Sermon – August 24, 2014

“Who do you say that I am?”

“Who do people say that I am?” Over 2000 years later, people are still responding to that question. Here are just a sampling of the book titles that are making their case. “The Real Jesus” from a Catholic scholar. . . The Zealot Jesus . . . from a Muslim historian . . . The Case for the Real Jesus . . .an evangelical point of view; Jesus Uncensored, Restoring the Authentic Jew . . . from a Jewish scholar; The True Jesus Unknown to Christianity. . . . can’t figure that one out. These books and others claim Jesus as a moral giant, a pious Jew, a mystic, a revolutionary. Today, the Jesus of the televangelists is variously portrayed from the avenging Messiah to a simple cash cow guaranteed to make you rich. There is Jesus the social reformer. The Jesus, opiate of the masses. There’s the tamed Jesus of the bumper sticker and wristband. Therej is the Jesus of history that scholars struggle to discover by studying the cultures and political and philosophical systems through which Jesus walked. There is the Jesus of our grandmother and Sunday schoolteacher, the Jesus cursed through our profanity or our anger or our choice of another. The Jesus hidden from us in our disobedience and our fear.

Everybody has an opinion. One of my favorites is Will Ferrell’s character, Ricky Bobby, in the movie Talladega Nights, where at table grace he prays to the baby Jesus,

“Dear Lord Baby Jesus, or as our brothers to the south call you, Jesús, we thank you so much for this bountiful harvest of Domino’s, KFC, and the always delicious Taco Bell. I just want to take time to say thank you for my family, my two beautiful, beautiful, handsome, striking sons, Walker and Texas Ranger, or T.R. as we call him, and of course, my red-hot smoking wife, Carley who is a stone-cold fox. . . . . Dear tiny Jesus, in your golden-fleece diapers, with your tiny, little, fat, balled-up fists… And then his friend Cal, who is also at the table, chimes in, “Cal: I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T shirt, cause it says, like, “I wanna be formal, but I’m here to party, too.” Cause I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party. I like to think of Jesus, like, with giant eagle’s wings. And singing lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd, with, like, a angel band. And I’m in the front row, and I’m hammered drunk. . . .

And it goes on, hilariously. What that silliness tells us is that we often answer that question almost incomprehensively, or to our own interest.

With all of this, how do we answer the question these days, “Who do the people say that the the Son of Man is?”

The disciples in Jesus’ time were given an opportunity to answer the question, and they had a host of characters from history and culture with which to respond, “Well, some say John the Baptist . . . meaning the prophet of the Messiah, not the Messiah. Some say Elijah, the OT incarnation of the forerunner of the anointed one, or Jeremiah, possibly meaning the one who will bear into the world a new covenant. Yet another, “one of the prophet” who speak for God but are not God.

In our time, we are never at a loss to answer that question in some way or another, but in some ways the questions sets us up. . . sets us up as we gush how the others are wrong about him. We love to talk about how people are wrong. Who do people say that the Son of Man is? ” Well, let me tell you who he is not!. not those fundamentalists, those conservatives, those liberals, those pentecostals. . . those Lutherans.. Here’s where they are wrong.” And just when we are getting up our good head of steam, at the peak of our indignation and full of ourselves on how they are wrong in their depiction of Jesus. . . . Jesus pops the next question to us. . . . . who do you say that I am. Who do you say that I am? That is a question for both the individual believer and the body of believers. It is personal and corporate.

Are we able to articulate the answer to that question to the person sitting next to us in the pew, across the street, across the world? Not what others say, but what we believe, what we understand.

Think about that question as we go along this morning. Think about how you would answer that question if it were posed to you before the end of this day.

In some ways it’s a dangerous question to us, because Jesus is cutting to the heart of the matter. The reason it’s dangerous for us because it has everything to do with who we are as believers, what we believe about God, whose word we turn to, where we have evolved in our journey. And, struggling with this question will reveal to us the ways we dodge it, even beguile ourselves. . . . the Trappist writer, Thomas Merton warned once that we should never underestimate our ability to deceive ourselves. Encountering that question will cause us to take up those ways we deceive ourselve s, trying to mold Jesus into something palatable to us. The ways we deny our sinfulness and our need for Christ.

“Who do you say that I am?” It is a present question that confronts us every time we cross the threshold of the church, and would that it meet us every time we struggle, every time we have to make an important decision. Every time we consider our own mortality. It is the central question of the faith, who this Jesus is. It is a fundamental question, because what we believe determines how we act, both individually and corporately.

Now, having said that, I would urge you to not be afraid of it, don’t be intimidated by the question, because it opens for us the opportunity to deepen our relationship with God. In the consideration, the struggle the articulation of the answer to that question, God is working in us. Because if it is question asked in faith, it is immediately something beyond the academic or curious taking us to a place where God works in us. Because, finally, folks, we cannot answer the question on our own. Faith and our proper confession of Jesus begins with God. And that’s good news.

We look to Jesus’ exchange with Peter for help in understanding and articulating our answer. “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus responds, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”

Jesus’ blessing of Peter is the affirmation of Peter’s confession.

It is Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ that is the rock on which the church is built, the body of Christ, the heritage of the gospel. Not the person of Peter, the one whose humanity so often struggles against his faith, but his confession drawn from him by the one standing before him, the Christ, Son, Child, given, the sacrificed one of the living and present God, the persistent active, passionate, meddling God of this very moment. On this truth and confession stands and falls the church. Not on the person of Peter, an enlightened, yet flawed disciple. But on the rock of Christ the Messiah, proclaimed by Peter through the power of God.

Faith and our proper confession of Jesus begins with God, so don’t be afraid to consider the question and struggle to answer. Luther cues us here as he begins his explanation of the Third Article of the Creed on the Holy Spirit, “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.” In other words, you cann ot answer the question without the help of God, because suddenly we are in God’s venue, domain. “But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts and sanctified me and kept me in true faith.” This is our confession. We cannot answer the question on our own, but we ought to be joyful that it comes before us, because it tells us that God is working in us, and God only works in us for our redemption, our reconciliation our healing, our calling. The struggle to articulate that answer is not for our neighbor, finally, but for God. It is a confession of faith and I would urge you not to be afraid to engage it because the Spirit is alive in the answer.

As we consider the question we come to know that as we struggle to answer, we are identifying that we are on a journey of faith, and I would dare to say that in the broadness of God’s person in Jesus, our answer may vary from time to time. It may not be same today as it was yesterday. If Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, the workings of God in this time in your heart are going to reveal to you different dimensions of who Jesus is.

He may be for you today, the one who stands on the bridge between death and life He may be the one who draws near in time of trouble. He may be the voice calling to you over the distance between your struggling faith and our peace. He may be for you the one who creates in you a sense of hope, one who makes real for you the love of God. He may be for you the cosmic Christ, one to whom all creation bends, the one whom the Scriptures have proclaimed and God has revealed and who has met you in this time in the Gospel. As Jesus is any one of these things to you now, he is no less the other.

Don’t get tripped up. There are plenty of voices out there to tell you Jesus is this or that. There are plenty of folks who will tell you who he is. But as you begin to own the question, Peter’s answer is a good place to begin your answer, “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.” And then, as was revealed to the disciples and proclaimed over the ages, the fullness of the answer comes clear and we discover the answer comes from our own hearts, and not from the books or tomes of the past or the opinions of others. It is question for each of us in our time and in our journey. Don’t be afraid of it, for the very power of God is at work in us .

Who do you say that I am? May the consideration of that question fill you with hope and purpose and may you come to proclaim that answer first to Jesus and then to the world.