Sermon – August 27, 2017 – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

 

“Who do you say that I am?”
So, I Google the question, “who is Jesus?”, turned up 122 million hits.  Pretty much everybody weighed in, Wikipedia, the Lutherans, the Mormons, the Catholics, the opining bloggers.  The search turned up everything from Jesus as a Spiritual Hospital to the Only Way to God, to Savior, Messiah, God, Risen.  Other resources portray a Jesus so utterly human that he married, the Jesus of the televangelists who is variously portrayed from 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 Son of Man is?”.

 

The disciples in Jesus’ time were given an opportunity to answer the question, and they went to their own history and culture  to respond, heros, icons.   “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 prophets” who speaks for God but is 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.

 

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

 

In some ways it’s a tricky 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 tricky 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, who we will follow.  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, our collaboration with the predatory powers of the world,  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, in the struggle to articulate  the answer, 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 considering 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 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 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.

 

Since, I’m asking you to consider this, I’ll give it a shot.

I start with John 14, if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.  So, I think Jesus is God’s answer to that question, and provides everything we need to know to get started.  He is the face of God’s love for everyone, he is the one who suffers for us and along side us, he is God with us.. He recognizes and responds with compassion to things like hunger and sorrow and fear and ostracism and gives us strength to do the same.  I believe he is in the middle of this world, in the middle of our conflicts and uncertainty bringing all that he always has, hope for reconciliation, new life, new vision.  He is the one who knows everything about me and chooses to love me and forgive me anyway.  And he knows the hope I have for the same for my neighbor.  He is the source of our claim that love is stronger than hate, hope stronger than fear and life stronger than death.  He is the one whose contempt for death and love for us, has drawn us by grace into his resurrection.  And he is the one who tells me always and ever, do not be afraid.  That’s a start.  Ask me next week, and it might be a little different.

 

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 your 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 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.

Amen