language. In fact, if the truth be told, we may be afraid of the barrier that our differences in language around this globe often presents.

            Anyway, back to Peter - this name, "Petros" means something. Perhaps you have heard him elsewhere referred to as "Cephas" (New Testament  instances). This is just the Greek way of saying an Aramaic word which simply means, "rock." Actually, the word "Petros" means the same thing. Thatís right. "Rock." Now I know why my grandfather was such a stubborn man. He was a son of a rock, literally: "Peter-son." So am I.

            In this morningís episode from the gospel story, Jesus plays around with Peterís name. Let me refresh your memory. It was at a pivotal point along the way from the sea of Galilee to the cross of Jerusalem, that Jesus asked what his disciples had heard from the people about who they thought he really was. Then Jesus made it personal, asking for his discipleís own perceptions. It was Peter who first spoke up and spoke the word "Messiah." If this had been a game show, Simon Peter would have earned some significant points.

            What he did earn was a whole new take on his name. Jesus declared him to be the "Rock" upon which he would build his new community, the church. I can well imagine the conversation among the disciples after that moment, as on the one hand they were impressed, and on the other were a bit jealous of this designation. No doubt, if they were anything like the guys Iíve worked with over the years, there was probably a lot of ribbing given to this "rock." In fact, if you read between the lines of the New Testament, itís plain to see. Peter, after all, was not so revered a leader in the early church that his rather significant flops were not swept under the rug. On the contrary, his dirty laundry flies all over the place in the story as it has been passed down to us.

            In fact, in this very episode we have an example. Jesus has just pronounced Peter the rock of his church, when only a few verses later, Peter falls flat on his face. After that bright moment of declaring Jesus the Messiah, our Lord defined what "messiah" really meant. For him there would suffering and death in Jerusalem, with the comment about rising on the third day that was but a riddle to the disciples at that point. Peter, the new and improved rock guy, then rebuked Jesus for saying this. "God forbid it, Lord!"

            Why did Peter do this? Was he so puffed up by his new title and importance that he thought he now knew better than Jesus what was up? Perhaps. I donít have the key to unlock the inner workings of this manís motivations for doing what he did. However, I wonder if "fear" didnít play a significant role. Already this morning we have remembered, with our children, that day out on the sea when Peter stepped out of the boat onto the water, only to start sinking once he took his eyes off Jesus. With real fear in his voice, Iím sure, he cried out to Jesus for help. And our Lord reached out an pulled him up, saying, "why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:22-33)

            We also recalled that dark, dark moment later on in the story when Peter fell victim to fear and denied he even knew Jesus - not once, but three times (Matthew 26:69-75). All four gospels remember this moment. If I had been that Peter, I might have hoped that at least one account might leave out this part of the story - but no, there it is up on the marquee in flashing letters: "The Rock denies Jesus three times."

            Fear. We end up doing a lot of stupid stuff out of fear, donít we? Sometimes itís fear for ourselves. To be clear, Peterís denial on that dark night may have saved his life. This "rock" could possibly have been strung up on a cross right beside Jesus, and then upon whom would Jesus have built his church? Of course, every gospel also remembers Jesusí prediction that Peter would deny him. Knowing that may not have made it any easier for Peter to swallow his own actions once the cock crowed. Full of shame, and very afraid, he ran off and hid, just like all the other men who followed Jesus.

            I guess I identify so closely with Peter, not so much because we share the same name, but because his human side is so visible. And "fear" is a significant part of the picture of his life. Because of this, it is all-the-more surprising to see him boldly stand before the crowds on the day of Pentecost and be the very first person to preach the gospel. Everything after this is confirmation that Jesus knew what he was doing when he pronounced him the "rock." Of course, thatís not to say that fear didnít rear itís ugly head later. The whole issue of what to do with non-Jewish believers, for instance, was a hard one for him. Though he had been convinced in a dream that God showed no partiality, he flip-flopped a few times - perhaps afraid of what his fellow Jewish believers would think. This angered the apostle Paul to no end. But thatís another story.

            Peter eventually went to Rome and was himself martyred. According to the non-canonical letter of 1st Clement, it was there that Peter "endured not one or two but many trials, and thus having given his testimony went to his appointed place of glory" (5:4). Tradition says he was crucified upside down (Acts of Peter XXXVI - not a reliable source, see also John 21:18-19), his place of martyrdom called a "trophy" ("trophaia," see Eusebiusí History, II.25.7), which gives meaning to the refrain in that gospel song about cherishing "the old, rugged cross, Ďtil my trophies at last I lay down." Peter laid down his life and, along the way, his fear as well. Allow me to sing a song about this rock, written by Michael Card, entitled:

A Fragile Stone
Matthew 16:18, John 1:42

You bore the burden of a name, along a road that would lead to the cross
Bold and broken, upside down, a light for the least and the lost
He called you the rock, the foundation, of a temple formed from Godís love
His robe of forgiveness wrapping you up meant trusting in Him was enough

              chorus:   His love called you out on the water
                            And held you when you were alone
                            For you were the rock that was
                            Broken by love, forever the fragile stone

His love was the hammer that broke you by His gentle and powerful hand
The mystery of mercy undid your denials. At last you could finally stand.
The door that He opened was freedom. The door that He closed was your fear
Simply to rest in the arms of His love made all your doubts disappear
                                    (chorus)

A stone that is dropped in the water will vanish and soon disappear
But the waves that move out from the center
In time they will reach everywhere
                                    (chorus)

Written by Michael Card and Scott Roley
© 2002 Mole End Music (ASCAP)/Scott Haley Music
buy the album

clips of this song can be heard at grassrootsmusic.com
and artistdirect.com

            You hold in your hands a stone. Thus far in our journey through Lent toward Easter, this stone has symbolized many things: rejection, sanctuary, stumbling, temptation. I wonít go through just now all that in my previous messages Iíve encouraged you to explore in your own life as we approach the death and resurrection of our Lord, the passion of the Christ. We can direct you to those past sermons, if you are interested.

            This morning and throughout this coming week, Iíd like you to remember the fragile stone that was the disciple Peter, and through his life to ponder your own. Of what are you afraid? Fear can lead us into some strange territory, whether we are afraid for ourselves, or for someone else. Out of fear we can do some pretty stupid stuff, canít we? I know thatís true for this Peter, who often feels like anything but a rock. Too often this rock rejects my Lord, denying what God has done and can do, if only I give up (lay down) my "trophy" - if you will, my fearful clinging on to my life.

            Too often I am not "a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true," but rather I am a stumbling block to myself and others. The good news is that God often trips me up to get my attention and, lying flat on the ground, Jesus reaches out to me - like he did to Peter when he was sinking in the water - picking me up and getting us on our way. Too often I give in to my fears, my friends, and try to get through according to my own perceptions (clouded as they may be by my fears). When I do so, I am not walking with Jesus, but am rather getting in his way. Like Peter, I can reflect the will of Satan rather than God. But Jesus loves me as I am, and works with this grandson of a stubborn Swede.

            Thatís my story, how this stone is feeling in my pocket. How about you? I encourage you - with this tangible object, touch your own fears, and reach out to the One who helps you overcome them. If Jesus could do that with the fragile stone called Peter, or with this rock-head who also goes by that name, imagine what he can do with you. Upon this rock (Simon Peter, me, you) he has built his new community, his church, and the gates of Hell cannot prevail against it. Amen? Amen.

online resources for this scripture text:  vs. 16-20, vv. 21-28

For commentaries consulted, see Matthew.


©2004 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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