Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 21, 2011
Sermon by Pastor Cindy Bullock
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew. (Matthew 16:13-20)
Now, when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he
asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still
others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who
do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the
Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered 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
Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades
will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of
heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he
sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus
Today we are privileged to enter the mystery of God‟s presence, as not one but
two children come before God to be baptized. We celebrate the moment that Lucille and
Stieg are joined with God. We remember that we also are joined with God, and will be
forever. And we stand in awe of the love of God that comes down to these two infants.
Good heavens, they can‟t even walk yet. It will be a couple of years before they are even
potty-trained. They can‟t do anything to be impressive to anybody other than their grand
parents at this point. They can‟t work their way into God‟s presence, so God comes to
them. God comes to two kids in their daddy‟s arms.
We are in awe because we know if God comes to them, then God comes to us, no
matter where find ourselves. If we‟re on top of the world, or if we can‟t imagine how we‟re
going to dig ourselves out of the hole we‟re in, God comes. God meets us. If we‟re
self-reliant, or if we can‟t take a straight step on weak legs, God comes. And when we‟re
in those places of darkness and loneliness, we know God comes, because he has been
there, too. He has been there on the cross, so we know that he knows what we go
through, and he comes.
God comes today in the water at the font. God touches two infants. And there at
that font they will die. Hear me clearly. At that font today, when God comes, Stieg and
Lucille will die.
Listen to Saint Paul in Romans 6:
“All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were
baptized into his death. Therefore we have been buried with
him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised
from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk
in newness of life.
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we
will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
These two will die and be raised up in Christ. Stieg and Lucille will die to all
possible futures that do not contain God. And they will rise to newness of life, new
possibility, as they are guided and gifted by God.
We gather today as a community that has died and been raised in Christ. We died
to life without God, and have been raised to a world of new possibility. And we say that
clearly as a community every time we gather for a baptism.
Grab one of those red hymnals in front of you; or, if you‟re going to be technical
about it, one of these scarlet hymnals in front of you. Grab one, and turn to page 229 in
the front of it, the little numbers at the bottom, 229. There you will find the “great no” and
the “great yes” that define us as the baptized people of God.
There are six questions that have, in some form, been asked of every candidate
for baptism for thousands of years. We speak words that believers have cherished for
almost two thousand years. These are ancient questions. Back in the earliest days of
the church, when much of the church was still in hiding, candidates would prepare for
baptism over a long period. The whole period of Lent they would prepare for baptism.
They were questioned. They wrestled with their decision. And then just before dawn on
Easter morning, they came to the font. And they would face west, the place where
darkness comes, the place where the sun sets, and they were asked, “Do you renounce
the forces that defy God?” “Do you renounce all those powers of the world that rebel
against God?” “Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?” And they
would say, “I renounce them.” And then they would turn to face the east, where the light
comes, and they were asked, “Do you believe in God, the Father, Son, and Spirit?” And
they joined the community in the great “yes!” “Yes, I believe!” “No, I renounce them!”
“Yes, I believe!” And this became their identity from now on.
We joined those voices that had spoken throughout the ages. We know who we
are. We know what we say “no” to. We know what we say “yes” to. We know the faith in
which we baptize these children today. We continue the great no and the great yes. And
then we baptize them into death and life and new possibility, for we won‟t just baptize
these two, we will also anoint them. We use oil, and make the sign of the cross on their
forehead. “You have been marked with the cross of Christ forever,” we say. To anoint
someone is to set them apart for a particular task. In the Old Testament, priests and
prophets, warriors and kings were anointed. They were set apart for a task, a specific
task in God‟s kingdom.
We go out from this place anointed for a particular task, a purpose, a meaning,
although patient. Now, the word “anointed one” in the Hebrew is “Messiah.” “Anointed
one” in Greek is “Christos,” “Christ.” We go out literally as the hands and feet of Christ,
the ones anointed to do God‟s work in this world.
But what happens when we leave this place? What happens when we‟re not
among the community anymore, hearing the great no and great yes of our faith? What
do we do in a world that often finds us archaic, amusing, misguided, or, worse yet,
As we consider that question, walk with me for a moment with Jesus and his
disciples as they enter Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi was a city that was pretty far
away from Galilee in a lot of ways, a lot of ways. Caesarea Philippi was the cultic center
of Pan worship. Pan worship. Have you guys ever heard of the Greek god Pan? Pan
was the Greek god of nature, flocks, and wild things. He was the original bad boy. He
was known for being a partier and for throwing people into “panic.” Yes, that‟s where our
word came from. “Panic,” associated with Pan. He was the guy your mom said to watch
out for. And his temple was in one part of town. And down the street there was a worship
center, a temple, for Caesar Augustus. Caesar Augustus, the emperor, also known as a
god who represented power, and wealth, and fame, and ambition. Pan and Caesar
Augustus were what were known in that city. And there stands Jesus in the midst of that,
asking his disciples, “Okay. Who do you guys think I am?” “Who do you think I am?”
Who is Jesus out there, where everything seems so different, where there is no
community affirming the no and yes of faith; no baptismal font reminding us who we are
and that God comes to us? Who is Jesus out there among all of the strange voices?
Who is Jesus in the places we go? Is Jesus the God of grace who calls us from death to
life, into new possibility? Or is Jesus the God of convenience, you know, the God you pull
out when you need him, you pray to when you have a problem?
A couple of years ago I was working with a high-school group, and I proposed this
scenario to them. I said, “You are at your graduation, you‟re walking up to get your
diploma, and the principal says to you, „You can‟t graduate if you‟re a Christian. If you
want your diploma, you have to stomp on a picture of Jesus.‟ And I conveniently had a
big picture of Jesus that I laid in on the floor in front of them. I said, “What would you
do?” Fully half of that class of high schoolers said, “I would step on the picture. I need the
diploma, and God is going to forgive me anyway. Right?”
Is Jesus the God of convenience, that we call when we need him, that we figure
will forgive us no matter what we do, so we do anything? Or perhaps Jesus becomes the
complete opposite. Jesus becomes the morality police, who makes us feel guilty all the
time about everything we do. Or is Jesus a God we compartmentalize? Jesus is only at
church on Sunday mornings and nowhere else.
Peter didn‟t think so. Peter stood up that day in Caesarea Philippi, with all of those
voices and all of those options around him, and declared, “You are the anointed one.”
“You are the Son of God.” “You are the God of life and death for all time.” “You are the
God of possibility in all places.” “You are the God who calls us into the future.” And
Jesus called him “rock,” and said, “This is the faith the church will be built on.” This is the
faith that can only come from God, because we can‟t do it ourselves. God comes,
remember. God comes even in Caesrea Phiippi. God came to Peter in the midst of all
the distractions and temptations, and told Peter who he is, who Jesus is.
God comes to us, not just at the font, not just at the supper, but in all the places we
go, and reminds us who we are. We are the people of faith, the people of the “great yes”
and “great no,” the people who have died and have been risen in Christ.
So may you find joy and strength in the presence of God wherever you are. May
you hear the resounding “no” and the resounding “yes” that reminds you who you are.
And may you know the love of God as you live out your anointed calling in this world.
(This is an unedited transcription of a tape-recorded sermon given by Pastor Cindy Bullock.)