One of the things I have enjoyed doing since I arrived at Messiah is working with the worship team. I am impressed with the things the worship team is able to do. As you know there is so much musical talent in this congregation. The challenge for me has been trying to figure out how to use that talent to its fullest potential in order to glorify God and edify the members of Messiah. We have had some really good meetings and I am increasingly excited about what the future holds for us. However, I am beginning to sense that I am frustrating the team. They are dear Christian women so they have not as of yet said mean nasty things to me but every now and then I think I can see exasperation flash in their eyes. It happens most often when I challenge them to “find our sound”. The expression on their faces scream, “what in the Johan Sebastian Bach are you talking about!?” But again they are good Christian woman so what they say is, “That’s an interesting thought pastor. Could you elaborate on that?”
I try to explain that every group has its own sound. When you hear an Elvis Presley song you know it is an Elvis Presley song because it sounds like an Elvis Presley song. And it’s not just Presley, you can do the same thing when it comes to a Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Johnny Cash, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Guns N’ Roses, U2, and a you name it song. All of these groups have a certain sound that is recognizable when you hear their music. The vocalists, instrumentation, setting, and style are unique to each group; They have “a sound”. And that is what I want to try and develop here at Messiah. I want to see if we can discover a sound that is unique to our group of Germanic Lutherans living in a cosmopolitan city of the twenty first century. I think when we find our sound we will be able to glorify our God and edify the members of messiah, even more than we are already doing now. I know, that is an ambitious goal because as I said before what we are doing right now is already impressive. But when you have a group as talented as y’all, ambitious goals are the only kind worth setting.
As I continue to challenge our worship team to find our sound I’m not sure what that sound will be, but what I do know, what every member of the worship team agrees on is that our sound must rock. There might be some stylistic nuances, alternate settings, fresh instrumentation, and modern vocals, but without a doubt, Messiah Lutheran Church must rock. Jesus said so. In our gospel lesson from Matthew 16:13-20 Jesus said, the Church rocks. Don’t believe me? Well let’s take a look.
In Matthew 16:18 Jesus says, ‘I will build my church on rock.” O.K. technically Jesus says, “18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” but it is basically the same thing. With these words Jesus tells us that the church rocks. But before all-y’all country and or western music lovers grab your banjos and head for the door, allow me to first tell you about the rock upon which Jesus builds His church. Because, there is has been some confusion.
There are some who are of the opinion that the rock upon which Jesus builds His church is Peter himself. They also imagine that a man, through a mystical apostolic succession, continues to be the foundation upon which Jesus builds his church. But the rock upon which Jesus builds His church is not one man. In John’s gospel Jesus speaks to all His disciples as He speaks to Peter. Later in Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks to the entire church as He speaks to Peter. And in the book of James Jesus tells us that the prayers of the individual believer are as powerful and effective as Peter’s. The rock upon which Jesus builds his church is not Peter or any one man.
As a matter of fact, the rock upon which Jesus builds His church is not a man at all. A close look at Matthew 16:18 reveals that Jesus used two words for “rock”. Those words are Πέτρος and πέτρᾳ. Πέτρος is the nick-name that Jesus gave to Simon son of Jonah. It is a word that describes a thin layer of loose rock with bedrock underneath it. Πέτρος is translated “Peter” and it is a perfect description for the disciple who was often quick to speak but slow to think. Peter is a “loose rock” kind of guy. The other word for rock that Jesus used is πέτρᾳ. This word describes the bedrock that is underneath the loose rock. Ever the poetic preacher, Jesus plays off Peter’s name saying, ‘Peter you are loose rock but upon the bedrock I will build my church.’
“So”, you might ask, “since Peter is not the rock upon which Jesus builds His church what is?” The answer to that question is discovered in the context that surrounds Matthew 16:18. This discourse begins in verse 13 where Matthew tells us Jesus “asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”” Jesus already knew people’s thoughts and ideas about Him. He doesn’t ask the question because He needs the information. He asks the question to make His disciples think about an eternally important issue. Who is Jesus?
