The Gospel for today is from the sixteenth chapter of Matthew, beginning at verse thirteen
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do the people say the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." And 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. And 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. I 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." Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Here ends the Gospel reading.
We have all heard the expressions: "Confession is good for the soul," and, "'Fess up! You'll feel better." But just what is this confession thing? In this message, I'll be using the word in two different ways. One way is to confess something we do or have done that we know is wrong—an acknowledgement or a repentance of sorts--usually hoping for some type of forgiveness. An example of this use of the word is from our liturgy of the Order for Confession and Forgiveness with which we begin every service.
A second usage of the word confession is to profess something we believe in, something that defines who we are and points to our value system. Again, from our liturgy, we confess our faith with the words of the Apostle's or Nicene Creed. As we shall see, the word in both its meanings finds use in our non-church life as well as within our Sunday liturgy.
Some things are easy to confess because they are pretty obvious anyway. For example, I am willing to confess that I enjoy eating, and not always the right foods. But this comes as no surprise to anyone who has seen me at a potluck dinner. This is one of a great many reasons why I miss Warren Harding. When he was there I was assured I would not be the only person filling my plate a second time.
Perhaps you are willing to confess a guilty feeling that you like nice clothes or a luxury car or yard sales and auctions or in Beth's case, quilting, perhaps more than you should. Things that are obvious or that are not considered very bad are easy to admit to. But what about our more secret things? What about the things the Bible refers to as done in darkness—literally or figuratively? o ignored
Most of us are thankful that in the Lutheran church our confession is both corporate and private. As a body we acknowledge that we are sinful beings, and privately in our own hearts—silently, of course!—we confess to God more specifically those sins we would prefer others not know about, knowing that we are not really telling secrets because God is already aware of them. o ignored
We might also use the word confession as a synonym for witness. I'll get to that in a moment, but first let's set the stage for our Gospel lesson.
Jesus and his disciples were at Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi was the farthest point north from Jerusalem. It was the place where several religions—Canaanite that worshipped Baal, Egyptian, Greek and Roman—all had places of their polytheistic worship. This story also took place just before Jesus turned south and headed toward Jerusalem and his destiny. And here among these false deities, Jesus posed the question to his disciples as to what they had heard from others as to who he was. Was he thought of as another one of the gods of the heathens, or something else? Various disciples answered by telling him that some people thought he was John the Baptist whom they knew had been beheaded. Others heard that he was believed to be a reincarnation of Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.
But then Jesus got up close and personal in addressing the disciples: "But who do you say that I am?" I can well imagine some muttering from among the disciples and some avoidance of eye contact. I saw it frequently in my years in the classroom when students didn't know how to answer a question. But our bull-in-the-china-shop Peter pipes up to answer Jesus by saying, "You are the Messiah, Son of the living God." No beating around the bush with Peter! And of course, this is exactly the response that Jesus had hoped for. His time with the disciples was drawing to a close, he was headed for the fate awaiting him in Jerusalem, and it was about time for the frequently dense disciples to get some things right, even if it required a push from God the Father.
Do you remember back when you took catechism or what we now call confirmation class? There was that section in the small catechism, right after the discussion of the sacraments, about the Office of the Keys. The next verses of the Gospel are the foundation of that office. Jesus tells Peter, "And I will tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. . . I 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." Jesus gave the apostles, and by extension the whole church, the responsibility to forgive or to retain the sins of the one making a confession.
And so now here we are, back to our confession liturgy. In our service, after the congregation acknowledges its sinfulness, both privately and corporately, the pastor announces, "As a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." The Office of the Keys tells us that the church has been given that authority by Jesus himself to completely and totally forgive our sins. WOW! What peace those words provide as we continue the remainder of our service, especially the meal at God's own table.
So Peter was put on the spot and made his confession. But Jesus demands that we, too, confess him. You might imagine Him pointing his finger at you or at me and asking, "And who do you say I am?" He does not allow us to look away. And He asks every day, not just on Sunday morning.
We confess—or witness—to Jesus' question every day, not just in our voice, but most clearly in our actions. We confess God when we get up on Sunday morning and come to worship. We confess God when we do charitable acts. We confess God when we give a kind word to a stranger. We confess God when we send a card or visit a shut-in. We confess God when we forgive someone who has wronged us. We confess God when we serve on church committees, or sing, or usher, or acolyte—or maybe even when we preach a sermon! We confess God when we use the talents God has given us in ways that glorify him and when we show love to our neighbors. And we confess God when we use and not abuse the earth He has provided.
May our lives be ones of confessions—public and private, large and small—that show we believe God's promises to always be with us, to redeem us, and to wash away all that would separate us from Him. And may we joyfully echo Peter's words to Jesus, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
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