Who do You say that I am?

keys-to-the-kingdom_tThe Pas Confession of Peter (observed)
Year B
21 January 2018

Acts 4:8-13
Psalm 23
1 Peter 5:1-4
Matthew 16:13-19

God of salvation,
the splendour of your glory dispels the darkness of earth,
for in Christ we see the nearness of your kingdom.
Now make us quick to follow him,
and eager to proclaim the good news of the gospel.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen.
__________________________________

Today we celebrate Peter’s declaration that, when asked, he proclaims Jesus to be “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” (Mt 16:16b) we celebrate the fact that the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the world, stepping in with the correct answers when we are searching for them.

Today, we commemorate the fact that the Holy Spirit has, once more, intervened in the world to advance God’s agenda to be a part of our lives, at every level of our lives, in every circumstance that we might encounter.

And in a way, it makes me wonder, in the same way I pass over those Facebook posts, and well intentioned private messages that quickly turn into chain mail, of how if one is ashamed of Christ, then Christ is ashamed of us, otherwise demonstrate solidarity with the Son of God and repost this chain message!

You know the ones I’m talking about. Usually a finely drawn sketch, or a beautiful picture, pointing out that if we’re not ashamed of Christ we’ll paste this image to our profiles and we’ll share it amongst those with whom we claim to have a good relationship.

Well, I admit, I’m not ashamed, I just don’t give into the coercion of chain mail to send such messages to 10 or more friends within the next 30 minutes, or… and the novena goes on from there with dire consequences.

I have more faith in each one of you than to require you to wear your faith on your electronic sleeve, as it were, and require you to admit that Jesus is the Messiah, that Jesus is the one who has opened our lives, and has shared God’s love with us, even to the point of sacrificing his life so that this can become a reality in ours.

After all, not only are we private individuals, we’re Christians, and we admit that we are followers of Christ in and for our lives, every day by our actions, by our words.

Today, Peter proclaims the words Jesus needs to hear. Words that are inspired by the Holy Spirit in Peter’s life and heart, and Jesus rejoices.

He rejoices by proclaiming the next major step in God’s plans to continue to teach the world of God’s love for all of humanity, for all of creation, after Christ has returned to God’s side.

In our gospel, for today, we can see, Jesus and his disciples are far from home, in fact they’re outside of Jewish territory, being in Roman community of Caesarea Philippi; and this could be like the conversations that happen in cars, on those long-distance trips.

You know the scenario: It’s reached the time when you’re tired of listening to your own music, all of the local radio stations have all vanished, you haven’t gotten around to installing Sirius satellite radio, and you’re saying to your companions: “So, what shall we talk about?”

So, Jesus grasps onto the first topic that comes to mind, the one that’s been playing at the back of his mind as he works throughout the regions around Galilee, and between Galilee and Jerusalem to teach, and to demonstrate God’s love, to heal all who come to him for healing. He says, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Mt 16:13b)

Now, this can be as much a minefield for the disciples, for each one of us, as is the woman who asks her spouse if this outfit makes her look fat. And the disciples seek to find ways to answer it that will make Jesus aware of how much the people have come to appreciate him, and hope he’ll stay and continue to heal, and teach throughout his life.

“14 They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’” (Mt 16:14)

And this is all well and good, but Jesus wants to go deeper into this discussion. He wants to know more than just what the people are saying, he wants to know what’s on the minds of the disciples, those who are closest to him, with whom he spends the most time teaching and leading, and modeling God’s leadership. At the same time, the disciples are clearly looking for where this discussion will take them, and what will come out of it, that will impact their lives, as well.

We see that in Jesus extension of this discussion that Jesus wishes to hear not only what the people are saying, but also what the disciples have been saying, as well.

And so, he asks the question that is on everyone’s mind, a question we need to inwardly digest, as well in and for our own lives, today. The one the disciples are hoping he won’t ask because, like a pop quiz, they feel unprepared to answer him.

“15 ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’” (Mt 16:15)

We can see this in the same way as the emails, the social media posts that call us to post that we’re proud of Jesus and Jesus, then is proud of each one of us.

