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Rev. Kristen Roth Allen’s sermon from:

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Matthew 9:35-10:4, 16:13-20 NIV

Remember the old “Candid Camera” show?  I saw an episode long ago which featured a tap dance class for beginners.  The humorous part came in when the class showed up, and unbeknownst to one poor student, she was the only real beginner.  Everyone else was an experienced tap dancer, so when the teacher started by giving them a few “simple” steps to try, everyone else could do the extremely complicated routine flawlessly.  The poor student looked around, embarrassed, wondering, “how can everyone else do this and I can’t??”

I wonder sometimes if following Jesus can feel like that.  There are so many people who are so far ahead, we may feel like we don’t even know what questions to ask.  Especially if you are new to church, or just coming back, or just beginning to explore faith, it can be intimidating.

Well, in this season leading up to Lent (which starts in mid-February) we are going to explore the lives of some of the people closest to Jesus – some of the 12 Disciples.  This is not going to be just a history lesson – far from it! By getting to know them, we will find our own path to following Jesus marked out more clearly.  “Making disciples” is our mission as a church.  All over United Methodism you see that our mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  But what does that mean, really?  Looking at these disciples and their joys and sorrows, strengths and weaknesses, and experiences with Jesus will give us new insight into our own walk with Jesus.

Jesus had crowds of people who listened to him and were interested in him.  It’s one thing to be in the crowd, and another to be his disciple. There were the crowds, but there were a smaller number:  people who really knew him, loved him, and followed him; people who committed their lives to joining Jesus in his mission.  These were called his disciples.  We know that both women and men were his disciples.  Women named as his followers are Mary Magdalene and several other Marys, Joanna, Salome, and Susanna, to name a few. 

Jesus chose 12 men to be his closest companions, to learn and be formed by their life together, and to carry on his mission into the future.  Matthew 9: 35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  Jesus proclaimed and healed.  Notice that Jesus had a balanced ministry:  personal salvation and social justice.

Matthew 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them,because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.37 Then he said to his disciples,“The harvestis plentiful but the workers are few.38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”10:1– Jesus called his twelve disciples to him.  This calling of the 12 is in the context of compassion for lost people.  “They were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Our calling as disciples is in that same context.  Like Jesus, we live in a world where people are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  We often think of it as all about us – what we will give up or get by following Jesus.  What if his calling to us is not only about a personal relationship with us, but about his desire to reach all lost people with the good news of the whole gospel – personal salvation and social justice?So let’s look together:  who were these 12?  How many can you name?  It’s hard to remember a list of 12 names!  I’ll make it easier.  Here is a little poem that I pasted inside the cover of the Bible I got in Sunday School in 1976.  I memorized it, and all these years later it stays with me and helps me remember these disciples:
Peter, Andrew, James, and John
the men he most depended on, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the Traitor. James the Less, Judas the Greater Matthew next, and Thomas too.         Philip and Bartholomew

Let me encourage you to paste that inside your Bible and memorize it too!  Do you have any friends that go by a different name at home than they do, say, at school or work? One thing that makes it hard to remember the names of the 12 Disciples is that several of them go by multiple names.  Here is the list:
          Peter (Simon)(Cephas)
          James (son of Zebedee)
          Bartholomew (Nathanael?)
          Matthew (Levi)
          James (son of Alphaeus) (the Less or the Younger)
          Thaddaeus (Judas son of James, or Judas the Greater)
          Simon the Zealot
          Judas Iscariot (the Traitor)

They were from a remarkable variety of backgrounds:  businessmen (Peter, Andrew, James and John), a tax collector (Matthew), and a zealous revolutionary (Simon the Zealot).  In your mind’s eye, look around at the people that you follow Jesus with:  we are all kinds of people, from all kinds of backgrounds.  That’s the great beauty of the Body of Christ!  It brings people together that would never otherwise become connected.  It’s good to know that Jesus chose ordinary people, not the best and the brightest.  The great preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “it is a good thing that God chose me before I was born, because he surely would not have afterwards!”

Peter is the 1st on every list of the 12 Disciples. He is mentioned the most of any of the Twelve:  210 times.  All the others combined are mentioned 142 times.  He grew up in Galilee, making his living as a fisherman along with his father and brother Andrew.  His home was in Capernaum, a village along the shore of the Sea (really a lake) of Galilee.  It may have been a place like Penn Yan in some ways. He was married, we know from where the gospels tell us that Jesus healed his mother-in-law.

