We are going to be a little brave this morning, and try something a little new! Whether you are at home or in the parking lot; alone or with a crowd…. Hold your hands out in front of you, look at your hands…
Now close your eyes. Imagine those hands in your vision are not your hands. Instead they are the hands of Peter. Peter’s hands are the hands of a fisherman. Rough. So many calluses and scars. They are the hands of someone that works really long hard days. He fixes Nets. He pulls them in. He’s the kind of guy that showers when he gets off of work at night, not before work in the mornings. His language is a little salty on occasion. These hands, these hands belong to a man that has a temper!
Imagine these hands, Peters hands, cupped, holding the key to the kingdom of heaven. In these hands holds the power to bring heaven or earth. These hands will build the church that will be so expansive that not even the gates of hell can overcome it…
Feeling this weight in these beaten hands, listen now, to these words from the Gospel of Matthew. READ Matthew 16.13-20
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 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. 18 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. 19 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.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
When I read this text, I have a million questions!
Did Peter believe Jesus? Did Peter feel the weight of all that Jesus put on him to carry? A meme went by my Facebook wall the other day, that said something like, “we are not afraid that we might have too little power, our deepest fear is that we may have too much…” Did Peter experience that fear when Jesus called him “The Rock” and told him he would be at the center of a new Church?
In his book velvet elvis Rob Bell tells the story of his breaking point.
Once again I am going to give you some numbers, and I hesitate to do so, but it is part of the story and it helps to explain the rest. Two years into it, there were around 10,000 people coming to the three gatherings on Sundays. \\ In the middle of all this growth and chaos was me, superpastor. I was doing weddings and funerals and giving spiritual direction and going to meetings and teaching and dealing with crises and visiting people in prison and at the hospital–the pace and the workload were unreal. \\ I can’t begin to describe what it was like because it was happening so fast. One minute you have these ideas about how it could be and the next minute you are leading this exploding church/event/monster. All of a sudden there are all of these people who know who you are and want something from you and think you’re a big deal, and you are the same person you’ve always been. Everything has changed and yet it hasn’t. It’s hard to explain, but I found myself asking, “Where is the training manual?” \\ I think of people who never before cared if I existed who suddenly wanted to be my friend. And that’s why I tell you all of this. Because there’s a dark side. \\ It’s one thing to be an intern with dreams about how church should be. It’s another thing to be the thirty-year-old pastor of a massive church. \\ And that is why I was sitting there in the closet thinking about how far I could be by 11a.m. The next service was starting, I had just finished the 9:00 service, and I was done. I escaped to the storage closet where I could be alone and collect myself and figure out what to do next. \\ I was moments away from leaving the whole thing. \\ I just couldn’t do it anymore. \\ People were asking me to write articles and books on how to grow a progressive young church, and I wasn’t even sure I was a Christian anymore. \\ I didn’t even know if I wanted to be a Christian anymore. \\ What do you do when you can hear the room filling up with thousands of people who are expecting you to give them words from God, and you don’t even know if it is true anymore? \\ I was exhausted. \\ I was burned out. \\ I was full of doubt. \\ I was done. \\ I had nothing more to say. \\ And so I sat there with my keys in my hand, turning them over and over, listening to them clink against each other, hearing the room getting louder and louder and more and more full.
Did Peter every, even once ask, what God were you thinking?!? I’m broken, and not getting this right, and I cannot do this?!? Did Peter ever want to run and hide in a closet so even God couldn’t find him?!?
Gates of Hell
And can you imagine his goal was to build a church so strong and pervasive that even the Gates of Hell could not overcome it? What did Peter think the Gates of Hell were?
Have you ever watched the show Supernatural? You know the scene the good guys, God’s army works hard to save the world with their faith, Holy Water, angels, and crucifixes. But they mess it all up, say the wrong words, trap the wrong demon, let their faith slip just a little too much, and suddenly, the door handle starts turning, and the gates of hell are opened and all of the evil that has ever been is unleashed on the world….
Is that what Peter saw in his mind when Jesus said the gates of hell would not overcome the church? Did peter think he need to start looking for real, actual gates? Did he think the church was a real, actual army? Or when Jesus told Peter that the gates of hell would not overcome his church, did tears come to his eyes as he remembered the times that evil was unleashed on the world. Did he find comfort in the fact that moments that shake the world: moments like September 11, or school shootings like Sandy Hook, or Columbine, or genocide, or war….will not prevail? Or did he believe that the teaching of Jeus to love one another would always be available, even when thin layer of fear that has woven itself though us, that has taken hold in our hearts and relationships.
When Jesus told Peter that the Gates of Hell would not prevail over the church, did Peter have any idea how long the battle would last? How many generations would be turning again and again to him for strength and guidance? Did he have any idea of the power he held in his hands?
“And that’s not all.” Hear these words again from the Message Version, “You will have complete and free access to God’s kingdom, keys to open any and every door: no more barriers between heaven and earth, earth and heaven. A yes on earth is yes in heaven. A no on earth is no in heaven.”
Was he really careful about what he said to people after that? When someone opened a door, did he say, “wow thanks! You eternally blessed! See you in heaven!” Did he ever go out after work, have a couple of beers, get in a little brawl, tell someone to go to hell… and regret it the next day?!? And what does it mean to have free and complete access to God’s Kingdom? Is that like a rocket ship that takes him to the clouds? Or is it the power to go inside himself, and feel the presence and guidance of Christ, to love even when it is hard to love, to do the right thing even when it is hard to do…
When you see envision his hands, do you wonder? Do you wonder, what Peter, broken, flawed… a hardworking fisherman, experienced when Jesus told him these things. I wonder how it felt to know he was holding the keys to the kingdom in his hands. I wonder of the fear? The overwhelming power? Did it bring him to his knees? Did it drive him to hide where God could not find him? What do you feel when God places the big scary dreams in your hands? Does your heart beat a little faster? Are you afraid it is too much power? That you will mess it all up?
One of my favorite artists, for a very long time, was Jewel. Of her songs, Hands was one of the ones that felt most true.
If I could tell the world just one thing \\ It would be that we’re all ok \\ And not to worry because worry is wasteful \\ And useless in times like these \\ I will not be made useless
I won’t be idled with despair \\ I will gather myself around my faith \\ For light does the darkness most fear
My hands are small, I know, \\ But they’re not yours they are my own \\ But they’re not yours they are my own \\ And I am never broken
She goes on…
We will fight, not out of spite \\ For someone must stand up for what’s right \\ Cause where there’s a man who has no voice \\ There ours shall go singing
In the music video for the song, she is driving down a street in the dark of night. She drives by a scene of chaos and destruction. A building has tumbled to the ground, and there were people in it…together, everyone including her works to get the people out….
The last line of the song is this:
We are God’s hands God’s hands We are God’s hands
What power has God placed in your hands? Have you done with it all you were called to do?