Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"  And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."  He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  And 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." Matthew 16:13-19 (ESV)
Simon Peter replied, “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God, And 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 build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Most of your know that when I was a bit younger I kicked around Europe quite a bit. What great times those were. I enjoyed the different cultures, the different foods, practicing different languages, and touring different fortresses. I remember going to castles and fortresses in Hungary, Austria, Verona, and little villages throughout Italy, and Germany, and Scandinavia, perhaps my favorite was the Wartburg. The Wartburg is where Luther hid when the emperor had put a bounty on his head, where Fredrick the Wise hid Luther, the star professor of his new university in Wittenberg. He kidnapped Luther. Luther thought he was dead at first, and so did the rest of the world, though there was question as to why no one had collected the blood money. He kidnapped Luther and hid him in the Wartburg, a place of refuge where Luther spent his days studying God’s word and translating the New Testament into German. A place of refuge, built upon a rock, built up on a hill, a fortress, a mighty one at that, a place where Luther was refreshed with the word of God. That’s where fortresses are built, upon rocks, easily defended. They are places of refuge.
“And on this rock I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Christ builds his church on the rock of this confession, “Jesus is Christ, Jesus is Lord, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus builds his church upon the rock, a fortress against which the gates of hell will not prevail against, a place of refuge, a place of forgiveness for sinners plagued by the Devil’s assaults, a place where his sheep can find refuge.
Christ promises to build a church. We confess this church Sunday after Sunday as one holy and catholic. (It should be noted that catholic means universal, and doesn’t always denote the Roman Catholic Church, which claims to be this one universal church, but is not, which likes to claim that Jesus built his church on a man named Peter, rather than the confession he made. Men are men, and even the most noblest of them resemble sand more than a rock when it comes to integrity and resolve. Christ was no fool, he did not build upon sand, not on men, but upon a rock, a confession of truth that cannot waiver).
Christ promised to build a church, he says, “on this rock I will build my church.” Jesus found it necessary to have a church, to build a church, and he does so on a confession of faith to be taught to those who would be members of a church.
Today people think they can be Christian without being part of a church. I meet people all the time who think being a Christian is a matter of being nice. They don’t think church is very necessary. They come for a while, maybe when they feel guilty about this and that, when they want things to go better. Then they come to find refuge. To find solace. Only to discard it as more or less unnecessary to the Christian life when things get a bit better. I hear people who excuse their absence by telling me they read their Bibles at home. Sometimes I’m just a bit skeptical on that. It may be true, I don’t know. They don’t think they need church anyhow.
So perhaps one might ask why church? Why does Christ find it necessary to build one, and how does He build it. Christ’s church is an amazing building. Built upon the rock of confession it is built up of stones, of rocks that believe with their hearts and are saved, and confess with their mouths and are justified, confess with their mouths that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. Confess that Jesus has saved them from sin death and the power of the Devil. And in confessing this they teach others to believe, and believing they too become stones in the building of the church upon the rock of confession, edifying each other, they build up the church together, as they build one another up, which of course is what edification means, to build up.
And this is the purpose of church. This is why we are called to be church, because together we are a fortress building each other up in the faith, and calling others to become part of the fortress with us. But on our own we are nothing but a little rock in the field. To be Christian is to be part of a community, a community called church and built upon a rock, a confession first confessed by Peter, our beloved brother in the Lord. Apart from the church we are not Christian. To be Christian is to belong to Christ’s church. Now this may not be identified with any visible or human institution. I love our synod and everything for which it stands (if you will permit me to use fourth of July language in association with the church), but it is not exactly the same as “Christ’s Church” for there are believers in other Church bodies too. But I do love our synod and all for which it stands, tenacious fidelity to the word of God, to building up the church, to bringing this confession of faith to the nations. This is what Christians do, this is the reason for their community. We know that this is not something that is done one on one, but that the church gathers around word and sacrament to build each other up even as they build the church by calling others to it, so that others might find the same refuge from the world as we have. And that is where the church is to be found, it is to be looked for where Jesus is confessed as Christ, for this is the gospel, and where the sacraments are administered according to his institution. And if we did not have this community, we would not be church, there would be no church and the faith would die.
So Christ builds a church, to be our refuge, a place to find forgiveness, so he builds the church on the rock so that it will withstand the assaults of the devil, so the gates of hell will not prevail against it, but those who find refuge behind her walls, those who live within her and stand together will not fall, but be strengthened, and reinforced even in the midst of battle. And Jesus is our rock, Jesus is our refuge, Jesus is the impregnable fortress whom we confess. He is our fortress our refuge because he forgives sins, he does not condemn, but has compassion. He has compassion. He has compassion on you. He has compassion and forgives sins for those who believe, for those who are his church. He comes to save the world, dies for the world, not to condemn, but to forgive, for we were all sufficiently condemned without Christ. So he forgives you, and asks you to receive forgiveness, to eat forgiveness and drink forgiveness in his body and in his blood.
And so he gives to the church the power to forgive and retain sins, to bind and loose. To bind the sins of the unrepentant, to loose the sins of the repentant. That is to withhold forgiveness from those who are not repentant. (that one blows my mind) and to forgive the sins of those who are repentant. He does this so that we might know that our sins are forgiven, that we would hear it from the lips of a brother, the lips of a pastor. He does this so that we might not just imagine that our sins are forgiven, but know that they are forgiven, so that His church would be a place of refuge, where we are all built up, encouraged in good works and from the abstaining of evil, but more so to be built up in the forgiveness of sins when we fail, and refreshed with His word, comforted with His absolution. He gives men, hypocrites, sinners like you and me, the power to forgive, that we could hear and know that out sins are forgiven, that church would be a place of refuge, a fortress built on a rock, where his people would be edified and strengthened in his word, reinforced and forgiven.
This is why Christ finds it necessary to build a church and build it upon a rock against which the gates of Hell will not prevail, that you and I would hear, Your sins are forgiven. He builds it on a confession, because where men fail a confession remains true. And so he gathers his church around this confession, around the gospel and around his sacraments. Necessary so that you and I and the whole world would hear, your sins are forgiven.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.