Pentecost 13 A 2023 A Gift from God
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last week when I googled Caesarea Philippi, I found out that there is not much left of the city today. Having said this, Caesarea Philippi is still an important archaeological site. And one can still book (purchase) a tour of the site to see what is left.
Apparently though, there is not much left to see. Located at the base of Mount Hermon, the site was once a place of immoral and pagan worship. But one can still gaze upon the rubble that has survived to this day and walk among the ruins.
And if one were to keep walking past the ruins and towards the mountain, one would find that there are caves dug deep into the mountain that were deliberately carved out for the purpose of pagan worship. Don’t ask me to describe the activity that took place there. I can only say this. The activity was adult only, and X rated, and wicked.
We know that there was also a temple cave located in the mountain dedicated to the god “Pan,” the half-man, half-goat god of fright (from which we get the word “panic.”)
The cave was also believed to be the entrance to Hades – the underworld, or the realm of the dead.
If you can picture in your mind a horned, half-man, half- animal creature with cloven hooves playing a flute living in a cave then you have a good idea of the pan god that was worshipped at the gate of Hades.
This is important, because while standing in front of or near all the caves dedicated to many gods, perhaps even standing in front of the temple cave dedicated to the god pan, Jesus asked His disciples an important question. He inquired “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
And the disciples responded: “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”
This must have saddened Jesus because their response lifted-up as many different answers as there were supposed caves for pagan gods. John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. The options about Jesus were almost as many as the number of pagan gods to worship at Caesarea Philippi.
Today we live in a similar world, where the options concerning Jesus and God are enormous. We have plenty of options in our world when it comes to religion. And today we believe we get to choose for ourselves what our spirituality is all about.
Today, we get to choose how we worship, and where we worship, and what we worship. We can even choose not to worship anything at all.
But the main point is we get to choose.
Just think of all the things we worship today in our world. Money. Vocation. Material things. Identity. Comfort. Technology. Our physical appearance. Pronouns. Physical gratification. Family. Children. The list goes on and on.
As I stop and think about it, I believe that the world would have us worship anything but the One true God. In fact, the world would like it if we never again confessed that Jesus is the Son of the living God. The world does not want to hear this. And in some places, you can even be punished for stating this truth.
The same was true in Caesarea Philippi. To confess in anything else than the gods carved out in the caves could cost you your life.
So, when Jesus asked His disciples “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus was asking a very important question. One, if answered wrong, could cost them their life.
And Peter, standing tall, full of confidence, shouted out “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” As Peter stood in front of all the false temples of worship in Caesarea Philippi, and as he stood among the pagan gods, Peter made the right confession.
Peter acknowledged that Jesus is far above the gods that were carved in the caves behind him.
Peter acknowledged that Jesus is different. That Jesus is for real. That Jesus is alive. That Jesus is the Son of the living God.
And Jesus responded: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”
Peter is blessed because he has received his confession of faith from God. And just like all the good things that our Father in heaven gives to us, it was given to Peter as a gift.
Even though Peter was/still is a sinner. Even though immediately after this text, Peter told Jesus to forget all His crazy talk about death and the cross. Even though Peter still lived in a world full of sin, our Father in Heaven blessed him with the gift of His only Son and with a personal statement of faith.
And the same is true for us. Today God blesses us with His Son. And God puts on our lips the correct, life giving, statement of faith.
Even though we do not live in Caesarea Philippi, the world around us is just as pagan. And in the life of each of us, we have little niches carved out for the false gods that creep into our lives.
We give a place to sinful thoughts of pride and greed. We allow gossip, deception, and anger to dig in and mess up our lives.
We want to be the boss and call the shots and make ourselves a god. That is what humanity has done ever since the fall in the garden of Eden. We want to be like God. But this only leads to death.
Thankfully, the Word of God, the true Word of the Living God, leads us away from all the false gods that slither into our lives. The Word of God calls us to repent, to turn, and go in a different direction and live.
The living Word of God points to Jesus, who brings life to dead people. The One who builds his church, not carved out of rock or hidden in a cave, but by baptism and teaching, and His call to come and follow Him.
Jesus is the cornerstone. He is the rock upon which the weight of our salvation rests. Through His life, His death, and His resurrection, He has earned for us the gift of life that we cannot earn for ourselves.
And to His church, He has given the keys to heaven, the keys which unlock its gates. And He bestows upon the church the authority to forgive sins, baptize, teach, administer the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and participate in His Redeeming Activity in this world.
And the gates of hell shudder at the thought of all this because the gates of hell can never prevail against the church built by Jesus.
You know, maybe in a thousand years, archaeologists will dig up the ruins of our civilization. And maybe they will scratch their heads at our strange culture and our religious practices. But one thing will remain the same. The Son of the Living God will be alive, and He will still be the cornerstone upon which humanities salvation rests.
For you see, long after this building is gone, and Calvary Lutheran Church is but a memory, the people of God will still be confessing Jesus as Lord, and His church will still be unlocking the gates of heaven for sinners such as you and me.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, through the humble witness of the apostle Peter, you have shown us the foundation of our faith. Give us the light of your Spirit, that, recognizing Jesus as Lord and the son of the living God, we may be living stones for the building up of your Holy church. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.