13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”17And 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.18And 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.19I 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.”20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
- Matthew 16:13-20
When she suggested we should make a trip to the Quilt Museum, Petie said, “These aren’t your grandma’s quilts.” She kept saying that it was a real art museum, but I found that hard to believe. It didn’t bother me, though, because I was going primarily for the company anyways. When we walked through the doors, where middle age women wore tennis shoes and carried walkie talkies to ensure we wouldn’t take pictures or touch the quilts, my expectations were met. But it didn’t take long for my eyes to wonder to a quilt in the corner, adorned with jewels and bright fabric that captured my attention. The first few, the featured quilts, weren’t really for me, but soon I found my love.
I turned a corner and there it was, bright red batik fabric in all its glory. The quilt hung perfectly on the beige wall, huge and bright and covered in giant butterflies. Their wings sported multiple magnificent colors that complimented the red perfectly and there were these subtle sparkly jewels sewn in. When I saw that quilt I knew that I had seen all I needed to see. It captivated me and drew me in and I was lost in its beauty. When Frances came around the corner and saw me staring she said, “It is resurrection,” and I nodded lost in the wonder of it all.
It said nothing and yet it proclaimed so much, made by a man named Mark in Florida. Who knew that fabric and thread could proclaim so much? But certainly Mark has figured out his unique voice in this world so full of people talking over one another.
I so badly wanted to touch those quilts just because we weren’t supposed to, and I really wanted a picture of the butterfly quilt that I could put as a background on my laptop or at least hang in my office, but maybe there was more mystery and intrigue having to leave it all there. Maybe I took all I needed from our brief encounter.
In our scripture lesson today Peter finds his voice and teaches us the value of authentic proclamation. In a place where he is surrounded by dead deities, Peter proclaims the Living God. Here in these brief verses, Peter, like Mark, the quilter, recognizes the power in proclaiming truth through his unique voice. When Peter answers Jesus’ question, he nails it, and the result is a sort of masterpiece. Because in this moment, Peter proclaims that Jesus is Messiah and the son of the Living God, he becomes the rock on which the church will be founded. Because for these few fleeting moments, he listens for God, he is given keys of the kingdom, and therefore we are too.
I don’t know about you, but when I am put in a room full of Marks & Peters, the people who know exactly what to say and who are talented beyond belief, I often go into my shell. What could I possibly offer this world when there are artists like Mark and preachers like Peter?
In July I got to move offices both literally and figuratively. It was really important for me to make the physical move because I am a space person and I needed to get out of the old office to feel like things had really changed and I was really the senior minister. John had mentioned when he left that his desk was sort of falling a part so the board allowed me to purchase a new one. It was really wonderful getting to pick out new furniture for the office, visioning years ahead of studying, writing, doing the daily administrative tasks, and visioning in that space. I looked and looked and finally found what I wanted, purchasing two separate desks that I would shape into an L. the first was a sort of fancier one. It came assembled and was immediately functional. But the second one came in a long flat box, that jingled when you moved it, and it would have to be assembled. Many people offered to help, but everyone had done so much that I decided to call this one in on the honey-do list, so I asked Willie if he could come up and assemble it for me. It happened to be the same week as VBS and Brian & Brandi Miller decided to come over and help.
The church was full of kids running around, playing and learning. That day the search committee also met. Brian, brandi & Willie started laughing as they opened the box and stared at what seemed like a million tiny pieces. But it didn’t take long, once I was out of my meeting it was almost completely assembled and they were asking where I wanted it. The desk was beautiful, exactly what I wanted. And so we moved it around a little and finally decided where it should stay.
Fast forward a couple of weeks when Larry, the church board chair, & I were having a normal meeting to check in about church business. We finished our conversation and Larry got up to leave when my desk drawer slams down from my desk, landing right on the top of my foot. And yes, I was wearing ballet flats, so it did land right on my foot. Larry had a startled look on his face and asked, “Did I do that?” And I assured him no, it was simply an error in assembly and told him that Willie & Brian had put the desk together. My perfect, espresso black desk was now showing its true colors and that it has a bit of a personality. It only happens occasionally, say once a week, but when you hear me shout the first half of a word that shouldn’t be spoken in the church, it is probably my desk drawer that has fallen out again.
I know that I should have it causes a serious injury, but I love my quirky desk because every time the drawer gets slightly off its hinges I think back to that exciting week when children filled the church and my friends were helping and we were visioning toward the future, and my call started sinking in that this is my home and my place and my people. Every time I am having writers block or wondering about a difficult decision and I start to stare out into outer space the crooked drawer catches my attention and immediately warms my heart.
It is no butterfly quilt and it is no direct message straight from the Father in heaven, but it is my perfectly imperfect workspace and I cherish it.
It reminds me of the master bathroom in the parsonage in Paris, which sported baby blue tile around the baby blue tub, which was hidden by a brown shower curtain. It was our little secret that the tub was blue and that the calking was sort of falling apart in itty bitty pieces and a few of the tiles were broken. But I loved that strange bathroom because it was a part of Willie & I’s first home, connected to my first call as a full time pastor.
The Gospel contains a quirky message told by quirky characters.
Simon Peter, the rock on which Jesus chooses to build the church, the one who he gives the keys to the kingdom and all sorts of power and authority was not perfect. In our verses for today he gets a good wrap. If you don’t read ahead, Peter is looking pretty good. He is all special and hearing things from God in heaven.
But you don’t have to look much further, just skip down to the very next three verses, and things change pretty quickly. It is when Jesus starts telling the disciples what is ahead, he is going to suffer and the disciples are going to suffer, and Peter will have none of it. And as quickly as he rose to the top, he falls all the way back to the bottom as Jesus rebukes him, calling Peter satan and a stumbling block and telling him he is focused on human things not divine things.
It gives us exegetical whiplash the switch happens so quickly. Peter goes from listening to God to listening to humans and he is demoted from “the rock” to “Satan.” And even though I would usually be quite disturbed by Jesus’ harsh name calling of Peter, I am actually a little bit relieved because I don’t think that it changes what happened in the moments before. It is sort of reassuring that Peter isn’t perfect. And it makes me wonder how many ugly quilts Mark made alongside that beautiful butterfly one.
If I were to ask you today how confident you are in your ability to proclaim the Good News, I doubt that many of you would be racing to tell me. You would probably think of all the reasons why you aren’t qualified for the job. But I wonder if our plain proclamations of the truths that we know because of the Living God we worship, are sort of like my desk that carries a crooked drawer. It is a little bit weird and sometimes it is actually totally dysfunctional, but it gets the job done in a pinch.
In our church we don’t talk a lot about proclamation because that is sort of like a Baptisty type word. I think we associate the term with things like tracts or pushy missionaries who ring our doorbells early on Saturday morning. But, like Peter, we are the ones who God asks to proclaim life in a world that is so full of death.
Our proclamations are as unique as we are: they could happen through a paintbrush or a telephone or a hammer and nail, a saw blade, a mini van, or heaven forbid even a banjo. But God has called us to use all of who we are to proclaim a Living God in a culture that is full of dead deities.
Because we have made our stuff into gods and it is constantly disappointing us.
But. We are the ones. We are the ones who have been called to be church, not alone, but alongside lots of other quirky & faithful churches. We are called to continue to use our voice in this community. To discover how we will proclaim a God who loves everyone. No Matter What.
But who do you say that I am? Jesus asks Peter. And so he asks each of us to proclaim truth. To share love. To be good news. So claim your voice. And use it to proclaim the Living God.