Sunday, June 29, 2008

St. Peter: The Indispensable Man (Part One)

Here is the first part of the sermon that I preached today at St. Joseph's. I pray that it will be spiritually profitable for you.

St. Peter: The Indispensable Man
Matthew 16:13-19

In February of each year, Americans celebrate the birthday and the memory of two men who were arguably the two greatest presidents to ever lead this nation: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. A number of years ago, I read a biography of George Washington called Washington: The Indispensable Man. Washington truly was indispensable; it is hard to imagine what this country would have been like without him. Without his military genius and his ability to inspire loyalty in people, the Continental Army would almost certainly have been defeated by the British or would have simply fallen apart. And without his lack of a thirst for power, the U. S. presidency may well have turned into yet another monarchy or dictatorship, like those in nearly all the rest of the world. Without a doubt, George Washington was the greatest of all of our founding fathers.

On this day, the Orthodox Church honors the memory of two great men who could be called the founding fathers of the Church: Ss. Peter and Paul. As Washington and Lincoln were to the United States of America, so were St. Peter and St. Paul to the Church. True, there were other apostles and leaders of the Church, just as there were other great leaders of the early American republic. And yet, it is impossible to imagine (humanly speaking, at least) the growth and expansion of the early Church without these two monuments of the faith. St. Paul’s primary role was in the expansion of the Church to the Gentile areas west of the Holy Land. He founded countless numbers of churches and provided oversight for them, including the writing of many epistles, thirteen of which have survived and make up a considerable part of the New Testament. St. Paul’s life and contributions to the Christian faith are in their own right worthy of a complete sermon or even a sermon series.

But today, I would like to focus on the life of the man that St. John Chrysostom called “The Prince of the Apostles.” In particular, I would like to examine a critical moment in St. Peter’s life, along with its meaning for him, for the early Church, and for us today. This moment, narrated in today’s Gospel passage consists of three key parts: Jesus’ challenge, Peter’s answer, and Jesus’ promise.

Jesus’ Challenge

First, let us look at Jesus’ challenge. He began by “warming them up,” so to speak, by throwing them a “softball.” “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” This question is easily one of the most, perhaps THE most, commonly asked questions in the world since Jesus’ day. I find it amazing that it is still asked and debated with much fervor two thousand years later. For you see, humanity has found that while you can say what you want about Jesus, you cannot ignore him. Everyone, be they a traditional Christian, a liberal Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic, atheist—whatever their belief system—has a theory about the identity of our Lord Jesus. I have heard him described (among other things) as a political agitator, a wandering mystic or guru, a Gnostic, a teacher concerned primarily with ethics, a liberator of the oppressed, a prophet, a Jewish reformer, and so on. And as you know, at least twice a year, usually around Christmas and around Easter, the mainstream media outlets knock each other over to try to be the first to report the latest “cutting-edge” theory about Jesus: who he “really” was and what he was “really” hoping to accomplish.

In response to Jesus’ question, the disciples listed many of the main theories going around at the time. Now theories about Jesus are certainly very interesting—some downright laughable. But in the grand scheme of things, it does not matter at all what other people think about him. What is really important is Jesus’ second question (the tough one!): “But who do YOU say that I am?” As the footnote to this passage in the Orthodox Study Bible says, this is the greatest question that a person can ever face. It is not just a historical or theological question, for the way you answer this question is a matter of life or death, heaven or hell. Let’s take a look at Peter’s answer.
(We'll look at it tomorrow!)

1 comment:

Clint said...

Yes, we certainly owe much to St. Peter and St. Paul. I enjoyed hearing the homily here in San Antonio (same subject, of course). It caused me to think more about these Saints and what they did. Fr. Dmitry stated that they were who they were because they were not themselves, but had emptied themselves and were filled with Christ. Fantastic!