This sermon was preached at Knox Presbyterian Church on Sunday August 27, 2017. The text for the day was Matthew 16:13-23
I had a hard time settling down and getting serious with this text this week. This text is deep. It’s a cornerstone of Matthew. It’s needs a serious attention span. I mean, all the bibles have notes about Peter’s confession that “Jesus is Messiah”. That is a big deal, right? Uh, it’s just the foundation of the church, and all. But...there’s a pun in here that was just too funny for me to ignore whenever I got down to serious sermonizing business. You want to know what it is?
Here’s the deal: the disciple Peter’s name is actually “Simon”. “Peter” is Jesus’ nickname for Simon. And Peter means...Rocky. The biblical Greek word for Peter (or the spoken Aramaic) both mean “Rock”. Jesus’ nickname for Simon is “Rocky” or “the Rock”.
So, whenever I sat down to work on the sermon, I found myself distracted by vision of Sylvester Stallone running up the steps, and shadowboxing. You know, Rocky. The 1976 movie about the guy training to be a boxer. It has the iconic scene where Rocky runs up the steps. Arms in the air.
Here’s my point: Jesus makes a pun. And he must knows he’s making a pun. So, Jesus is funny. And I think it’s on purpose. Jesus says to Simon, called Rocky, “Who do you say that I am?”. Simon, called Rocky, answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answers 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 Rocky, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
And the crowd goes wild. “Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!”
So, you see my problem. I blame it on Jesus. Jesus is distracting me with his jokes.
Except, what if the pause that is created by the pun is on purpose - what if it puts focus on Simon-Peter-the Rock-Rocky, the Rock on which the Christian church is built.
Pause for the pun. Laugh a little. Wait. Think. The Rock on which the church is built is a human being. Jesus built his church on a human person that he called Rocky. The church is built on people.
We the people think the church is built on Jesus the Messiah, the Son of Man. It’s kind of like Jesus said, “I’m looking at you Rocky. The church is built on you.”
This is not the only “rock” pun, either. In just a few verses, Jesus starts talking to the disciples about how he’s going to suffer and be killed. Peter says to him, “No way. God forbid it Lord! This must never happen to you.”
Jesus says to his buddy Rocky, “Get behind me Satan. You are stumbling block to me.”
Rock. Stumbling block. It’s another word play. When is a rock not a rock? When it’s a stumbling block.
Oh, Jesus. You’re so funny.
Again, though, if we pause around the word play, we can see that in five verses Peter went from “rock” to “stumbling block”. That’s gotta be significant, yeah?
Jesus calls on Simon to be Peter: he calls Simon to be Peter to be the Rock upon which his church is built. The rock and the stumbling block.
So, the church is built on a “rock” and a “stumbling block”.
This is the point: the church is both. Rock and stumbling block. It’s always been both. The very foundation of the church is also the thing we trip over.
What foundation are we tripping over?
The very foundation of the church is people. Like Peter, the foundation of the church. And, like Peter, people are never one thing. Sometimes you’re the rock. Sometimes you’re the stumbling block. And sometimes, in the moment, you can’t tell the difference. The struggle is real, my friends.
This is what I think one message of the gospel is for us today is: the church is people. And people are never one thing. Sometimes we’re great. Sometimes we’re awful.
Yet, Jesus picked a person - his friend Rocky - to build his church on.
Yes, a rock in the wrong place is a stumbling block. But a rock in the right place is an unshakable foundation.
Where’s the right place? Behind Jesus, the Messiah, the son of the living God.
In the famous scene from Rocky, Rocky runs through the streets of the neighborhood. He picks up speed, faster and faster. And all the kids of the neighborhood come out and run behind him. Behind this ordinary guy who’s just trying to do something good.
Of course, our hero isn’t an ordinary guy like Rocky. Or Sylvester Stallone. Or even Simon “the Rock” Peter. We build our faith on an unshakable foundation. Our faith is built on the love of God made known to us in Jesus Christ. Amen.