However, if I had chosen worship in my garden this morning, I would not have heard, “Amazing Grace” sung and signed by the youth choir – reminding me of the spiritual and physical gifts I have as a follower; I would not have seen friends who have come through a hard fight against cancer, smiling and worshiping; I would not have been able to join with others and give. And I would not have been disciplined. For that is what this sermon was this morning – a reproof – which ran over time! At twelve past noon, I saw some of the congregation fidgeting, by 12:15 P.M., some arose and left – ostensibly to retrieve their offspring from the Sunday school. Yes, I grew uncomfortable – but I recognized this was a reproof I needed to hear.
It was given by a guest preacher, a former associate pastor of the church, and a founding member of our denomination (Presbyterian Church in America): Paul Gunter Settle. His text was Matthew 16:13-20; his topic, “Confessing Christ.” Pastor Settle’s sermon hemmed me in on one level. Christ, who is God, is the only way to God. However, on another level, hearing again that I am not God, has freed me of the responsibility of detail managing even myself.
From Genesis to Deuteronomy, through Daniel and Isaiah; from John chapter 8, through Paul’s descriptions, and concluding with Christ’s Revelation, Pastor Settle quoted the passages* that expanded Peter’s answer for all the disciples, as well as offering an answer to the proposition that Christ never claimed to be God. He spoke quietly, unwaveringly, unfolding the Scriptures which describe who Christ is – the Son of the Living God – concluding with a question: “Whom do you say He is?”
This older teaching elder resolutely admonished the congregation – perhaps as Paul warned the Colossian church. (Colossians 3:16-17)
Perhaps he believes (as I wonder) if something unfathomed has happened in our country and the church in the last decades – and it’s time to be sure the church knows why Peter answered Christ so passionately, speaking for the others. And now is the time to equip us -- night really is coming:
. . . so proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don't ever quit. Just keep it simple. You're going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food — catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They'll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you — keep your eye on what you're doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God's servant. (2 Timothy 4:1-5 from THE MESSAGE)
Profess Him rightly – for one day, He will profess you.
"Stand up for me against world opinion and I'll stand up for you before my Father in heaven. If you turn tail and run, do you think I'll cover for you?”
(Matthew 10:32-33 from THE MESSAGE)
Without raising his voice, threatening or accusing; without devolving into conspiracy theories, the pastor spoke to folks like me, who are prone to wander, and forget Whom it is we serve.I doubt those flowers could have posed so direct and detailed a sermon as Pastor Settle did – God I believe You; over come my doubts! (Mark 9:24)
* A Sampling of verses describing who Christ is:
Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 9:6-7
Revelation 1:12-18 and remember the Voice who confirmed Christ as His Son, first at the baptism before crowds, and the Transfiguration. (Matthew 3:17, Luke 9:35-36)