The movie “Miracle” tells the story of the 1980 US Men’s Olympic Hockey Team that overcame incredible odds to win the gold medal.
In the film Kurt Russell portrays coach Herb Brooks, and recreates Brooks’ pre-game speech before they went out to play the unbeatable, unstoppable, invincible hockey team from the Soviet Union. “Great moments are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here, tonight, boys. Great opportunity. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game.
If we played ‘em 10 times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can!
Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world.”
And so, as we all know, after hearing one of the greatest speeches ever given, they go out and win.
Great moments are born from great opportunity.
In our text for today, Jesus creates a great opportunity for his.
He begins to do so when he asks them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
The disciples say, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
That’s the word on the street. Jesus—the Son of Man— is believed to be John, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
But this is just Jesus setting up this great opportunity, and he brings it home when he then asks, “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus is making the question personal—he’s putting the Disciples on the spot, challenging them to rise up, and even asks them to potentially take a great risk.
By asking, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Jesus was only asking what they have heard—and you can’t get into trouble with the ruling Romans or the power crazed religious authorities by saying what others say.
But when he asks, “who do you say that I am?”, Jesus is asking them to step into a great moment through this great, albeit risky, opportunity.
And Simon Peter gives his response. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Ok, maybe it wasn’t a “speech” in a technical sense of the word. More like the “greatest comment ever made.” Or, “the greatest answer ever given.”
But whatever you want to call it, Peter makes a declaration about Jesus that changes the course of his life and the history of the entire Christian community.
And it begins with a few heartfelt words, spoken at precisely the right moment.
So what makes Peter’s statement so powerful?
Well, the greatest of speeches, comments, answers, retorts are always given by the right person, at the right moment, with the right vision and the right understanding.
All of this is true for Peter when he makes his declaration about Jesus.
And it can be true for us as well.
Now perhaps you are thinking—“Well I’m no Peter! He was Jesus’ right hand man—of course he was the right person. I’m nothing like Peter!”
But here’s the thing. You are. Just as Peter was the right person at precisely the right moment, so is each of us.
Peter was not super human; he wasn’t holier than thou! He had the same strengths and weaknesses as the other disciples.
He will protest forcefully when Jesus speaks of his suffering and death, and will stumble badly when he denies Jesus on the night before the crucifixion.
Peter is as human as the rest of them—as human as us.
But it is because Peter is so very human, so much like any one of us, that makes him the right person to make a declaration about Jesus.
He shows those around him, he shows us, that to be the right person only requires a willingness to be the right person. No more. No less.
Then, from that willingness Peter speaks at the right moment.
At this point in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is nearing the completion of his ministry in Galilee. Soon, he will head toward Jerusalem and face the suffering and death that awaits him there.
But first, he needs to make sure that his disciples are clear about who he is, and what the community of his followers will look like.
This all makes the time in Caesarea Philippi the right moment for Peter to speak because now Peter also has the right vision.
He knows Jesus is no mere prophet, a man like John, Elijah, Jeremiah and others before him.
Rather, Peter sees that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who has been anointed by God to rule—literally, that’s what Messiah means in Hebrew, “anointed,” a title usually attached to a king.
Peter considers Jesus to be his king, the one who brings the kingdom of God into the center of human life.
And finally, within all of this, Peter has the right understanding.
He has grasped that Jesus is “the Son of the living God”, the one who shows God’s divine power and love through grace, compassion, and forgiveness.
All of this greatness is born, from Peter’s willingness to declare that Jesus is “…the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
His willingness to speak his vision and understanding, even though he is a mere human being, shows how any and all can turn a great opportunity into a great moment.
So what can we do to follow the example of Peter in being the right people in the right moments, sharing the right vision and the right understandings?
Well, it’s as coach Herb Brooks said to the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team, “Great moments are born from great opportunity.”
Each of us has a great opportunity to play the role of Peter in the world today, since we share his strengths and weaknesses and have similar opportunities to declare that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
We are the health care providers who know that Jesus is the Great Physician.
We are the peacemakers who honor Jesus as Prince of Peace.
We are the students and teachers who grasp that Jesus is the Truth.
We are the politicians who see him as King of Kings.
We are the astrophysicists who look up to him as the Bright Morning Star.
We are the right people to say that Jesus is the Messiah.
Now, perhaps, you might think, “Well how will I know when such a great opportunity is presenting itself? After all, the hockey game between the US and the Soviet Union was scheduled; it was known when the great opportunity would happen. But how can we know?”
Well, truthfully, we can’t. We won’t know. But here’s the thing.
When we declare that Jesus is the Messiah, when we are willing to speak and live in such a way, we can know that we will do so at the right moments, because faithful speak is always at the right time and right place.
When a child is struggling and needs a word of encouragement, when a conflict erupts and can be defused by a message of reconciliation, when a colleague is wandering and needs a word of guidance, when a friend is dying and needs to hear that Jesus has conquered death—it is always the right time and place, always a great opportunity, that will birth a great moment.
Today is Welcome Sunday. It is the day that marks the kick-off of a new church year, in so many words and ways.
Sunday School is starting back up, choirs and music groups are gathering back together. There is a renewed need and call for nursery attendants and Jr. Church volunteers. Our youth group is back in session.
Additionally, there is continuous need around our church grounds to maintain the sacredness of this holy ground we are blessed to have. There is a call for service when it comes to outreach ministries; there is a sanctuary renewal project goal that needs our ongoing attention and commitment.
Within it all is a great opportunity for us to declare and show that we are those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah, Son of the Living God who is alive and at work in the life of our church, our community and beyond.
This is our vision, this is our understanding, and within it all is a great opportunity that can and will lead to great moments, if we are willing to step to them.
Jesus said to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”
What Jesus is saying, is that he sees that Peter’s declaration is a pure gift of God, and he’s thankful for it.
And because he is, Jesus gives him a name which means “rock,” saying that Peter will be the rock on which the Christian church will be built—“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
“The gates of Hades will not prevail against it,” predicts Jesus.
The church will be so strong that death itself will not be able to overcome it.
Jesus concludes by giving Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven.”
The keys of the kingdom are all about teaching, not about who gets in the Pearly Gates. This means that Peter now has authority to be the chief teacher in the church.
Peter’s given authority to teach in the name of Jesus and to share his grace and truth with the world, just as the church continues to do today—it is all a great opportunity that leads to great moments.
There have been great moments, because of the church, for centuries.
All of this is made possible because Peter had the willingness to be the right person at the right moment with the right vision and the right understanding.
When presented a great opportunity, Peter didn’t miss his chance to create a great moment.
Let’s make sure we don’t miss ours. Amen.