Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 23 August 2014
(Isaiah 51:1-6 Psalm 138 Romans 12:1-8 Matthew 16:13-20)
“Retelling the Stories of Our Lives!”
This is the kind of Gospel reading that invites us to get up and move closer to another person, and begin sharing our answers to the question Jesus asked his disciples.
Did you notice, before asking such a dangerous question, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks his followers the safe question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Safe because to answer it requires no conviction, no commitment, and no risk. All it requires to answer the safe question is a bit of curiosity, or perhaps, cynicism.
Apparently there had been a lot of speculation, rumors swirling around, a lot of wondering among those who followed and listened to Jesus—most of it well off the mark. Sometimes, it seems pretty much the same today.
“Who do you say I am?” Until we have truly struggled with our own answers to this question, our own walk of faith will demand minimal commitment, conviction, and risk. It is the difference between discipleship and membership.
Of course, we always want to be standing there with Peter, with a sure and confident confession of faith! But here’s the skinny truth: I suspect I’m not the only one who lives a disconnect between my public confession of faith and my everyday actions. I think most people realize the gap between what we confess on a weekend and what happens the rest of the week. Not intentionally. Not with any malice. But too often, Sunday just does not align with the rest of our week. Therein lies the danger of attempting to answer the question “Who do you say I am?”
The other disconnect is that even when we confess Jesus to be the Messiah, we too often do not know what this confession means. Several years ago (in another congregation), leading up to Trinity Sunday I gave out a simple survey asking church members how the creed, our statement of belief that we pray every weekend, impacts their daily lives.
Guess what they said? Nine out of ten told me they had no idea how the profession of faith affected their decisions, their discussions, their relationships throughout the week.
When we say in the Apostles Creed on Sunday that Jesus is God’s only Son and our Lord, that Jesus is my Lord, what does that mean to us on Tuesday when someone says a critical word about me and I want to respond in a similar way? In the Nicene Creed when we confess on the weekend that Jesus is “…God from God, and Light from light, true God from true God….,” on Thursday how does that change our reaction when we hear that in just the last week 15 more nurses from one hospital have died of Ebola in west Africa.
How does our confession of Jesus as Messiah, fit into our relationships, our bank accounts, our hopes, our dreams, our energy, our hearing of the news? Ah, there’s the rub!
Part of my answer is that Jesus shows us how much God loves us and all people. Part of my answer is that God came to be like one of us, to live like one of us, in order to reveal just how God feels about us. In that way, Jesus revealed the heart of God to us, a heart that aches with all who suffer depression and think seriously about ending their lives; a heart that is torn up in grief at the desperate violence that rips apart our towns and cities nearby and countries around the globe.
Our confessing Jesus as Messiah has a whole lot to do with God’s way of showing God’s love to us and to all people. And it also has a whole lot to do with deeply believing that Jesus came with the power to change our lives.
Remember, in every one of the seven parables of God’s Kingdom we heard this past summer, Jesus retold the ending in a way that was not expected. Similar to the story last weekend about the Canaanite woman. My point being that for us to truly profess that Jesus is the Messiah is to deeply believe that Jesus has the power to retell the stories of our lives in such a way that we need not be limited by narrow vision or controlled by the status quo or bound by sinful choices.
To profess Jesus as Messiah and Lord is to profess that, despite what the world may tell us, in all things, God’s love wins.
Final word: Can we even imagine that the creeds we pray (similar to Peter’s confession of faith) are not about giving praise to God, but rather are words of power to help root us in the love and freedom and possibilities that Jesus offers? I don’t think Jesus asks us to confess who we believe He is for his sake, but rather for our own sake. Wouldn’t it be absolutely terrific if, every time we pray the Creed we would get caught up in the life and love of Jesus the Messiah?
“Who do you say that I am?” is an invitation to take personally and seriously the possibility that maybe it is okay to see Jesus differently. It is an invitation to venture beyond the iconic Christs of popular culture, ecclesiastical hierarchies, and even good scholarship, and allow ourselves to be confronted by the personal Jesus of Nazareth. It is an invitation to stop taking refuge in the answers of others and answer the question for ourselves.
“Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus answers, “Blessed are you…Blessed are you!” It is a self-defining moment for Peter. Through the grace of God Peter professes his faith in the Messiah, and finds himself in the presence of the One who showed him the heart of God—the way of love and justice.
So Peter spends the rest of his life figuring out what this means for who he is and how he lives. Peter spends the rest of his life figuring out what it means once he recognizes the heart of God!
So how are you spending the rest of your life? Amen
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 23 August 2014