Romans 12:1-8. Matthew 16:13-20
It all begins with a couple of questions that day out in Cesarea Phillipi. On their continuing adventures together, Jesus and the disciples had taken a little journey and Jesus asked two questions. The first of the two is for many reasons a safer question. “Who” he asks them, “do the people say I am?” It’s easy to answer that kind of question. It really doesn’t require that we put ourselves into the equation. We can do a “he says/she says, we can give intellectual answers, we can speculate and say “well maybe.” We can play it safe. But the next question. Oh, the next question he asked! That one was much harder. That one was direct. “You,” he said. Who do you say that I am?” Now that question is a lot stickier. That one requires a commitment. You have to put yourself on the line, make a statement, a commitment, a testimony. And Peter did. He stepped right up. And he got it right. “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God.”
The Messiah. The one who was to come, the long anticipated king of the house of David. And the Son of God, the living incarnation of God present on earth. Jesus is Lord. Peter gets it. He says it. Jesus confirms it. And in response he gives Peter a new name as a sign that he has been changed by recognizing who Jesus truly is and he gives him a task and a mission of leadership. Recognizing who Jesus was transformed Peter in that moment. Although we know that it did not make him perfect, as we see if we read just a little further in this Gospel. “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Peter gets it, he confesses it, and then he loses sight of it again. He stepped out there and walked on that water for a moment and then, down he went into the water. Fortunately, as we remember from last weeks Gospel, he had the good sense and humility to call out to Jesus and be saved!
In our continuing adventures together with Jesus, he takes us places. And we are presented with that very question that was asked of Peter. “You. Who do you say that I am?” And how we answer it matters, too. Who is this Jesus who came among us in the Incarnation? Fully God. Fully Man. The One who came to show us who God is…in love, compassion, acceptance, forgiveness. And also the one who came to show us who we can be. The suffering servant who came to be broken open for us. The one who died and rose again so that death would lose it’s power. Our Lord and Savior. And the one who comes to us and desires the relationship, asks the question, wants the commitment, “Who do you say that I am?”
Like Peter this is not a once and for all question. We do not have our great moment of confession of faith and stay in that place of transformation forever. I know I for one would like it much better if that were true. In some ways I would feel much more confident as priest and preacher if I could have a sense of myself as always being one of Jesus’ rocks. But even in this week I found myself busy and distracted by many things, and not as focused on “the one thing” as I would like to be.
“Who do you say that I am?” As Christians we answer this question in many ways. With our baptismal vows, made and renewed, with our faith statements, and with our lives….presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which, as it says in Romans, is indeed our spiritual worship. Everything we do, every place we go we are members of this body, with opportunities to use the gifts given to us by God. Does this mean we are called on to sacrifice our lives for Christ? Well hopefully not through death. Though some have been called to martyrdom over the centuries for the sake of the Gospel, it is more likely that the way we are called to sacrifice our lives is by giving up some of our comfort, whether material or emotional, as following Jesus has a tendency to take us from our safe places into new and risky territory.
I had someone in this community ask me not too long ago if St. James would ever offer sanctuary to a refugee if the need arose. I said while I could not speak for this community, that based on my experience with you all, I believed that there was a chance we would. That would certainly take us out of our comfort zone, it would be a living sacrifice. But in my heart I do believe that for the sake of the Gospel, if we were called, we could rise to that challenge as a community.
“Who do you say that I am?” How we see Jesus matters. Clearly the world still wonders about this carpenter from Nazareth. He still makes the cover of magazines regularly and movies are still getting made about him. At the Festival of Homeletics this year, Dr. Tom Long preached a sermon in which he talked about Jesus’ two main identities as “Messiah” and “son of God.” He emphasized the need to have both sides of the picture and not simply knowing it but “getting” it. Like Peter, we get it, we lose it and we get it again. We have to practice. To do it over and over. To confess and re-confess the truth of it…Messiah, son of God, until it sinks into our bones and our cells and we breathe it with our very bodies. And we have to keep trying to live it every day. Because that is a practice too. We get up on that rock and fall off and need to get on again, sometimes thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought….and sometimes not thinking near high enough! Loving God, loving ourselves and loving one another to the best of our ability. Seeking to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.
So we go on reminding ourselves who and Whose we are….discerning what is the will of the God who loves us beyond belief and who sent his only son…the one who asks you today– “Who do you say that I am?”