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.
The Church was built on proclamation. "Jesus is Lord," the early Christians would proclaim. Their way of life grew this movement from a small band of disciples to the universal religion that it is today. Sunday after Sunday we gather to proclaim the reality of the Lordship of Christ and to experience it in the braking of the bread.
In the United Methodist ritual for Holy Communion we call the Spirit upon the gifts of bread and wine and upon us so that "we may be for the world the body of Christ redeemed by his blood." It is this same Spirit that we count on as we leave this gathering "to give ourselves to others." In these short words that we repeat Sunday after Sunday we remind ourselves of the purpose of the declaration, Jesus is Lord!
A few weeks ago I wrote about no more church growth. Its provocative title grabbed the attention of many. The comments that followed were passionate on all sides. Some were even troubled by the suggestion that I as a minister of the Gospel was not into church growth. Others expressed their own frustration over the constant pressures and their desire for something different.
Like the Pharisees and Saducees at the time of Jesus many of us find ourselves wanting a sign (Matthew 16:1-4). More people, more programs, more stuff for us. None of these things prove that God is present. None of them are the yeast that will bring about God's kingdom! In fact in the book of Acts we read that the gathered community focused on learning the story, eating the meal, and lifting up concerns, holding things in common, and helping those in need. When they did this well, "the Lord added to their number." (Acts 2:47)
The real yeast comes from the proclamation and its power to bind and loose in the world! For me the key to kingdom sharing is that the people of God have the Spirit's power to loose the bonds of the oppressed, free the captive, and give sight to the blind. Focusing on our growth for our survival means that instead of loosing we are binding, instead of freeing we are oppressing, instead of giving sight we are blinding.
In the end Jesus told his disciples not to tell . . . maybe he wanted them to be the proclamation instead. Maybe he wanted them to pay attention to what he was about to model: self denial, sacrifice, humility.
As we near Holy Week may we take time to reflect on the way of the cross. This way is not popular, it's counter-cultural, and it demands our whole selves. As we continue to question the purpose of the church in this changing world we might look not just at Matthew 28 ("Go and make disciples . . .") but at the totality of Jesus' life and work and ask: Who do we say Jesus is? Who do others say he is? Upon what rock are we building our church?