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Archive for January 18th, 2020

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Introduction:  I thought of this sermon as today, as I write, is the Festival of the Confession of St. Peter.  A week from today is the Conversion of St. Paul.  Someone decreed that this should be the week of Christian unity which many espouse and promote including the Roman Catholic Church. Considering so many Christians and whole denominations have parted company with “sound doctrine”(see  1 Timothy 6:2-4  and also 2 Timothy 3:1-4) and the faith delivered to the saints once and for all (see Jude 1:3), the call to repentance first needs to be heard,  before flaccid talk of ‘unity’ at the expense of saving Truth. Someone wants to take over the Church.

Pr. Bonhoeffer preached this sermon on the very day the Nazis had decreed national church elections.  The Nazis wanted their own in positions of leadership in the Church and so take it over. This was Pr. Bonhoeffer’s last sermon in Berlin, and it was a time of a crucial political and religions question put before the German electorate by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer’s Young Reformation students campaigned for the opposing candidates under the motto:  “Church must remain church.” Herr Hitler took to the airwaves in a radio speech that day and the Nazis’ measures won by two-thirds of the vote for the ‘German Christians’.   

I wonder how many Lutherans in Germany were wondering:  How did we get to this point?  I have heard this as a pastor from many members and it is in my thoughts.  An alien and totalitarian religious and political ideology has raised its serpentine head. So many churches have allowed for it, under the guise of the good, allowing for the devaluation first of sound doctrine and then logically following, marriage and life in the womb. The serpent’s head is shown, and the body can and will follow.  The question is raised: what do we do?  Pr. Bonhoeffer begins his sermon with way to live as the Church and so I have italicized the first two paragraphs.  But read on, as those paragraphs are based upon the Lord’s own Word to keep us steadfast in His Word. This is today, as it was in the ‘30s in Germany, a “church struggle”, not primarily, and especially,  a political struggle.

SERMON TEXT: Matt. 16:13-18

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.


If it were left to us, we would rather avoid the decisions which are now forced upon us; if it were left to us, we would rather not allow ourselves to be caught up in this church struggle; if it were left to us, we would rather not have to insist upon the rightness of our cause and we would so willingly avoid the terrible danger of exalting ourselves over others; if it were left to us, we would retire today rather  than tomorrow into private life and leave all the struggle and the pride to others. And yet-thank God-it has not been left to us.

Instead, in God’s wisdom, everything is going exactly as we would rather not have it go. We are called upon to make a decision from which we cannot escape. We must be content, wherever we are, to face the accusation of being self-righteous, to be suspected of acting and speaking as though we were proud and superior to others. Nothing shall be made easy for us. We are confronted by a decision, and a difference of opinion. For this reason, if we are honest with ourselves, we will not try to disguise the true meaning of the church election today. In the midst of the creakings and groanings of a crumbling and tottering church structure, which has been shaken to its very foundations, we hear in this text the promise of the eternal church, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail; of the church founded on a rock, Christ has built and which he continues to build throughout all time.

Where is this church? Where do we find it? Where do we hear its voice? Come all you who ask in seriousness, all you who are abandoned and left alone, we will go back to the Holy Scriptures, we will go and look for the church together. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Jesus went out into a deserted place with his disciples, close to the edge of the pagan lands, and there he was alone with them. This is the place where for the first time he promises them the legacy of his church. Not in the midst of the people, not at the visible peak of his popularity; but in a distant and unfrequented spot, far from the orthodox scribes and pharisees, far from the crowds who on Palm Sunday would cry out “Hosanna” and on Good Friday, “Crucify him,” he speaks to his disciples of the mystery and the future of his church.

He obviously believed that this church could not be built in the first place on the scribes, the priests, or the masses; but that only this tiny group of disciples, who followed him, was called to this work. And clearly he did not think that Jerusalem, the city of the Temple and the center of the life of the people, was the right place for this, but he goes out into the wilderness, where he could not hope that his preaching would achieve any eternal, visible effectiveness. And last of all he does not consider that any of the great feast days would have been suitable time to speak of his church, but rather he promises this church in the face of death, immediately before he tells of his coming passion for the first time. The church of the tiny flock, the church out in the wilderness, the church in the face of death–something like this must be meant.

Jesus himself puts the decisive question, for which the disciples had been waiting: “Who do people say that the Son of man is?” Answer: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Opinions, nothing but opinions; one could extend this list of opinions as much as one wanted. . . some say you are a great man, some say you are an idealist, some say you are a religious genius, some say you are a great champion and hero, who will lead us to victory and greatness. Opinions, more or less serious opinions– but Jesus does not want to build his church on opinions. And so he addresses himself directly to his disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” In this inevitable confrontation with Christ there can be no “perhaps” or “some say,” no opinions but only silence or the answer which Peter gives now: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living: God.”