And here we are. This is really what Jesus wants to hear, who do we say that the Son of Man is?

Jesus knows who he is; he knows what he’s here to do, to discover, and to encourage in our lives, and our hearts. In the same way we see him encouraging this leap of faith in the lives and hearts of the disciples, who are with him, the usual distractions are set aside as they tour about Caesarea Philippi, and so, he waits, patiently for an answer.

They may have walked a block or two down the wide roman streets, dodging those on the road, as well, admiring the architecture, and the scenery, as he waits for the disciples to answer. Meanwhile the disciples are looking anywhere and everywhere other than at Jesus, and suddenly, Simon Peter answers.

He goes with what we would see as a ‘knee jerk response,’ not thinking about what was coming out of his mouth, yet, this is just the kind of faith based declaration that Jesus wants to hear from him, from each one of us, in our lives.

“16 Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’” (Mt 16:16)

Wow! Here it is, the elephant in the room!

Here it is, the identity of the one who stands forever in our lives and hearts as the one who opens the kingdom of heaven to each one of us who believes, and the mask has just fallen to the floor. Superman is unveiled in our midst.

And perhaps we need to contemplate Jesus question, to the disciples, a little more in and for our lives, today.

After all, even though the church has been built on Simon Peter’s leap of faith and his declaration, today, each one of us has the choice to follow, to believe, to be a disciple, a follower of Christ, in our lives, and in our faith.

In our lives, we easily get comfortable with the names and the labels we’re given such as follower, Christian, child of God.

We get comfortable in the parameters that are set by others in and for our lives.

But we are able to choose for ourselves, we are able to challenge those definitions set for our lives. Definitions imposed by others that hold us back from truly embracing the love of God in and for our lives, and how that love changes us, encourages us to grow into the roles that God sees for our lives, today, and into the future.

Yet, if that were the case, then the disciples, in answer to Jesus question, would have just shuffled along, staring at the Roman inspired architecture all around and shrugging their shoulders would have stated, yet again, what the people have hypothesized as to who Jesus might be. “John the Baptist; … Elijah; … Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” (Mt 16:14)

It’s not that the people of Israel aren’t ready to hear of the coming of the Messiah, they heard John’s message. Yet, their vision of the Messiah, our vision of the Christ is different than what it is that God has in mind for how the Messiah, the Christ will present himself, how he will save the nation of Israel from Roman oppression, save our world from the influences of apathy, and indolence on all sides.

Yet, God, and Jesus, are thinking farther in advance than just the immediate, political freedoms of Israel, or the political aspirations of the modern world.

Instead, God is thinking of the spiritual freedom of all who believe, all who yearn to be free from what we, today, call spiritual terrorism, from believing in things, practices, and idols that have no positive affect on the life of those who follow such practices, but instead trap us in practices that have the ability to destroy our lives and our hearts.

So, really, Jesus question, today, is one we need to contemplate, today, for our own lives, and what the answer means, to us, today.

“Who do you say I am?”

And we know the answer, but what does this mean, today, for our lives? We live within the post resurrection vision that Jesus presents to Peter, and to the disciples, today.

How will we continue Jesus vision and be the church, not just here within our warm(ish) walls and our cozy (?) pews.

How will we carry the love of God into the world?

How will we live that love to those who still yearn to hear of God’s love for all of humanity?

And how will we grow into the image that Jesus sees for our lives, as we see him encouraging Peter, and the disciples to grow in their lives and faith as well?

Throughout the readings, for today we see Peter stepping into the leadership role that Jesus describes in today’s gospel “18 ‘And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’” (Mt 16: 18-19)

Yet, this isn’t just an instant relabeling. We’re able to follow Peter as he grows into the leadership role that Jesus has described, today, and in turn inspires the next generation to follow where Jesus has opened the doors, where the choice to follow is still ours, and still has the ability to change our lives, forever.

We see that, for Peter, for each one of us it begins, here, today, with the declaration of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. A declaration that opens our hearts, our lives, to the love of God. A love that changes us as we follow where God leads, and embrace the potential of our lives that God sees, here, today, tomorrow, and forever.

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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