This sermon series is inspired by the work of www.sanctifiedart.org. The liturgical help and scriptural framing were beneficial for my study and sermon writing. Each week I highlight a phrase from the hymn “Come Thou Fount” and view it through the life of the disciple Peter.

You may click here to read the passage, which is Matthew 14:20-33

Introduction

Today we continue our series, “Figuring Out Faith,” in which we are taking phrases from the hymn, “Come Thou Fount,” and looking at them through the lens of Peter’s life. Peter was one of the close friends and followers of Jesus and an important leader in the early Christian church.

Today the phrase is, “Praise the Mount.” The mount is God’s unchanging love and that is the source of our confidence and our calling as a church.

1. The Church Has Confidence in Her Future

Jesus says to Peter in the presence of the disciples, “I will build my church and the Gates of Hell shall not overcome it!” What a statement! Chin up. Chest out. Confidence. So, let me tell you something.

You are the future of the church. 

Or, you may say, “But Pastor Jason, I’m just a kid, a teenager.” That doesn’t matter, does it, adults? You are the future of the church.

Or, You may say, “Pastor Jason, I can’t be the future of the church. I’m too old. No such thing. Have you met Abraham? Simeon? Anna? Whether you are part of the Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation, or are a Boomer, you are the future of the church. 

Generation X, there are not many of us out in the wild, yet we too are the future of the church. Millennials and Gen-Y, you grew up never knowing a time without the internet. You grew up in a brand-new, connected world and Christ has a place for you in the future of the church.

Gen-Z (1997-2012). Your generation is politically and socially aware. You are leading the conversation about caring for the environment. You are the future of the church.

Generation Alpha was born between 2013- and now. They are called “Alpha” because they live in a brand-new world with artificial intelligence as their reality. Robust technology fills their classroom. Our confirmation classes will be hosting them in a few years and they will need a church and youth group that prepares them for their world and not ours. They are the future of the church.

The words of Jesus stand—the gates of the strongest powers possible have not, do not, and will not prevail over it, because of God’s unchanging love.

Maybe you are listening, and you say, “But Pastor Jason, I don’t know if I can be the future of the church. I don’t really know a lot about Christianity, Jesus, or the Bible, so I’m not sure I could ever explain what I believe or why I believe it.” Sometimes we only need to be a faithful, kind witness that says, “This is what it means to me,” and God uses that. You are still the future of the church.

You may say, “But Pastor Jason . . . “ Let me stop you right there because you and I both know how the sentence is going to end. You are the future of the church, because Jesus said you are.

The church has a future and the future is you and the future is inside of you just waiting to get out—and that is praise. Praise the mount of God’s unfailing love. That is our calling.

But we have to see something very important this morning—our confidence is not in ourselves! 

We are the future of the church not because we are the best, strongest, most articulate, most in control, steady, or the most faithful. We are the future because God has always chosen to use the frail things of this world to do strong and mighty things. 

Someone in here needs to hear this—you are here this morning, and you see the cracks in your life and you are doubtful you can make a positive impact in the world—just remember that God’s light shines through the cracks the best and I want you to consider Peter because he is a hit-or-miss kind of Christian like me and you.

Peter isn’t perfect. He doubts or mistrusts Jesus twice. In Jesus’ most dire moments, Peter denies Jesus three times and runs away in fear. Yet in our passage, Jesus says to Peter, seeing his warts and all, “You know, Peter, I can build a whole church with a person like you.” 

So, if Jesus can build a whole church with Peter, then imagine what the Lord can do with us! I’m not saying we are better than Peter, but if you put us in a barrel together we might be equal to 1.5 or even 2 Peters on a good day. So why should we not do big and wonderful things, and think bigger things for ourselves and our church, especially when we are on the mount of God’s unfailing love?

2. The Future Has Challenges

“The Gates of Hell.”

Jesus and the disciples have traveled to Caesarea Philippi, which is 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. This is as far north as Jesus ever travels. After the evil King Herod died, his son Philip took control of this region and renamed a city in honor of himself and Caesar—thus Caesarea Philippi.

This city was very important to the Greeks and Romans. It was at the base of Mount Hermon and was a major water source of the Jordan River. It was the center of worship for the mythical god, Pan. Before it was renamed, the city was called Paneas.

Paneas had a major cave system with a water system the locals considered bottomless. This cave system was where the grotto or altar to Pan was. The Greeks held that in springtime the spirits of the underworld would travel from the underworld to our world through the cave and water system—thus this was considered the doorway, or the gates of hell. 

