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Unfold: Claiming New Possibilities, May 7, 2023

Matthew 16: 13-20. Once out of the cocoon, the new butterfly has much to do to prepare for flight. Wings are not yet ready. Small and undernourished, they long for expansion — to move beyond this awkward in-between-ness. Sometimes we seem to be stuck between crawling and unfolding our wings to fly…

As we consider our own metamorphosis, we remember how Jesus renamed “Simon” as “Peter,” a description of “the rock” upon which the church would be built. Are we willing to accept that GOD’S possibilities may come in ways we never imagined, perhaps expanding our notion of who we are in this world?

I felt GOD’S call to ministry when I was 13 years old; but after a couple of years I drifted away from GOD and listen to the call of the world.

We continue our message series “Emerge: A Metamorphosis Moment”, with today’s message, “Unfold: Claiming New Possibilities.”

28 years ago, GOD broke through to my heart once again. Our family went as part of a mission team to the 4 Corners area of Arizona and I saw the depth of faith of the folks at Blue Gap United Methodist Church, and realized how shallow my faith was in comparison. GOD’S Holy Spirit transformed my life; and GOD can transform your life.

Butterflies look ugly when fresh out of the chrysalis. They appear wrinkled in the way our skin wrinkles when it is submerged in water for a long time. They certainly cannot fly. The butterfly has to allow air to dry out its wings and for the wings to expand.

If you watch a timelapse video of a butterfly emerging, one of the fascinating things to notice is how much larger the butterfly is, ultimately, when it is done unfolding. It really was amazing to watch.

A part of the unfolding process is the butterfly growing much larger than the chrysalis that encased it.

That unfolding takes time and patience; and so it is with our metamorphosis.

So, how fitting it is that our story for this week is with impatient Simon who is bestowed a new name by Jesus as "the rock upon which I will build my church." Peter, in many ways, is a wonderful character who embodies transformation.

On Pew Bible page 822 in Matthew 16:15, Jesus asks the disciples a question, “But who do YOU say that I am?” Of course, it’s Simon Peter who speaks up. He makes a public confession. Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Friends, we all need to have an answer to that question. And it’s way better to have an answer before a child or a friend asks you.

Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.”

Peter is the foundation rock on which Jesus builds the new community. The name “Peter” means “stone” or “rock.” In Western countries, influenced by the Christian tradition “Peter” is now a common name, but this simply reflects the influence the nickname Jesus gave his disciple Simon has had on Western culture.

There are no documented instances of anyone’s ever being named “rock” in Aramaic or Greek prior to Simon being named by Jesus.

Commentators agree that the English translations should use “stone” or “rock, not “Peter”, which gives the false impression that the word represented a common name; and causes current day readers to miss the word play of the passage, “You are Rock and on this rock I will build my church.”

I have really identified with Peter, especially when I was younger…I was, and still am sometimes, a little hard-headed.

Simon Peter is the one who constantly is putting his foot in his mouth. And he is also, in some ways beautifully, the one who took steps the disciples wouldn't take. He is impetuous — the one who stepped out of the boat to walk on water toward Jesus before his anxiety got the best of him. He was the one who struck out with a sword to defend Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Of course, he is also the one who denied knowing Jesus, three times.

He is beautifully complex, and knowing his story is helpful for us in recognizing our own humanity and complexity.

We really don't see some of Peter's best transformation until Luke’s writing in The Acts of The Apostles. That is where we find Peter beginning to proclaim a radical gospel of inclusivity for the Gentiles — of all people! In a few weeks we will take a closer look at how GOD’S Holy Spirit power worked through Peter’s preaching at Pentecost.

One could argue that Jesus saw all of this potential in Simon when he named him Peter, even though at that point Peter might have been like the shriveled and small butterfly that has just emerged from the chrysalis. Wings wrinkled and unable to fly, but brimming with potential.

The image of Peter with the keys is NOT that of the “doorkeeper to heaven” of popular piety and cartoons.

Peter’s function is NOT to decide in the afterlife who is admitted and who is denied entrance to heaven; Peter’s role as holder of the keys is fulfilled now, on earth, as chief teacher of the church.

This reminds me of the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is a worldview in which human beings have a fixed and established potential. A growth mindset allows for anyone to grow into the person they desire to be, or even more, than they think they can be.

A fixed mindset might be a belief that you have to have talent to be a singer. A growth mindset recognizes that singing involves muscles, and muscles can be trained.

A fixed mindset would have seen the character of Simon, before Jesus named him Peter, his aggression and impatience, and dismissed him as a fool. But Jesus recognized Peter's passion, strength, and resolve and saw something deep within him worth placing his future hopes of His Christian Community—The Church, on his shoulders.

Imagine what we could do as members of our church if we looked at our church with a growth mindset. What if we weren't stuck on the image of where our church might be, possibly a butterfly with wrinkled wings who can do nothing but cling to its chrysalis? Imagine if we chose to believe in a growth mindset, and used a fresh breath of vision to dry our church’s wings so that we might take flight!

The older debates from the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant churches, and Greek Orthodox can be left behind. Most folks in all the denominations agree that the original meaning of this passage is that Peter was playing a unique and unrepeatable role in the foundation of the church.

We can hear Jesus Christ’s promise to build his church despite the forces of death arrayed against it. We in the church can take heart from this promise.

Jesus Christ is the agent of GOD; and GOD is the source of all that is good on this earth. We must remember the church is not a human achievement or fellowship of like-minded individuals who have formed a support group; but we owe praise to GOD who as the one through Christ, grants the revelation that generates faith.

GOD is the one who blesses those who receive the revelation, and GOD is the one who gives us a new name—a new identity and nature, not just a new label; and GOD sends us to continue GOD’S work, including the authority to make decisions in GOD’S name.

This story of Jesus' renaming Simon is beautiful, and a hopeful reminder that none of us are stuck where we are as human beings. We are all in the process of becoming, much like a butterfly

un-folding its wings on the verge of taking flight.

I hope and pray we will FLY WITH CHRIST!!

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