Old Testament Lesson Isaiah 51:1-6
Second Lesson Romans 11:33-12:8
Gospel Lesson Matthew 16:13-20
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read. [Matthew 16:13-20]
There’s no putting it off. This is my last sermon to you as your Pastor. All sorts of things go flying through my head: What do I say? What will be lasting? What will be memorable? Some folks have asked if I’ve picked a special passage from scripture to be the source of our meditation this day; and that would be appropriate, but it wouldn’t be me.
I’ve always believed that the theologians who put together the lectionary we follow were way smarter than me. And so, I’ve always stuck with the lectionary. Why would today be any different?
And so, today we hear one of the most significant passages in all of scripture. We hear our Lord and Savior identify the very bedrock of the Church’s foundation. He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
What better words to hear, what better message to proclaim, as your pastor says goodbye. Jesus tells us that the Rock the Church is built on is the very Son of the living God himself, the Christ, Jesus our Lord and Savior. The Church isn’t built on a man, as some would interpret these verses, laying the foundation on Peter and those who follow in his footsteps, but on Christ himself and on the proclamation that Jesus is the Son of the living God.
And so, we have the very Lutheran reminder of the source of our salvation; given to us in scripture alone, as it teaches us that by God’s grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, we are saved.
We men, women and children, we believers, are God’s treasure; but we’re certainly not capable of being the Rock, the foundation, on which the church is built. Although we are God’s treasure, we’re sinners, every one of us; incapable of perfection, susceptible to error, and being so, certainly not worthy of being looked at as the Rock on which the Church is built.
And yet we hear Jesus say, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” What an awesome gift; the gift of forgiving … or restraining, forgiveness. It’s a monumental task, a mountainous burden if taken upon one’s self; but a light and easy yoke to bear when the weight is given over, in faith, to Christ.
For us it would be undoable, but we’re in Christ, and in Christ we’re able to see that even this ominous responsibility, handed over by Christ to the Church, is actually carried out by God; using the Church as his instrument in the world, the instrument by which his will is done.
And so, we see forgiveness given today as the waters of holy Baptism washed over a young child. Not a Baptism that the pastor performs out of his piety and righteousness; and not a Baptism done by simple water; but Baptism for the forgiveness of sins performed by the Word of God in the water; as God, true to his promise, washes, regenerates, and renews. Forgiving sin and uniting himself with this young child, so that, by the faith God’s given him, this child has become God’s child. This child has become Jesus’ brother. This child, born of the flesh, has been reborn of water and the Spirit, receiving the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit and eternal life.
And following the Baptism today, we saw forgiveness given again. Not forgiveness the pastor is able to give because of any special, inherent power residing in him, but forgiveness that’s from God himself. When you hear me pronounce the absolution to you, it’s not the voice or word of the man who spoke it, that forgives sin, but the Word of God, for it’s spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command.
The sermon you hear is filled with God’s Word; the Law that shows us our sin and the Gospel that shows us what God has done and continues to do for our salvation. These words are God’s word applied to our lives today; God’s grace in giving his Son; expressed to us by the pastor as God’s instrument in proclaiming Christ crucified and risen.
All of this is built on the Rock, which is Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. This liturgy, in which we say back to God what he’s first said to us in his holy Word; this sermon; these sacraments; all built on the Rock. Not built on the pastor’s vision and plan; not built on the wisdom and learning of the pastor; not built on the pastor’s pious and righteous example; all of which fail from time to time as his sinful nature expresses itself.
No, the Church is built on Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God; and nothing, not even the gates of hell, will prevail against it. Now isn’t that good news to hear today?
So what will the church do when the pastor is gone? When the pastor is gone, the church will stand; because the church is not built on a simple man. The church is built on Christ Jesus, the Son of the living God, the church is built on that Rock. What did we sing today?
Built on the Rock the Church shall stand
Even when steeples are falling.
Crumbled have spires in every land;
Bells still are chiming and calling.
Calling the young and old to rest, But above all the souls distressed,
Longing for rest everlasting.
Here stands the font before our eyes,
Telling how God has received us.
The altar recalls Christ’s sacrifice
And what His Supper here gives us.
Here sound the Scriptures that proclaim Christ yesterday, today, the same,
And evermore, our redeemer.
Humbly I say to you: It has been my great honor to be your sole pastor for over a decade now. This is a gift that only God can give. It hasn’t always been easy, and at times I wished I’d been stronger for you; but then I’m reminded that God is strongest in our weakness and I rejoice in my weakness. I have watched as you and I have grown in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another, and again I’m reminded that this too is a gift from God.
A gift, for you and me, the gift of forgiveness given by God freely, to you and me. But a gift we can never forget came at great cost to our Father in heaven. It cost him the life of his Son, who willingly sacrificed himself for you and me. He died that we might live … forever.
And so, as your pastor says goodbye, please listen to my words of blessing as I pray for you; not original words, but words we sang just minutes ago; not original, but prayed with authentic love for each of you: Let us pray.
Grant then, O God, Your will be done, That, when the church bells are ringing, Many in saving faith may come Where Christ His message is bringing; “I know My own, My own know Me. You, not the world, My face shall see. My peace I leave with you. Amen.”
In Christ’s service,