Here in the midst of human opinions and views, something quite new suddenly becomes visible. Here God’s name is named, here the eternal is pronounced, here the mystery is recognized. Here is no longer human opinion, but precisely the opposite, here is divine revelation and confession of faith. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”

What is the difference between Peter and the others? Is he of such heroic nature that he towers over the others? He is not. Is he endowed with such unheard-of strength of character?  He is not. Is he gifted with unshakable loyalty? He is not. Peter is nothing, nothing but a person confessing his faith, a person who has been confronted by Christ and who has recognized Christ, and who now confesses his faith in him, and this confessing Peter is called the rock on which Christ will build his church.  Peter’s church–that means the church of rock, the church of the confession of Christ. Peter’s church, that does not mean a church of opinions and views, but the church of the revelation; not a church in which what “people say” is talked about but the church in which Peter’s confession is made anew and passed on; the church which has no other purpose in song, prayer, preaching, and action than to pass on its confession of faith; the church which is always founded on rock as long as it remains within these limits, but which turns into a house built on sand, which is blown away by the wind, as soon as it is foolhardy enough to think that it may depart from or even for a moment neglect this purpose.

But Peter’s church-this is not something which one can say with untroubled pride. Peter, the confessing, believing disciple, Peter denied his Lord on the same night as Judas betrayed him; in that night he stood at the fire and felt ashamed when Jesus stood before the high priest; he is the man of little faith, the timid man who sinks into the sea; Peter is the disciple whom Jesus threatened: “Get thee behind me Satan”; it is he who later was again and again overcome by weakness, who again and again denied and fell, a weak, vacillating man, given over to the whim of the moment. Peter’s church, that is the church which shares these weaknesses, the church which itself again and again denies and falls, the unfaithful, fainthearted, timid church which again neglects its charge and looks to the world and its opinions. Peter’s church, that is the church of all those who are ashamed of theirLord when they should stand firm confessing him.

But Peter is also the man of whom we read: “He went- out and wept bitterly.” Of Judas, who also denied the Lord, we read: “He went out and hanged himself.” That is the difference. Peter went out and wept bitterly. Peter’s church is not only the church which confesses its faith, nor only the church which denies its Lord; it is the church which can still weep. “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion” (Ps.137:1). This is the church; for what does this weeping mean other than that one has found the way back, than that one is on the way home, than that onehas become the prodigal son who falls to his knees weeping before his father?  Peter’s church is the church with that godly sadness which leads to joy.

It does indeed seem very uncertain ground to build on, doesn’t it? And yet it is bedrock, for this Peter, this trembling reed, is called by God, caught by God, held by God.  “You are Peter,” we all are Peter; not the Pope, as the ‘Roman Catholics would have it; not this person or that, but all of us, who simply live from our confession of faith in Christ, as the timid,faithless, fainthearted, and yet who live as people sustained by God.

But it is not we who build. He builds the church. No human being builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever intends to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess-he builds. We must proclaim—he builds. We must pray to him-that he may build. We do not know his plan. ‘We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great timesof construction. It may be that from a human point of view great times for the church are actually times of demolition. It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province. Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions, don’t ask for judgments, don’t always be calculating what will happen, don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Let the church remain the church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord, from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds.

And the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. Death, the greatest heir of everything that has existence, here meets its end. Close by the precipice of the valley of death, the church is founded, the church which confesses Christ as its life. The church possesses eternal life just where death seeks to take hold of it; and death seeks to take hold of it precisely because it possesses life. The Confessing Church is the eternal church because Christ protects it. Its eternity is not visible in this world. It is unhindered by the world. The waves pass right over it and sometimes it seems to be completely covered and lost. But the victory is its because Christ its Lord is by its side and he has overcome the world of death. Do not ask whether you can see the victory; believe in the victory and it is yours.

In huge capital letters our text is etched into the dome of the great church of St. Peter’s, the papal church in Rome. Proudly this church points to its eternity, to its visible victory over the world, across the centuries. Such splendor, which even our Lord did not desire or bear, is denied to us. And yet a splendor which is immeasurably greater than this splendor in the world, is assured to us. Whether the band of believers is great or small, low or high, weak or strong, if it confesses Christ the victory is assured
to them, in eternity.

Fear not, little flock, for it is my Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom. Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. The city ofGod is built on a sure foundation. Amen.

