A reading from Matthew's account of the Good News of Jesus Christ:
chapter 26, verses 30-35, 57-58, and 69-75.
My name is Simon, called Simon "the Rock". I began life as a fisherman. For many years I fished Lake Galilee, or Lake Tiberias as it was called by the Romans. I worked the lake as part of the family business, along with my father and my brother Andrew. I continued in the fishing business until Jesus, originally from Nazareth, called me away from the boats, along with Andrew and several others, and gave us a different kind of net to cast.
I come to you today as a representative of this same Jesus, proclaiming before you that he is Lord and Christ, Son of the Living God.
One day, Jesus led those of us who travelled with him to the area of Caesaria Philippi, which is beyond the northern limits of the Roman province of Galilee and near the the towering Mount Hermon. As we travelled, Jesus asked us what people were saying about him. So we began to repeat what we had heard in the villages and along the roads. There were lots of stories. Some people thought he was John, the baptizer whom Herod the tetrach had beheaded. (The story was that Herod himself thought John had come back to life.) Other people thought Jesus might be Elijah, returned to announce the kingdom of God as the prophet Malachi had told us: "I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before my day comes, that great and terrible day." Others suggested Jeremiah or another of God's prophets from the old days.
(We left out those who thought Jesus was another crackpot or a madman.)
Jesus did not seem surprised when we told him that people were confused or puzzled about him. But then he made the question personal. Jesus asked us, "What do you think about me?" I could not contain myself. "You are the Christ!" I said. "You are the son of God!" Jesus was pleased at my certainty; it was then that he gave me the nickname, Simon "the Rock".
But I have noticed that I am often certain of the truth for a little while, and then lose my way again. That nickname, "the Rock", became a bitter irony for me only minutes later. It would be bitter still had I not been filled by God's spirit of power. That alone lets me stand firm like a rock in the courage of God's purposes. This is spirit by which God raised Jesus from death to life.
But at that time I did not yet know either God's power or my own weakness. I was proud to be the rock of God's annointed one ... and I set out at once to protect him. Oh, yes! I took the Lord aside in order to correct his travel plans. I supposed that the Son of the Living God required my advice in order to carry out his work.
Jesus had been telling us of the trip to Jerusalem, of how he would suffer and then die. I did not want to listen to this! "This must not happen," I told him.
The rebuke he gave me was well earned. I had made myself an obstacle and put myself on the side of the Temptor. Jesus told me so quite plainly: "Get behind me, Satan," he said.
I give thanks to God that Jesus loved me enough to be blunt to me. Jesus Christ loves me enough not to pretend. This is a great joy to me, and you should also rejoice when Christ brings you to see yourself as you are.
After this, Jesus talked to us some more about life. He told us that people who try to hoard up their lives will find that nothing was left of their lives. He spoke to everyone, but surely he was speaking most of all to me. Had I not just been trying to put Jesus' life on a shelf? Not just my own life -- I was trying to hoard the Lord's life as well. But this was not how Jesus lived. He gave himself openly, freely, and wholly. He told us that to lose sight of our own lives and to see the lives of others is the only way to truly live. This is how Jesus lived, and this is how we must live also, for we must live in the spirit of Christ Jesus.
At the time these things happened, none of us understood completely. I knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but I did not grasp what this meant. His actions puzzled all of us, for we were expecting a glorious king who would rule our nation. Now Jesus was going so far as to speak of dying soon. When were we going to see the glorious kingdom that God was bringing? We did not understand. But Jesus promised that some of us would see the Messiah in all his glory.
I knew that Jesus was the Messiah. I hoped that I would live to see his glory. I did not know what that would mean.
About a week afterward, Jesus led us up a mountain. The scripture does not tell you where. The preachers may tell you where it was, but some of them will say it was Mount Hermon and others will tell you it was Mount Tabor. They do not know. They were not there.
I was there.
I was there -- and I am your witness to what happened. On that mountain Jesus Christ was revealed in glory. I am not reporting some pretty story that I have heard. I myself have seen Jesus' power and glory revealed and this is what I proclaim to you today.
When we had climbed part way up the mountain, Jesus asked the others to stay and wait for him. But he asked James, John, and me to come farther with him. Jesus led us almost to the top of the mountain. Suddenly we noticed a change in the light. Jesus' clothes seemed brightly illuminated. Even his face seemed to shine. We -- James, John, and I -- we stopped to look.
As we watched, Jesus' whole appearance changed. It was as if the light was shining right out of him. As I looked at Jesus' face, I thought for a moment of how Moses' face became bright when he had been speaking with God.
And then, Moses himself stood before us, and Elijah as well. They spoke with Jesus about his trip to Jerusalem and what would be the result of it. This was the very topic I had tried to keep Jesus from talking about just a week before! What I did not want to listen to was of the deepest interest to Moses and to Elijah. Inside myself I burned with shame that I could have been so foolish.
Yet, I made myself a greater fool still. If there was ever a time to be quiet! To let these three great prophets finish their conversation about what was to happen in the coming weeks! But I spoke up. "Lord," I said, "we could build three shelters here for you and for Moses and for Elijah."
They spoke of carrying out God's purposes. Instead of listening, I interrupted to suggest standing still on the mountain top. Mark was being kind, in his report, when he said that I didn't know what I to say.
God, too, is kind, and offers guidance to fools. Even as I was speaking, a bright cloud came over the mountain. It seemed much like the fog that sometimes forms over the lake in the morning, illuminated by the rising sun. Perhaps you've seen such a cloud; not dreary and gray and full of rain, but bright and dazzling and full of light. Of course, it was the glory of the presence of God. From the cloud came a voice, aimed straight at my own heart: "This is my son. Listen to him."
"This is my son. Listen to him."
When we heard this, we fell down on the ground and hid our faces in the earth.
Then Jesus, my friend and my Lord, touched my shoulder. "Don't be afraid," he said. The three of us looked up, and Jesus was alone with us. We got up and walked with Jesus down the mountain.
Afterward, Jesus made his trip to Jerusalem and death, as he had told us. And I -- although I tried, I still did not listen him or stay loyal to him. I can claim no merit for my own strength or will. Jesus taught me with his own mouth. I was the one who first named Jesus as God's Christ. I was with Jesus on the mountain top. Yet on the night before he died, I disowned him three times.
But I give thanks to God that this is not the end of the story. God raised Jesus to life again. I saw him, and I am your witness that these things are true. The man Jesus is God's true Son and he lives in the glory of the Father.
Now, God has given you new lives as well, and the promise of a share in the inheritance which belongs to Jesus Christ. You did not see him, and yet you love him! God has called you to eternal glory, and already you are sharing in a glorious joy! Don't be afraid, but trust completely in your Creator -- for God has chosen you to be a holy people. God will strengthen and support you.
May God's gifts and God's glory grow in each of you.
April 14, 1999