When people were in the caves they would become filled with fear of the unseen spirits and the unseen but felt presence of the god Pan—thus we get the word Panic. 

Unseen and mysterious forces and frightful panic cause chaos.

Jesus says, “Upon this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail.” This calms our hearts and gives us confidence as the voice of Jesus speaks to us.

The future will always have challenges. We will need the help and blessing and guidance of God to meet them, but Christ is with us and we do not PANIC. We are not in a cave of darkness. God lights our way.

That is why we praise the mount of God’s unchanging love.

That is our confidence and our calling as we face each and every challenge. Let’s talk about our calling now. 

3. The Church’s Calling to Praise

Peter confesses, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Peter bears witness to his faith in the presence of others and Jesus responds, “On this rock, I will build my church.”

All around the world this weekend, people are picking apart the phrase “on this rock.” Some are saying that “the rock” upon which Christ builds the church is Peter because Peter becomes, in their view, the “first pope.” Some say it’s not about Peter but about his confession.

Both sides are convincing. In my view, you cannot have one without the other.  The church is built when people own their faith and bear witness to Christ in the presence of others.

When Peter talks about what Jesus means to him, he is bearing witness in the presence of others. That is how Christ builds the church and that is how God builds strong Christians.

Often, we think of evangelism is something that we do when we talk to someone who is not a Christian, but we need to continually evangelize ourselves! We need to remind ourselves of the good news of God’s unchanging love and God uses our public act of worship to do just that. 

In worship, we bear witness to One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We say, “We believe in a thing called grace.” We declare the mystery of our faith: Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. I love it when we say that during Holy Communion. We bear witness to our beliefs and the limits of our knowing. 

I am using the phrase “bear witness” intentionally. You may have noticed that we don’t spend a lot of time on Sunday mornings trying to convince attendees about the existence of God, or the authenticity of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts, or the hypostatic union of Christ whereby Jesus is both fully God and fully human. 

I belong to a gym where I work out. No one in there is trying to convince me of the merits of good nutrition or whether exercise is good for you. 

They are bearing witness by their presence and actions to what they believe about nutrition, health, and exercise. So it is with us.  We believe it is good and right to bear witness and that doing so builds the church and builds strong Christians.

Peter bears witness in the presence of the disciples. Notice the last verse, “And Jesus sternly told them not to tell anyone.” Why is that? But Pastor Jason, does that mean . . .?

They are in hostile territory and Jesus knows it will detract from the ministry they need to do AND that the disciples are not ready to handle that kind of pressure. No matter—it is DESCRIPTIVE for them and not prescriptive for us.

Within 9 months, the disciples will leave their homes, their city, and their region and will go to new lands. They will welcome new people to church. They will even change how they worship. In some cases, they will change the worship service to accommodate others. In other cases, they show great thoughtfulness in how the communicate to and welcome those who don’t share their religious starting point. They go from meeting in the temple and synagogue to meeting in homes.

The future always has challenges and changes, right, congregation? Then we should also be willing to change to, right? Remember, as we face the whispers and voices of change, we don’t PANIC. 

The message doesn’t change—it is the mount of God’s unchanging love. How it is communicated changes. The form changes. The message does not.

Why am I talking about this? Because this is what Peter bears witness to in his confession.

Jesus, you are not Pan, the son of Hermes, the son of Zeus. You are not Pan, the son of Hermes, the son of the God of lore. 

You are not Pan, the god carved out of stone, the god who cannot move unless we move you.

You are Jesus, the son of the very God who lived with my parents and my grandparents and their parents before them. You are the son of God who lives with me and my children. 

You are the son of the very God who will live with my grandchildren and their children and their children’s children. You are the God who will live in the future beyond my time on earth.

You are the son of the living God. You are not made by human hands, but you have life on your own. You are not made by human hands, but you use human hands to shape the destiny of people on earth to bring about peace and justice. 

You are the God who is always with us in the chaos and obstacles of the future. You are Jesus, the child of the God who lives and moves with us into the future and you stand with us in the chaos and use our words and our witness to hold fast the future of the church.

You are the Christ the child of the God who goes on living with us. 

Church, this is why Scripture tells us that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God is always existing and always constant; therefore, we praise the mount of God’s unchanging love.

What a mystery. What a marvel. What a messiah.  Praise the Mount!

You are the future of the church, so let the future change you so you may step confidently into your calling as you bear witness to who Jesus is in your life.

Christ can build a whole church off a person like you.

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