“14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist and others say Elijah; and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”” These are some rather flattering descriptions. Most of us would be happy to have people compare us to people like John the Baptist or prophets like Elijah and Jerimiah. The disciples reported that everyone was not only speaking well of Jesus but speaking very highly of him. The people recognized Jesus as a leader of a movement, a powerful preacher, a worker of miracles. Few could deny that He was sent from God.
We could probably report the same thing to Jesus about the people of today. Still today people see Jesus as a person of influence, a wise teacher, a prognosticator of peace. Even in our day, few people have anything bad to say about Jesus. I have never heard anybody call Jesus a jerk. Everybody likes Jesus. Still today people are saying nice things about Him.
15 “But what about you?” What are you saying about Him? That’s the real question, isn’t it? I have no doubt that you would say nice things about Jesus; flattering, glowing, beautiful things about Jesus, almost everybody does. But do you say enough?
Jesus wanted to know if His disciples had more to say about Him than the people of their day did and so He asked, “15 “But what about you?” “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter, acting as he often did as the spokesman for the groups answered, 16 “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”” With these words Peter was confessing that Jesus was more than a leader of a movement, more than a powerful preacher, more than a worker of miracles.
Peter confessed Jesus to be “the Christ” that is the anointed one. Being anointed was a common practice among God’s people. When a person was anointed it meant that they were set apart for a specific purpose. Kings were anointed. Men like David were anointed to show that they were set apart by God for the specific purpose of ruling over God’s people. Prophets were anointed. Men like Elisha were anointed to show that they were set apart by God for the specific purpose of representing God before the people. Priests were anointed. Men like Aaron were anointed to show that God had set them apart for the specific purpose of representing the people before God. When Peter proclaimed Jesus to be “The Christ”, he was confessing Him to be his King, confessing Him to be his Prophet, Confessing Him to be his Priest; confessing Him to be his savior from sin.
“17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” “This” is the rock upon which Jesus builds His church. The rock is not Peter, rather, the rock is Peter’s confession, his confession that Jesus is the Christ. The confession that Jesus is the Christ is the rock upon which the church is built. That’s why I have been saying that the church rocks! The church confesses that Jesus is more than a person of influence, more than a wise teacher, more than a prognosticator of peace. When the Church confesses that Jesus is the Christ, The Church is confessing that Jesus is the King, the Prophet, the Priest. When the church confesses, The church rocks.
But again, what about you? Do you rock, not simply with peasant platitudes but by the way you live your life? Do you confess that Jesus is your king? Does Jesus have your adoration and allegiance or are there other priorities and pleasures that govern you? Do you confess that Jesus is your prophet? Is His Word your law, are those laws your commands, do you bend your knee; conform your every desire to his will or do you use the bible like an advice column in the Johns Creek Herald? Do you confess that Jesus is your priest? Do you recognize that by nature you are a lost and condemned creature who is in desperate need of a mediator to stand in the presence of the Holy God and plead your case or is Jesus more like a partner than a priest to you, you know someone who helps you out when times are tough?
The church rocks, but what about you? Do you rock? I’m guessing not as hard as you would like to, right? If you are anything like me you have failed to rock on numerous occasions; failed maybe not so much with your words, but failed with your actions; failed to confess that Jesus is your king, failed to confess Him as your prophet, and failed to confess Him as your priest. But dear brothers and sisters in Christ, even in our failure, our God of grace provides a way for us to rock. Even in our failure we can still confess that Jesus the Christ is our Savior, the one set apart by God for the specific purpose of paying for our sins, set apart for the specific purpose of forgiving our failures. So even as we confess our sins we are able to rock.
The confession that Jesus is the Christ is the rock upon which the church is built. It is a rock which Jesus promises 18 “the gates of Hades will not overcome”. Oh the devil will do his best to torment and torture us, but he can never defeat us, he can never take away our forgiveness and salvation, not as long as we continue to rock.
So, I’m not sure what the sound of Messiah is going to be. Who knows what will happen when we mix bluegrass and Bach? Might be the ideal sound to glorify God and edify our members, or it might sound like a sack of sick cats in which case we will have to keep looking for our sound. But whatever our sound turns out to be I know, it will rock. Amen