Sermon – August 21, 2005

“Who do you say that I am?”

I did a Google internet search yesterday of that question, “who is Jesus?” yesterday, and my search returned 232,000 hits. There are plenty of folks
who want to tell us who Jesus is. Some of the sites spoke of the Jesus of
the DaVinci Code, which is back in the news, a Jesus so utterly human that he married, the Jesus of the televangelists who is variously portrayed form the avenging Messiah to a simple cash cow looking for ways 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, who is simply a moral arbiter. 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.

With all of this, how do we answer the question these days, “Who do the people say that the the Son of Man is?” That could launch us into a Ph.D.
dissertation or a simple itemizing of the popular portrayals.

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 question to us. . . . . who do you say that I am. Who do you say that I am?

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.

I we have trouble with this, if we stumble here, we need too think about it a little more, and there’s a message in that.

In some ways it’s a dangerous question to us, because Jesus is cutting to the heart of the matter. He poses the question to Peter and the other
disciples because he wants to know if they understand. The reasons 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 ourselves, 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.

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, “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 cannot 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 out to 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 four 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. He is all of these things because he is the one whom Peter proclaimed.

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 then 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.