rock reflections

for my sermon this morning (and for this coming wednesday), i preached about rocks.

the gospel text is matt 16, where simon peter confesses that Jesus is the messiah, and then Jesus calls him the “rock” aka petros aka peter…

here are some thoughts about rocks:

I’m not a person who really knows a lot about rocks. I’ve never understood why people are so interested in collecting them, buying the books to find out what kind of rock is what and why it matters so much. In my mind, all rocks are basically the same unless it happens to have a fun shape or a pretty color or comes from a special place. Some rocks hold a special place simply because of my fondness for their shape or color or the fact that they serve as a [cheap] souvenir.

But for the most part:  A rock is a rock.

Rocks can be annoying and yet useful. I think of the fields where I’ve seen rocks piled high so that they are not in the rest of the soil. Farmers move the rocks out of their way so that they can better plant crops. This is a phenomenon across the world. In Ireland, the farmers took time to move the rocks and stack them up. Only unlike the field along Hwy 1 north of Binford where the giant boulders are piled up in several piles, Irish farmers use the rocks as fences.

In one of my trips through the Irish countryside, I learned that people don’t just leave them alone. Part of the appeal is that the fence can be pushed over to make a way, much like opening a gate. Then they simply restack the rocks. And to my eye, I would never be able to guess where in the fenceline the gate had been. It’s amazing how Americans are able to claim that barbed wire fences changed so much of history, while in Ireland, it was all about the rocks.

And those rocks are still there, even if not in the same order.

The fences may have been pushed down but are always rebuilt using the same rocks as before. The fence may not look identical, but the same foundation is still there. Rocks serve a purpose. The rock is a foundation for Irish fences that has endured centuries and millennia.

So when we read about rocks in our passages from Isaiah and Matthew, it’s important to think about the enduring nature of a rock.

A rock is old. While it can be altered or destroyed, it is not easily changed. It takes time for any change. Think of a smooth stone you can find in or near water. The water over years has smoothed away any rough edges. Or think of how plant roots can slowly break apart a rock. Buildings and monuments that were made of rock have endured and remain standing after the passing of time, even if they may not look as they did at the beginning. But rock endures.

So today, when we read about the man who is called rock, it is important to figure out what about him is going to last for centuries.

For most of his life, he was Simon. All of a sudden, he is called Petros aka rock. And it’s quite a nickname.

It could be a funny nickname, referring to how hard-headed he can be. This is the man who seems to be messing up in every story we hear about him. He jumps into situations where he shouldn’t be. He stumbles around while saying silly things. He is constantly learning through making mistakes. He is basically a rock when it comes to learning.

But in our story, Peter is the one who ultimately gets it.

Today we read the one story that seems to make up for all his hardheaded mistakes in other stories. We read about how he is the one able to recognize that Jesus is the Messiah. And this is key.

The gospel lesson includes the list that the disciples spout off as they repeat what they have heard others say. But in the end, Peter is the one who confesses Christ.

But what is the rock upon which the new church is found founded: Peter the person or Peter’s confession?

Peter the person is not an ideal person to found a church. This particular rock is not always steadfast in his wisdom. He will never be able to endure for generations. As a human being, he is faulty and full of mistakes. He died and his body is no more.

But his confession has withstood the test of time. What wisdom he possessed has become essential to a large church across the world. Peter the person may not be a wise choice to found a church upon, but his confession makes sense as the bedrock upon which a new church can rest.


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