From:  No Rusty Swords, Fontana, 1977
pg.  213-217

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COLLECT OF THE DAY

Heavenly Father,You revealed to the apostle Peter the blessed truth that Your Son Jesus is the Christ. Strengthen us by the proclamation of this truth that we too may joyfully confess that there is salvation in no one else; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Readings: Acts 4:8-13 Psalm 118:19-29  2 Peter 1:1-15 St. Mark 8:27-9:1

The confession of St. Peter did not arise in the imagination of Peter’s heart but was revealed to him by the Father. The reason this confession is important is seen in Jesus’ response: “You are Peter [Greek Petros], and on this rock [Greek petra] I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). As the people of God in the Old Testament began with the person of Abraham, the rock from which God’s people were hewn (Isaiah 51:1-2), so the people of God in the New Testament would begin with the person of Peter, whose confession is the rock on which Christ would build His Church. But Peter was not alone (the “keys” given to him in Matthew 16:19 were given to all the disciples in Matthew 18:18 and John 20:21-23). As St. Paul tells us, Peter and the other apostles take their place with the prophets as the foundation of the Church, with Christ Himself as the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). The confession of Peter, therefore, is the witness of the entire apostolic band and is foundational in the building of Christ’s Church. Thus the Church gives thanks to God for St. Peter and the other apostles who have instructed Christ’s Holy Church in His divine and saving truth. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  All of the Church is to confess Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God,the sweet sound of salvation for sinners.  “…it is certain that the Church is not built on the authority of a man but on the ministry of the confession which Peter made, when he declare Jesus to the Christ, the Son of God” (The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of Pope, The Book of Concord, the Lutheran Confessions)

The Lord has called His apostolic Church to be faithful in confessing Jesus is the Christ, that He is the Lord.  Peter eventually led the way of the holy Apostles in preaching and teaching Christ.  Peter who had denied Christ, was faithful to Christ’s command to him, “Feed My Sheep”. Pastors are called  to be faithful in confessing Christ, to feed and lead His people so that others may hear of the Savior.  If pastors, ministers and priests trust their own thinking about Christ, and not the Word, they,  “…will lose Christ” (Luther).

In a school, principals are worthless without the authority and care of a principled principal to educate with students.  Principles are words.  So likewise  a principal without sound principles, a standard, is anarchy.  Principals who do not promote teaching sound principles is useless. The Lord’s pastorate is principled in the Word of Law and Promise to teach His people.  If we follow their own lesson plans, then there is anarchy.  What makes Christianity Christian is Christ so we can be Christians, taught and fed by faithful Christian pastors, as we are  built on the Rock of our salvation, Jesus the Christ, even when steeples are falling. As Pr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached on St. Matthew 16:  

What is the difference between Peter and the others? Is he of such heroic nature that he towers over the others? He is not. Is he endowed with such unheard-of strength of character?  He is not. Is he gifted with unshakable loyalty? He is not. Peter is nothing, nothing but a person confessing his faith, a person who has been confronted by Christ and who has recognized Christ, and who now confesses his faith in him, and this confessing Peter is called the rock on which Christ will build his church.  Peter’s church–that means the church of rock, the church of the confession of Christ.

Peter’s church, that does not mean a church of opinions and views, but the church of the revelation; not a church in which what “people say” is talked about but the church in which Peter’s confession is made anew and passed on; the church which has no other purpose in song, prayer, preaching, and action than to pass on its confession of faith; the church which is always founded on rock as long as it remains within these limits, but which turns into a house built on sand, which is blown away by the wind, as soon as it is foolhardy enough to think that it may depart from or even for a moment to neglect this purpose.

From a sermon by St. Augustine, delivered on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, from The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, a Roman Catholic publisher:

“Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church.”

For thou art Peter.

Peter from the rock (petra); not the rock from Peter. So, Peter, because of the Rock; as Christian, because of Christ.  Would you know after what rock (petra) Peter is called? Listen to Paul answering: “I would not have you ignorant, brethren, the Apostle of Christ says, “I would not have you ignorant, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. And all in Moses were baptized, in the cloud, and in the sea. And all did eat the same spiritual food. And all drank the same spiritual drink; and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ (I Cor. x.)”. From this rock Peter came. (emphasis my own)

The Lord gives to His catholic and apostolic Church the keys of the Kingdom. Immediately following Peter’s Confession, Jesus tells them He must suffer, die and rise again.  This is key.  His all-availing Sacrifice means the forgiveness of sins and the justification of sinners. This is key.  In Him, He builds us into His Church and the key is His blood shed in forgiveness for us all.  He gives us the Holy Spirit to teach and preach Christ Jesus. This is key. 

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If God Himself be for me,
I may a host defy;
For when I pray, before me
My foes, confounded, fly.
If Christ, the head and master,
Befriend me from above,
What foe or what disaster
Can drive me from His love?

Lutheran Service Book #724

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