Peter was part of the inner circle of three who were especially close to Jesus – Peter, James, and John.  They were there at pivotal moments like the raising of Jairus’ daughter, on the Mount of Transfiguration, and in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Peter and John were sent ahead to prepare for the last Passover in Jerusalem.  He often emerges in the gospels as the spokesperson for the 12.  He denied Jesus 3 times, and later was restored by Jesus.  After the resurrection, Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene, then Peter.  In Acts he is the first leader of the church and its spokesman early on.  He first opens up salvation in Jesus Christ to the Jews, then to the Gentiles.  Peter is a bridge, a unifier.

Our title today “the man who became a rock.”  What’s that all about?  We find out in Matthew 16, starting with verse 13.  13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,“Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist;others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?”he asked.“Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”17 Jesus replied,“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood,but by my Father in heaven.18 And I tell you that you are Peter,and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  Jesus is with the 12, and asks them a question:  “who do people say I am?”  They answer, “Some say John the Baptist;others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  When Jesus asked that question he had come to a crisis point in his ministry.  He had come to his own people and his own had not received him.  Oh, it was true that the common people heard him gladly and they loved him.  But as their answers revealed, they had no idea who he was.  Ray Pritchard says “it would be fair to say that the common people liked Jesus but did not worship him.”  It’s one thing to be in the crowd, and another to be a disciple.

Jesus follows up the first questions with another:  “But who do you (plural) say that I am?”  Bible commentator Karoline Lewis puts it this way:  “Out of the plural “you” Peter comes forward. Peter steps out. Peter speaks up. Peter figures out what he has to say, what he believes — and then he says it.”

Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (v.16)  It’s a simple, concise answer. And from that answer the world shifted its course. 

When Peter says those words, Jesus looks at Peter and gives him a promise which has become one of the foundation stones of the Christian church. They are at Caesarea Philippi, where there is a huge stone cliff, having this conversation.  You can picture Jesus looking at that rock wall, then saying to Peter, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” (v. 18)  He starts out as Simon, but Jesus gives him a new name.  “And I tell you that you are Peter (Petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my Church.” 

You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.  That “rock” is that Peter knows Jesus as the Christ or Messiah.  Peter knows Jesus as the Savior and the Son of the Living God.  He’s clearly planting his feet on the solid rock of Jesus’ identity.  He’s claiming that Jesus is not just a good man, a wise man, or a prophet – but the savior the world was waiting for.

There are lots of different ways to define a disciple, but I think this is the most helpful I’ve ever heard:  A disciples is someone who knows, loves, and follows Jesus, and helps others do the same.  Here we see that Peter – the rock – knows Jesus.  That’s the starting place for the whole church, Jesus says:  17 Jesus replied,“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood,but by my Father in heaven.18 And I tell you that you are Peter,and on this rock I will build my church,and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Jesus’ question is for us too:  Who do people say I am?  That is THE fundamental question.  And against it, and in comparison with it, there are no other questions.   It is one thing to know the answers that others give. It is good to know the opinions that people have of Jesus.  But there is a question that goes beyond that. It is the personal question, “But who do you say that I am?” The church is built upon people who are courageous enough to come forward and confess once again, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Many years later Peter wrote a letter which became part of the New Testament.  We call it First Peter.  This is what he said in chapter two: “You have come to Christ who is the Living Stone.”  He called Christ the Living Stone, then he said, “And you are built upon him as living stones upon living stones.” (I Peter 2:4-5 paraphrased) 

The church needs rocks – people like Peter.  Peter had great failure, but he trusted the love of Jesus to bring him through it.  He welcomed power of Holy Spirit, he showed courage in suffering, and he opened the door to Jews and Gentiles.  He showed us what it means to know, love, and follow Jesus.The church needs rocks – people who will decide deep inside what they believe about Jesus and then stand up, speak up, step up.  People with courage, who will be here when the going gets tough, when others don’t understand, or when the world starts pushing back.  People who will trust the love of Jesus enough to not give up when they fail.  People who will leave their nets behind – who have decided that following Jesus is so much more important than money, that they can give sacrificially to the work of the kingdom of God.  People who have a heart for the lost, those who are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  People who love Jesus enough to stand up and speak up help others come to know him, love him, and follow him too.

By God’s grace, let’s be rocks like Peter.

Penn Yan United Methodist Church

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