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Worship Theme: The Church stands forever

Sermon Theme: Something to Build On

There was this thoroughly relaxing thing we used to do when we lived in Florida. Maybe you’ve done this before at some time, too. Our house was only 5 miles from the Atlantic Ocean so we would find ourselves down at the beach regularly in the summer. One of the more enjoyable mindless activities was to simply stand on the edge of the surf, dig your toes in, stare off into the horizon, and let the water gently wash over your feet. I could go for some of that right now!

Part of the fun though was that as you stood there and two or three waves rolled in, the surf would pull back out to sea and wash the sand out from underneath you, causing you to lose your footing a bit. So, you would dig your toes and heels back in, and let the waves wash in again, rinse and repeat. No matter how well you dug in, the sand inevitably washed away underneath you.

Of course, it was always fun for us to have visitors who weren’t veterans of the ocean, because they would make classic newbie mistakes. They would set their chairs and beach towels down quickly, not expecting that the tide would come in so fast and soak everything. Many a child had a fine village of sand castles washed away in seconds as the evening tide approached.

Then again, as much as we grew accustomed to beach life in nine years, sometimes things were just completely out of our control. When storms rolled through like they are right now, no matter how deep your umbrella, it was going to blow away. No matter how strong a swimmer, massive storm waves would wash you away. Then of course there were the hurricane times. One of the worst ones collapsed 30 feet of a giant pier about 25 years ago. Another hurricane two years ago was so bad it even washed away the sandy ground underneath the ocean front A1A road, and the whole road collapsed.

Which one of those scenarios would describe your 2020 right now? Maybe you’ve slowly felt your footing slipping away from underneath you since March. Your retirement assets, your job security, your whole sense of normalcy of life. Oh, you’ve tried to dig your heels in and keep finding your footing, but every time you do it feels like you are sinking into a deeper financial hole or a deeper personal pit of depression and despair.

Or could it be that 2020 has been a bit stormier for you? The sand isn’t gently eroding. Oh, no. The tide has downright smashed your sandcastles and washed them away. Everything that you built up seems to have crumbled. Who can take this isolation and quarantine anymore? Who can stand all the hatred and the racism and the fighting and the media mudslinging and the impossibility of having one civil conversation with anyone about anything ever? Who has any hope for a happily ever after future when anything that was going right has now gone so wrong?

Or might 2020 even be a hurricane of a year for you? You thought you were grounded. You thought you had a pretty good foundation. You thought you had built up something nice and solid. But the gale force winds and slamming surf have pounded on your faith, your patience, your livelihood. In my immediate circle of acquaintances I could tell you of people in just the last few weeks who have lost jobs, gone into quarantine depression, been victims of racism, people who were publicly berated on Instagram, families evacuated from homes near California wildfires, a father about die of cancer, and a 26- year-old older brother who was shot and killed—and those I could rattle off in a matter of seconds.

What’s going on here? What is God doing? Why? Why all of this? Why all of this at the same time? When is it ever going to stop or at least get better? I just want things to be normal again! Didn’t Jesus come to bring peace on earth? Doesn’t Jesus promise to be with us and to give us strength and to work things for our good? Well what good has 2020 been?

And that right there my friends is the moment we find ourselves caught up in the question. It’s the question we heard earlier from Jesus himself. “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” There were all kinds of people in Jesus’ day that tripped up on the question, “Who is Jesus?” Some heard the powerful preaching about the kingdom and saw or heard about miracles and thought he was John the Baptist (who had been beheaded) come back from the dead, or perhaps Elijah or Jeremiah or another prophet. Others saw the miracles and got power hungry. They thought Jesus would be a mighty King to crush the Romans and reestablish a glorious kingdom of riches where everyone had a full belly and a full wallet. And yet still others thought Jesus was a joke, a farce and a phony. Some were too busy indulging in sin or worrying about their own business and money, or some were just too self- righteous to think they needed a Savior like the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Jesus knew what people thought about him. Even the disciples were able to report these things to Jesus. But then came the million-dollar question, the heart-piercing and personal question: “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”

 Wouldn’t you like to think that you would give an answer like Peter? “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” And yet though Peter gave this amazing answer and Jesus praised him for it, next week we will hear the very next verses of the Bible where Peter actually tried to stop Jesus from suffering and dying. Umm, hello, Peter! Don’t you know who Jesus is and what he came to do?

But that’s just the point of the question. Who is Jesus? Sinful hearts want us to build our lives on any and everything else. So, we build up bank accounts and retirement assets. We build up careers or reputations as we push and push to work back breaking hours in stress filled weeks year after year. We build up trust in politicians or political parties or in the good ol’ US of A and the American dream we would like to pursue. But when the storms hit, like in this year in particular, all those things we stand on seem to crumble.

