On Gifts and Community

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church Staff Retreat 2017

The Gospel according to Matthew (16:13–20):

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

And they said,

“Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He said to them,

“But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered,

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered him,

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

The Gospel of the Lord.

As I’m sure you all know, being new is hard. Being the new Vicar of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Dublin, Ohio has been no exception. Between hundreds of new names, a significant change in pace from a slow summer, and a monster of a head cold, I started this week feeling largely unprepared. With that came the creeping feelings of inadequacy.

Do I have the skills to succeed?

Have I been faking my way through seminary and now the rubber is going to hit the road and I will be exposed for the imposter that I feel like I am?

We know these feelings.

They come on as we start new jobs, as we are tasked with new and greater responsibilities, or simply when met with a hefty challenge.

This frame of mind led me to wonder how it was that Simon Peter felt when Jesus promised him the keys to the kingdom of heaven and the power to forbid or permit, a power typically reserved for Rabbis. This passage is often called “Peter’s declaration about Jesus” but might alternatively be named “Jesus ordains Peter.”

Peter stands there before Jesus and the other disciples. He receives a new name and a blessing, becoming the “rock” of leadership on which the church will be built, something that we recognize as a great honor.

But how did Peter feel?

I find it highly unrealistic to imagine that Peter took this charge on with great confidence, particularly given that in the verses before and after this Peter and the disciples are chastised by Jesus, Peter even being called “Satan.” Jesus gives him the authority in the church to say what stays and what goes, based solely on the fact that God has graced Peter. Standing before the man that Peter has just identified as the Son of the Living God probably left Peter feeling pretty small.

If Peter was anything like I am, he probably stood there trying to figure out how he could carry such a weight on his own. And, like me, was probably jolted out of his own thoughts by the reminder that there were others there as well. Jesus had been speaking to all of the disciples, not just Peter. Peter might only have been the first and most bold, shouting out an answer that the rest of the disciples had already been thinking.

It could have been any of them.

This statement in combination with this Sunday’s gospel brought me to a realization about God that I’m certain we all know, but that we might see in a new light.

God just won’t leave us alone.

And I don’t mean that only in the sense that God is always with us, but in the sense that God built the entirety of creation to accompany one another.

Maybe that means that God looked into the darkness and felt lonely and so began creating companions, determined that no being of that creation would be forced to feel alone ever again.

God created earth, water, and land, and the being we know as “Adam,” plants, animals, and the being we know as “Eve” to be companions for one another, and ensured that each of them had unique names and traits.

When Abram was concerned that his lineage would falter, God promised him descendants more numerous than the stars and, like the stars, they came in great variety.

Some from Ishmael, some from Isaac,

of light skin and dark skin,

hunters and scholars,

carpenters and prophets,

Moses and Elijah,

John the Baptist and Jesus,

Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Each was given gifts according to the grace God gave them.

Paul writes about this in the assigned Epistle reading citing prophecy, ministry, teaching, preaching, giving, leadership, and compassion as some of the many and varied gifts of God’s grace.

On a global scale, some of these gifts have led to argument, division, isolation and, more than once, to a cross.

As anyone who has lived can tell you, our culture tends to see difference less as a gift of God and more as some sort of lesson in suffering which leaves us feeling isolated and inadequate.

If I am to believe my imagination, this sends God into some sort of hyper creation mode to bring more and more diversity into the picture because clearly we haven’t gotten the message yet.

How have we managed to forget that difference is not a bad thing, but a reminder of the incredible and awe-inspiring ability of God to create things beyond our imaginations?

What might it look like if the revelation of God’s grace in each of us called us to trust one another with great responsibilities rather than denying that difference?

A woman gifted with wisdom told me on Thursday that “we all have experiences and a little bit of knowledge and so each time we come together, we grow together.” And it brought me to wonder if maybe Peter wasn’t this “special” disciple but happened to be a leader gifted with diligence and by his leadership and Jesus’ ministering, the disciples and the Christian faith grew.

Maybe I am a preacher, gifted in preaching by God’s grace, and with the help of each of you and your gifts we might together grow into a new creation.

God has brought each of us here through faith and gifts given by grace. Through that grace, we, as Peter, have been given the keys to the kingdom. We have been given the permission to forbid or permit, essentially the ability to tell God what we want the Kingdom of heaven and earth to look like. And, in truth, each of us is uniquely graced with the gifts that we collectively need to bring about the Kingdom one earth.

Individually, we will fail.

Sometimes it will feel like God is rebuking us, casting out the sin that still dwells within us. We will feel unqualified and unprepared and maybe that’s because, individually, we are.

We are called to come together across churches, cities, countries, continents, and even religions until the burden is light and the answers are easy. We can’t do these things alone, we were never meant to.

So, look around…here and everywhere and see the beings meant to compliment you, and you them.

God, help us to see the gifts in those around us that we might work together to bring about your way on earth. Amen.

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