In July of 1833, three of our ancestors here in Port Royal, William Gray, Charles Urquhart and George Fitzhugh, placed an ad in the Virginia Herald for builders.
“The Subscribers, Commissioners for building a church in Port Royal, will receive proposals for erecting the same—they would prefer to have the whole work undertaken by a single individual, but will contract for the Brick work separately, if necessary. A hundred thousand Bricks, it is supposed will be about the number required for the church.”
And this church is built of bricks.
Bricks, made from the earth itself, are a strong building material, much like rock.
In many places in the Old Testament, the rock is a symbol for God.
God, who leads the Israelites through the wilderness and into the promised land is described in Deuteronomy, Chapter 32, verse 4 as “The Rock” –“ His work is perfect, and all his ways are just.”
In Second Samuel, God delivers David from the hand of Saul and all of his enemies, and David gives thanksgiving by saying
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge…for who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?”
In the Psalms, God is the strong rock of refuge, a strong fortress, who provides safety for the Psalmist who seeks salvation.
The prophet Isaiah tells us that God is the rock from whom the Israelites were hewn.
“Look to the rock from which you were hewn,” says Isaiah to the Israelites, “ and to the quarry from which you were dug.”
As an observant Jew, Peter knows these Old Testament passages–that he, an Israelite, has been created out of the solid and sure rock that is God.
In today’s gospel, he makes the connection—this rock, from which he has been created to begin with, is the man who is standing before him.
When Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” he suddenly realizes at his very core—this man in front of me IS my rock, my fortress and my deliverer! My God, my rock!”
Peter realizes that the man who is standing in front of him is God who is his strength and salvation.
Jesus, seeing that Peter understands, says to Peter, “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!”
Here we are, in a brick church named after St Peter, the man that Jesus called a rock.
And Jesus asks each and every one of us the same question he asked the disciples.
“But who do you say that I am?”
When we are able to answer this question as Peter did, “You, Jesus, are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” we experience a cosmic shift in our lives.
When we recognize that God IS the solid core within us—our inner rock.
We profess our faith every Sunday in the words of the Nicene Creed—our belief in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
But how do we know when God really is at the center of our lives?
Paul provides some help with this question in the passage from the letter to the Romans that we heard today.
We find that rather than being conformed to the world, we are being transformed by the renewing of our minds.
And our minds are made new when we can wake up every morning and hand ourselves over to God.
“God, please be the rock in my life today, and please help me serve you by serving my neighbors. Please help me to do whatever it is you give me to do today, to your glory.”
We see reflected in this prayer of renewal the first and greatest commandment ”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
And the second commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Remember the scribe in Mark 12 who heard Jesus lay out these two commandments? The scribe agreed with Jesus and said to Jesus that keeping these commandments is much more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.
And Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
Every Sunday when we gather to worship, we are not far from the kingdom of God because it is here at God’s table that we do as Jesus asked us to do—we come to be fed with the food that makes us strong at the core, the food that will give us the strengthto keep the two great commandments.
Thomas Cranmer, who oversaw the production of the first prayer books in 1549 and 1552, and who helped to shape our Anglican theology, describes the importance of our worship in the Eucharist in this way.
Cranmer says that Jesus chose bread and wine as our sacraments because bread is made from a great number of grains of wheat, ground, baked and joined together in one loaf.
Wine is made from a great number of grapes pressed together into wine. And so, all of us, all Christians, when we receive this bread and wine, we are spiritually joined, first to Jesus, and then to one another.
Together, we become the strong rock on which Jesus builds the church, the rock on which our broken world can seek refuge and find renewal. We become servants full of God’s strong and mighty love for one another and for the whole world.
The inspired words of the Great Thanksgiving in Rite I, taken from the Romans passage we have heard today sum up exactly what we are to do in return for the gift of this spiritual food—we are to renew our minds and to put God at the center of our lives.
The words go like this
“And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee.”
When we truly offer ourselves as living sacrifices, God can say to each one of us, blessed are you, people of St Peter’s. You have me, The Rock, at the center of your lives, and upon you I will build my church—
St Peters, this strong brick church, made of 100,000 bricks–
And so when we go out today, we will pray for the renewing of our minds, so that we can be God’s strong church—with these words
“And we humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in: through Jesus Christ our Lord.”