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Acts 4: 8-13, 1 Peter 5:1-4, Matthew 16:13-19, Psalm 23
Confession of St. Peter 2024

Today is a day when we celebrate what is called our Patronal Feast, being named after St. Peter.

But, this church was not always named after St. Peter. It had a different name. 

According to the records of the first meeting of the church that would become St. Peter’s, it was originally named “Grace Church” and remained so from 1842-1849. This was partially because there was already another church in the diocese that was incorporated and recognized by the diocese first: Grace Episcopal in Elkridge.

The church name was changed to St. Peter’s, perhaps because there was already a St. Paul’s church next door. Or perhaps because some people thought of the hills surrounding Ellicott Mills to be similar to the hills of Rome, and Peter being the bishop of Rome.

Be that as it may, we should think a bit of the first name of this church as Grace, especially on this day when we commemorate not simply St. Peter, but St. Peter’s Confession.

The confession we commemorate today is in our Gospel: 

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

It is upon this confession that the church is built. 

This confession is not simply mental assent to an idea about God, nor a formula by which we earn particular things in our lives.

It is a statement that has, inherent within it, an expression of need...a need for Grace

It is upon this need: a need for a Messiah, our need for deliverance, our need to experience an enfleshed God, our need for grace, that this whole thing of church began.

Our story begins with grace. The story of our church, Grace Church which would become St. Peter’s Church, is one completely of grace.

From almost the beginning, this new church was faced with challenges related to finances, to buildings, to internal conflict, to under-committed church members, and over-extended clergy. (some of this may sound familiar!)

This church was almost the church that wasn’t, several times over. But it became and continues to be a place of grace, even a place for the “disgraced” like George Ellicott, the eventual first mayor of Ellicott City (the grandson of the community-founding Andrew Ellicott) who was kicked out of a Quaker meeting for swearing. It seems about right that the Episcopalians would take him!

This new Grace Church was to be a place to offer grace to over 6,000 residents and students at the time who were not being served well by other churches, between the mills, the Patapsco Female Institute and the boys' school.

And, by God’s grace, this church has endured. Through multiple wars, through significant community change, through conflict (clergy, diocesan, congregational, etc.), through trauma and loss by fire, flood, gun violence, imperilment, and a revolving door of clergy.

St. Peter’s is, rightly so, Grace Church. It is here and still here, by God’s grace.

As the famous hymn reminds us.

‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

And by God’s continued grace, we have more work to do here. More to overcome. More to address. More to try. More to endure.

Grace is our past, our present, and our future. Grace invites us to confess, along with Peter, that God does not wait around for us to get it together. 

(Thanks be to God!)

But that same grace calls us into account. It is a grace that enables us to confess that which we will forever seek to live into and up to.

Jesus is God, come to us as Messiah, as liberator, as the appointed and anointed one, and invites us into the same pattern he lived while amongst us.

God comes into this world, as Messiah…God moves into the neighborhood to proclaim and embody a new way of being in the world. A new way of being.

A new way of engagement.

Jesus was not the Messiah that Peter was looking for. Right after this confession, Peter is rightly rebuked by Jesus for trying to tell Jesus that he must not be a suffering Messiah. While Peter’s confession was revealed by grace to Peter, he also needed to reckon with the truth of who this Messiah actually was, and what that meant for him and the world.

This example helps us to understand the root of many conflicts. Jesus and Peter were using the same word: Messiah, but intended very different things.

Peter’s messiah would finally cast off the Roman oppressors by means of violence and political revolution. 

Jesus’ own understanding of his messiahship was that he would pursue nonviolent revolution, by means of suffering, allowing himself to be executed by the oppressors who were in league with the religious establishment.

So he had to call out a disagreement in terms.

Similarly, we can fall victim to the same sort of conflict when we use the same word, but mean different things.

For example, the word “church” is used one of the two times it is ever used in the Gospels. The other time is when we read about how to handle conflict in the church in Matthew 18.

So, one could say conflict has been a part of the conversation about the church literally from the beginning.

Jesus says he will be the one to build his church, in such a way that the powers of death will not overcome it.

Jesus is still building his church, and the sort of church he is interested in building is one that will continue to be a place of grace and of truth. One that will embrace the way of challenge, of self-sacrifice, and of grace. Not a cheap grace that tolerates all ways of being. But a grace that invites us to repent and believe, again and again, the good news of the Messiah…Jesus

And thanks be to God, there continues to be grace for us as there was for Peter. May we this day again confess our need for a King, for a Messiah, our need for God to continue to love us into being, to forgive us and change us when we err.

For this to be Grace Church, to be St. Peter’s Church, it means that it is a community formed in grace, and continually living in grace and truth…aiming to be full of grace and truth like Jesus is.