“Give me that old-time religion,
Give me that old-time religion
Give me that old-time religion
It’s good enough for me ….”
That is a familiar song in America, particularly among Protestants. The problem is that there never was an “old time religion”. It never existed. This is a false narrative.
The song expresses a longing for a comfortable religion from the past, free of conflict, a stable religion. There never was such a Christian religion. True Christian faith is full of conflict in every generation. It was always that way.
There has always been conflict between the world and the Church. The world wants to control and change our religion. Our faith seeks to change the world. The world rejects our religion. Our religion rejects worldly values. The Cross is our inevitable destiny, and Hope.
Recall the temptation of Jesus by Satan.
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence,
and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”
At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written:
‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’”
The conflict between our faith and the world repeats itself in every generation, as we even see on television today.
In today’s Gospel Jesus and the twelve are in the same location as we heard last week’s Gospel, in Caesarea Philippi. The time of Jesus’ earthly ministry has come to an end. Caesarea Philippi was one of the most pagan, sinful places in Palestine. It had a history of human sacrifice at the temple of Pan and the Gate of Hell, the deep cave behind the temple of Pan. No respectable Jew or Israelite would ever go there, or they would face a serious purification ritual before they could be reunited with their families, community and synagogue. It was an evil place.
Recall that it was here that Simon responded to Jesus,
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus replied,
… you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Now, how did Simon Peter hear this? Remember that Simon was an Israelite. The word “Messiah” carried a political meaning for the Israelites and Jews. Simon, Judas and perhaps others of the disciples still hoped that Jesus would be the political Messiah who would free the Israelites and Jews from the Romans in a military way. They would conquer and throw out the pagan invaders of Israel. The Messiah would bring them back to their “Old time religion”, a political solution.
Still in front of that massive cliff on Mt. Hermon, in front of the Temple of Pan and the Gate of Hell, Jesus attempted to tell them of the conflict to come.
Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Peter has been listening, but with the ears of his political world, that is awaiting a political Messiah, a worldly conqueror.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Remember, just moments before Jesus was telling Peter he would be the rock foundation of Jesus’ Church. If this conversation is jarring for you, imagine how it felt for Peter, standing in front of the Gate of Hell.
Our faith is always a challenge for the world. The world is always trying to dominate and control our faith, just like Satan did with Jesus at the Temptation. Beware of conversations that mix politics and religion. Politics and religion don’t mix. Politics will always seek to change the Church. There is no possible compromise. Our faith expects us to change the world, not the other way around. If you have been watching the riots and the political conventions this should be very clear to you. When Satan promised Jesus he would give him the world, Jesus told Satan,
Peter was mixing politics with religion. When I hear people criticizing the Church today, I often hear things like,
- The Church is old fashioned, obsolete. It needs to come into the modern world.
The Church has always had to find its way in a world that wants to change it or destroy it. Look what happened with the Protestant Reformation, beginning about 500 years ago. They wanted to change the Church. And they did. The Protestant churches have eliminated the sacraments, all except Baptism. Jesus and his Apostles left us the Seven Sacraments. The Protestants eliminated the sacrament of Holy Orders, Bishops, Priests and Deacons. They eliminated the Eucharist. They did away with the Sacrament of Confession. They eliminated the Anointing of the Sick. Just in the last century they ceased teaching marriage as a Sacrament of the Church. They wanted to change the faith of the Church, and they succeeded. But what is the Church that Jesus founded without the Sacraments?
There never was an “Old Time Religion” without the Sacramental Life of the Church. Watch in your own lives as friends and family members as people walk away from the Church, and the Sacraments Jesus gave us when he told Peter, standing in front of the Temple of Pan and the Gate of Hell,
… you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
It was there at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus said to his disciples, before departing to Jerusalem for the last time,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”