Suddenly many flock to Jesus. Help, Jesus! Fix it, Jesus! Make me better, Jesus! My health, my wealth, my friends, my country—I want it back to normal, Jesus! But before we know it, we’ve built on some sandy shadow of a Jesus that is really no God or Savior at all.

This is why Jesus asked the question and why the answer is so foundational. “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” God give us the resolve to build on the rock-solid answer that Peter gave! “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” You see, this isn’t some magical mantra you can repeat over and over and life will turn out to be cupcakes and frosting. This isn’t just a statement to acknowledge every once in a while. This is the fundamental, foundational truth to build your entire life on and to stand firmly upon every day.

So, let’s break this down. Who is Jesus? He is the Messiah. Messiah is a Hebrew word. You also know the Greek equivalent, Christ. They both mean the same thing—the Anointed One. Jesus is the Chosen One of God. Chosen for what? He’s the one that God chose to fix everything. But not fix your finances or your arthritis or a world of fighting and unrest. Jesus is the one chosen by God to fix our greatest problem, really the one problem behind all the others—sin.

How Jesus would do that is connected to the next thought. He’s the Son of the living God. God couldn’t send any old person to be the Messiah. No one could be good enough or perfect enough to meet God’s standards. At the same time, no one would be powerful enough to undo what sin and Satan have done. So, God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son.

This is who Jesus is, the Messiah, the Christ, true God born into this world as true man to be our true Savior from sin. He alone is the one perfect enough to obey God completely and resist every worldly temptation. He alone is the one who had life valuable enough to pay for the sins of the world. He alone is the one powerful enough to defeat death and hell and to rise victorious from the dead. Only Jesus. Only he is the Christ. Only he is the solution, the Savior, the foundation of our faith, and the hope for eternal life.

In this great moment of faith, Peter confessed that truth today, and Jesus praised him for it, “for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” My sinful heart and this world have no clue who Jesus is, but the gift of grace of our Father in heaven is that he has revealed the truth about Jesus to us. It’s like an adult revealing to a five year old not to build a sand castle right next to the water. So, our God reveals to us our true foundation on Jesus. Through him we are now God’s chosen ones. Through his own Son, we have become sons and daughters of God for all eternity. Now that’s Something to Build On!

 And that’s what Jesus tells us next. Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not be stronger than it.” Not Peter (whose name means rock), but on the rock-solid truth of who Jesus is, on that rock the church is built. That’s the rock on which we stand. And no storm, no sin, nor Satan, nor even hell itself will be stronger than or overcome his Church.

What a message of comfort, confidence, and courage for us in this very stormy year of 2020. There may be plenty of things that get blasted, crumble, and wash away this year. Who knows how the Coronavirus will affect world health long term, or where the stock or job markets will land, or how the dust will settle after this coming election. But no virus, no civil unrest, no loss of job, no election of any candidate, no terrorist, no war—nothing will ever be able to change or break the rock-solid truth we stand on. Come what may! Jesus is still the Christ. Our Savior God lived and died and rose again. He’s still living. He’s still with us. And soon we will be living with him eternally. That’s the solid ground we build and stand on through every storm!

Even better, not only do we have confidence for life in our sure foundation, but we also have a purpose. Jesus went on to say that he was handing over to his disciple the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever his people bind or loose on earth will be done so in heaven. That is the say that Jesus has given to us the unique privilege and power of preaching Law and Gospel, sin and grace, repentance and forgiveness.

There are plenty of people in this world right now who have their sandy foundations being washed away and feel like they are about to drown. And quite truly, they are drowning. We have the privilege and the purpose of being lights that shine in the darkness, heralds who share the good news, who boldly confess like Peter that Jesus is the Christ—he’s the rock and the foundation for life. When you tell others that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of the living God who brings forgiveness, it’s just as good as if Jesus himself would preach it. When your pastors announce to you in worship for at the font or at the altar, “your sins are forgiven,” it’s just as good as if Jesus himself said it. When you say to your neighbor, your coworker, your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, “I forgive you,” it’s just as good as if Jesus himself said it.

You know there are so many people who are meandering through life hopeless, without meaning or purpose. The waves wash in and the storms roll through, and they find they have nothing left in life to stand on. It’s been quite a 2020, but then again, it’s just another year with just more lingering effects of sin. Praise God that we have Something to Build On! We build our lives by faith on the rock-solid truth that Jesus is the Messiah, and we live our lives with the all-important purpose of sharing that truth with others. So, come what may—rejoice, give thanks, and stand fast on Christ alone.  Amen.

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