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12 Pentecost - Isaiah 51:1-6; Matthew 16:13-20

Remember the solar panels we installed and blessed last year?

They were activated this week.

I guess the Department of Water and Power was being thoughtful by operating at the speed of church.

Once upon a time, in a different world, I stood at the door of the sanctuary shaking hands with worshipers on their way out.

One fellow stopped and voiced his frustration about the lack of progress in the church.

I nodded my head and said, "Remember, Bishop, the church was built on a rock.

And it has been moving at that speed ever since."

For some, this means the church changes too quickly.

If Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, why must the church change at all?

Where did these new green hymnals come from?

For them, there is solace in the stability of a rock, a reliably steady presence withstanding the

change happening everywhere else.

The more and the faster things change, the more comfort there is in what is constant and familiar.

And the longer things remain the same, the more there is frustration and thirst for change.

Right now, we are living in the collision of these two realities: too much sudden change and also too little, as upheaval and uncertainty and shattered routines ravage our daily lives while

structural racism and pandemic and political gridlock grind on at the speed of stone.

So maybe we want to go back...maybe we want to move forward...but we don't like being here.

How ironic that stay-at-home orders would leave us longing to be somewhere else...that

even for those of us fortunate enough to have a home, rarely have we felt so lost.

Today's word from the Lord points people who are far from home to look to a rock.

Second Isaiah tells the Israelites in exile abroad to look to the rock from which you wer hewn, to Abraham and Sarah so long ago.

Jesus tells his disciples in a foreign resort town to look forward, because on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

A pastor in California I sometimes agree with wrote about this in Living Lutheran this month:

Lutherans have traditionally taught that, by rock, Jesus meant Peter's confession of faith,

while Catholics tend to read this to mean Peter himself.

But what if we're both wrong?

Maybe Jesus was pointing to the large rock in front of them.

This rock included the mouth of a deep, watery cave into which people offered sacrifices to the god Pan.

The opening was named "the gates of Hades."

Okay, maybe we're both wrong—but what if we're both right?

What if Jesus is building his church on Peter and on his confession of faith?

That would be good news for us indeed.

Peter, named from the Greek word for rock, is a perfect poster boy for the church Jesus established.

Rock loves Jesus and tries to protect him from God's bad ideas.

In next week's gospel (spoiler alert), Rock becomes a stumbling stone when he refuses to accept Jesus' statement that the messiah must suffer and die.

He would make a good church council member, assessing liability and then trying valiantly to

safeguard valuable assets when God unveils a disastrous plan.

He is both the bold visionary who steps out on the water with Jesus in the storm and also the guy who watches which way the wind is blowing and sinks, well, like a rock.

He repeatedly denies Jesus and repeatedly stands up for him; he is cowardly and courageous.

He whimpers out of the courtyard and thunders truth at Pentecost.

He holds faithfully firm against the Gentiles until God changes the mind in his rock-thick skull, then endures attacks from both the progressives and the conservatives for flip-flopping.

He is impetuous and timid and brilliant and bumbling and fickle and faithful.

He has the strength, and the imagination, of a rock; he is a sinner and he is a saint.

Of course the church is built on him.

Now that the Catholics have been proven right, let's give the Lutherans equal consideration. If the rock is his confession of faith, then the church is built on the proclamation of trust.

The church is built on speaking a full-hearted yes to the yes God speaks to us.

This, Saint Paul argues in Romans 4, is the reason to look to Abraham, the rock from

which we were hewn.

Abraham didn't obey the law that hadn't been given yet; he trusted God's impossible promise.

This is the story that Isaiah wants his despairing people to remember.

God promised childless, seventy-five year-old Abraham that more people would call him their father than stars call the sky home.

Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them...So shall your descendants be," God said to doubtful Abraham several childless years later.

And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Still more years passed.

Finally, when he was 100 and Sarah was 90, three visitors showed up and announced that Sarah would be nursing her newborn the following spring.

Sarah laughed her wrinkled fanny off, then denied laughing, then named her child Laughter.

Abraham and Sarah trusted God's promise, except when they didn't, for twenty-five long,

geriatric years.

Look to them, says Isaiah to the people who have been stuck in exile for fifty.

Joy and gladness and salvation and thanksgiving and the voice of song are coming.

Laughter is on the way.

Trust God's promise even and especially when you see no evidence of it coming true.

Trust the statement You are the messiah when you are staring at the cross.

In the teeth of 2020, rejoice in God's invisible, inevitable salvation.

As we sit five months into a pandemic with no answers about schools or small businesses or

scientific breakthroughs, with no end in sight, remember our story.

Look to the rock from which we were hewn, and to the quarry from which we were dug.

It took 25 years for Abraham and Sarah to welcome Laughter.

It took 50 years the exiles to return home.

It took 36 hours for Rock to discover the tomb was empty.

We never know God's timeline, but we do know God's faithfulness.

The aches and pains of old age, the spears of Babylon. the gates of Hades, and the terrors

on the news will not prevail.

Against incredible odds, the Jews and the church and the world are still here.

Yes, we will wonder and worry and waver, but we will not be lost.

We will sink, but we will not drown.

We will not be spared, but we will be saved.

We will die, and we will live happily ever Laughter.

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