mon: “Building God’s Church”             

LSB Series A; Proper 16

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost; August 23, 2020

Gospel Reading: Matthew 16:13-20

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. 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. 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” (Matthew 16:15-18).

How does the Church get built? 

Our congregation began back in 1883 just north of here in what used to be known as Helvetia. The original church building was built for $850. The church proper that you sit in today was built at the cost of $10,000 in 1905. The basement was excavated and refinished in 1941. The narthex and basement bathrooms were added in 1949.

But is that how the Church is built? Is building a church solely a matter of bricks and mortar? Does the mantra, “If you build it, they will come” actually work? No, a building does not ensure that a Church is built.

So, how does the Church get built?

Is the church solely built by how many people are inside? Just get the pews filled, then the church will be built. Is that how it works? These days, that’s pretty difficult. Not only are we living in a country where Christendom is in decline, but we are also living in a global pandemic. We began with 40 people per service upon our return, then 60, now 90. And it looks like this could be our maximum for quite some time. Who knows?

But in the midst of this pandemic, there are a couple of things I have been told. When the pandemic was in its initial stages, it was said that 27 million more people that usually attend church were watching church services. 27 million. It was also told to me that when the services all went online, that there was a moment where Facebook crashed. Yes, if those stats are true, Jesus crashed Facebook.

But is that how God’s Church is built? 

Jesus says, on this rock, I will build my church. Is the rock a physical piece to the church’s puzzle? Is the rock more people in the seats? Is the rock more views on-line? No.

Now there are those that would contend that Jesus is saying Peter is the rock on which the church is built. But is that true? What do we know about Peter? We know that almost all of us can relate to him. He always says what’s on his mind. We know that he walked on water, and then took his eyes off of Jesus and sank before being saved. We know that in the text next Sunday, Jesus will rebuke him and say “Get behind me Satan.” We know that he promised never to deny Jesus, and then did it three times. We know that Jesus restored him to discipleship, and through him, God did remarkable things to build the Church.

The rock is not Peter, even though Peter’s name means rock. The rock is the confession that Peter boldly makes. Specifically, the rock is the One whom Peter confesses as the Christ. It is Jesus, the Son of the living God.

So, how does the Church get built? By confessing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God…by remaining faithful to Word and Sacrament ministry… where Jesus is our firm foundation upon which we stand, all other ground is sinking sand. He is the One who builds His Church.

The Church is the assembly or gathering of all believers. Right now, here in this pandemic, we assemble both in person and on-line, and we gather around the means of grace, Word and Sacrament, to confess that Jesus is Lord.

This distinguishes the Church from everything else in this world. Where the world places value above all else in power and wealth and material gain, our sole source of salvation is in the promised Messiah who has come, has died, has been raised, and will come again.

Throughout the history of the Church, He has graciously used people as His instruments to grow His Church. Consider Peter, who after having denied Christ three times and was restored as a disciple, boldly addressed the people at Pentecost when the gift of the Holy Spirit was given. It was on that day, while preaching that sermon, that three thousand souls were saved.

But it was not Peter that saved them. It was Jesus, the One Peter boldly confessed as Savior and Lord.

Consider Paul, who after having ravaged the church and gave approval of the stoning of Stephen, confessed Christ to both Jew and Gentile. Though he endured imprisonments, stonings, shipwrecks, beatings, and more, the Church continued to grow. 

But it was not because of Paul. It was because of Jesus, the One Paul boldly confessed.

Consider how you came to faith in Christ. It was not by anything that you said or did. It God at work through the means of water and the Word at your baptism. It was God using someone who passed on the confession of Christ to you. It was someone taking the time to share what they had been given to share, the love and forgiveness of a Savior named Jesus.

For some of us that happened as an adult. For most of us it was probably as a child or at infancy. The book of Proverbs tells us: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

I think of that verse, especially as we are about to begin a new school year. Our school has seen an increase in enrollment of 30 students. That will be 30 more children and their families daily hearing of the love and forgiveness of the Savior. That will be that many more children and their families being given opportunity to confess that Jesus is Christ.

Here in a day and age where it may be so discouraging to see what has happened to our church with all the restrictions in place, God has opened this door through the ministry of our school like we would have never thought possible. Is this how God is building His Church right now? Perhaps. Lord willing, we will see that it is so.

And who knows how this congregation might be stretched during a time like this to boldly confess Christ? Who knows what opportunities yet await us? 

What we do know is that now is not the time to be silent. Now is not the time to hide in fear and forsake our confession of Christ. Though we see on the news that there is growing opposition to Christ and His Church, Peter’s confession ought to embolden us to speak out all the more. Even though we are limited in our church attendance right now, that does not give us license to turn our backs on Christ and forget that we have been called to be His witnesses. Though we live in the midst of a world of darkness, the light of Jesus shines all the brighter.

It did in Peter’s life as he confessed Jesus as Savior and Lord, and so it is for us as well. This confession of Christ was given to us a gift in our baptism. It was publicly affirmed at our confirmation. When we confess the name of Jesus as Lord, not even the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

Though we may look out into this dark world and think that Satan is winning, he is actually on the defensive. A gate is meant to keep someone out. And he just can’t do it. Two thousand years ago, Jesus Himself busted through those gates to declare His victory. 

Though all looked to be lost as He hung upon that tree, nothing could have been further from the truth. Though Satan was no doubt delighting to see the Son of God suffering and dying, little did he know that just such a sacrifice was the means by which he would be defeated. For when Jesus said, “It is finished,” that is what it meant for Satan and his so-called reign. It was finished. Satan is a loser. He is a defeated enemy, and He ain’t got nothing on the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Christ.

He ain’t got nothing on stopping the building of Christ’s Church, because He has given His Church the keys to the kingdom. Jesus said to Peter: I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:19).

God is building His Church through the forgiveness of sins. Every time you confess your sins and are forgiven, Christ’s Church is being built all the more. Satan is being crushed, and you are being renewed and restored. Through His holy Word, Christ, the Son of the Living God now resides in you. He is now at work in and through you, and the gates of hell will not prevail. They don’t stand a chance. Jesus has stomped on the head of the serpent and he is done for.

Yes, God is building His Church, and now He sends you out as His instruments to do just that. Through your vocations, your stations in life, in the power of the Spirit of Christ, you confess Jesus as Savior and Lord. So keep confessing, and rejoice in watching Christ’s Church grow. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.