(A sermon based on 51:1-6; Matthew 16:13-20. Preached at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Macon, GA on August 27, 2017)
Our whole universe was in a hot, dense state
Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started, wait …
It all started with a big bang! Bang!
We’d add a line before those that says, “And God said, ‘Let there be …’”
Still, the best we can tell, that’s the way God did it. It all started with this tremendously dense dot (scientists call it a “singularity”) that banged, and when it banged, boy howdy. The resulting universe is still expanding. Some experts think it will just keep on keeping on.
That’s also how God made the people that came to be known as Israel. There was this tremendously dense pair of dots—a “duality,” it you will—named Sarah and Abraham, and when they started expanding—well, actually, not much happened at first. It was all they could do to have Isaac. But eventually things took off, and boy howdy. Next thing they knew they were a multitude living in a relatively prosperous place under relatively successful monarchs named David and Solomon. God had told Abraham that he’d have descendants in numbers like the sands on the seashore and the stars in the sky, and, if we allow for a little divine hyperbole, he did.
But something—lots of things, actually—went wrong. Maybe one of the things that went wrong was that Abraham’s descendants never quite got, or never quite accepted, or never quite wanted to accept, that little detail in the promise to Abraham about how they were to bless other people. But differently, maybe it all became too much about their privilege and too little about their responsibility (that was in fact part of their privilege). In short, maybe it became a little too much about them and not enough about other folks.
So when the prophet whose words we find in Isaiah 40-55 told his listeners, “Look to the rock from which you are hewn” and identified that rock as Abraham and Sarah, the irony hurt. Abraham and Sarah had left Mesopotamia, gone to Canaan, and become many. Now their descendants were in exile in Mesopotamia, were exiled from Canaan, and had become few.
I mentioned earlier that some experts think the universe will expand forever. But others think that eventually gravity will take over and the universe will start contracting. They also think that it will contract until it becomes another singularity where all the matter in the universe will again be smaller than a subatomic particle.
So why are we here anyway? I don’t mean why are we here in the universe; I mean why are we here in church, worshiping God and trying to follow Jesus?
We’re here because somewhere along the way we began to realize who Jesus is. Maybe it happened in a flash; maybe it happened over time; maybe we just kind of always sort of knew. Simon Peter and the other disciples had been following Jesus around for a while, watching what he did and listening to what he said. So one day when Jesus asked them who they thought he was, Peter piped right up: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus told Peter that he knew that because heaven had revealed it to him, that he was going to build his church on the rock of such heavenly insight, and that having such insight would give Peter important responsibilities indeed.
“And just think,” Peter might have said to himself, “we’re right here with you. I’m right here with you.”
You and us, Jesus. You and me, Jesus. It’s going to be great. We’re going to be great. I’m going to be great.
It’s understandable. It’s even good. We should spend as much time with Jesus as we can. We should get to know him as well as we can. We should develop that relationship as much as we can.
But think of the energy being with Jesus produces. What will happen if we keep on focusing it inward, if we let it all be about us, about me?
A big crunch will happens. And if we stay that way, we and the world will be the poorer for it.
A big bang needs to happen. All of that spiritual energy that is compressed in our relationship with Jesus needs to be turned outward.
And so after Peter said the right words about Jesus (“you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”), Jesus started telling the disciples what that meant.
He told them that he was going to suffer, die, and rise again. Peter didn’t like that. He said it couldn’t be. And then, when Jesus said that to follow him meant to lose your life, it probably dawned on Peter that what he was afraid of was true: it wasn’t just about Jesus and him. It was about Jesus and him and the world and everybody in it. It was about giving yourself away and taking others’ pain onto yourself. It was about loving your neighbor as yourself as well as loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
It’s about turning the energy of our relationship with Jesus outward.
Some experts believe that the big bang that produced our universe is just one of a series. They say that every trillion years or so, a big crunch happens followed by another big bang.
Maybe every once in a while we need to go into big crunch mode: you know, let it just be about Jesus and us or Jesus and me for a while.
But it can’t stay that way, not for long.
There’s just too much love, grace, mercy, and peace to spread around.