The Word on the Street

Matthew 16:13-20

Did anyone else notice that it got kinda dark for a couple of hours last Monday? Why? What? There was an eclipse? It was too cloudy to really see it here but I’m sure there were millions of people who enjoyed it.

But as thought about the eclipse this past week, and why there was so much buzz about it, I began to wonder why? I don’t know.  For me, I think I find anything to do with space fascinating because it makes me feel very small.  If I get to feeling too “high and mighty” all I need to do is look at the stars and boom, instant humility. Keeping this in mind, I think we must approach today text from a place of humility.

In today’s lesson, we encounter Jesus challenging his disciples with the question, “Who do people say that I am?” Now, there are as many answers to that question as there are people in this room today.  So, how do we distill that down a bit? How do we get at the core, the very fabric of Jesus’ identity?  Who is Jesus, really?

Peter gives us a great place to start, “You are the Christ,” he says, “the Son of the Living God.” And he got an “Atta-boy” for that answer, didn’t he?  Peter’s gave the correct answer.  That is Jesus’ identity.  He is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

But it’s kinda like Peter was taking a multiple-choice test. A) Just another prophet B) Elijah C) the Christ. Life, however, is seldom that simple. Life is more like an essay test.  Blue book after blue book filled with paragraph after paragraph of real life encounters with the Divine, and with evil for that matter.  Our real-life essays include our struggles and our pain, our breakthroughs and celebrations, aha moments, and our deepest regrets.

Peter eventually discovered this reality. In the Book of Acts, we are told that Peter, the lowly fisherman, became a great teacher and preacher and invited many people to become a part of this fledgling movement. As a matter of fact, he was so convincing that thousands believed and were baptized. And a great deal of Peter’s success came because he retained this core understanding that Jesus was the Christ, and at the same time, continued to develop and deepen that understanding through his own evolving faith.

And the same is true in our generation.  We are called and challenged to continue to develop our understanding of what it means to call Jesus the Christ and how we approach Jesus as the Son of God. But how do we do that? How do we identify with Jesus?

And this is where things get sort of interesting. Notice that Peter’s confession comes in two parts, “the Christ,” and “the Son of the Living God.” Let’s think about those two statements for a moment.  “The Christ” is a divine title. It literally means “messiah” or “the anointed one.” In other words, saying that Jesus is the Christ is akin to calling him God.  Peter is literally saying that Jesus is God. Now, with that in mind, the second part may cause us to scratch our head a bit.  “Son of the Living God” indicates that Jesus is human. So, what gives? Is Jesus God or the Son of God? This is an important question as we attempt to understand Jesus’ identity.

Now, I’m not going to get into all the minutia and word play surrounding the doctrine of the Trinity or the assertion of the early church that Jesus was both fully human/fully divine. Instead, I would like to share with you the words of the Rev. Dr. Norman Pott. He says that, “The disciples first met Jesus as a human being, and were brought to the point of trying to express their extraordinary developing conviction that God was somehow present, active, speaking, giving, healing through this human life. As someone has suggested, our faith is not so much resting on the hope that Jesus is like God, as if we were experts on what God is like, but our faith is resting on the hope that God is like Jesus, that is compassionate, forgiving, accepting, and welcoming.”[i]

“Our hope is that God is like Jesus.”  I love that!  I love that because while we cannot fully know the nature of God, we can look at the human person Jesus, the living breathing man who walked the earth and try to emulate him.  We can read in the gospels about a Jesus who not only talked the talk but walked the walk.

My friends, that’s our calling. We are being challenged. We are being invited. We are being shown precisely what our Creator expects and requires of us. The God of the cosmos is calling us to discover Love; to discover the capacity to live in conversation with others; and to organize our life priorities so that we live with a focus on what matters.[ii]  And I think it’s important that we ask ourselves the question, “who do people say we are?” And this is where the humility part kicks in!

As a congregation, it’s important that we “live-into” our confession of who Jesus is and, with great humility, seize the opportunity to reflect who Jesus is.  Our task is to activity look for ways to reflect the Love of God, to be in conversation with all kinds of people, and to focus and order our lives on what matters most.  Things like attending to and nurturing our relationships. Things like actively working for the well-being of our neighbors, both here and around the globe.  Things like discovering moments when we can be a voice for justice and peace. Moments when we can share our faith by practicing and participating in God’s Love for all humanity, by standing up for equality and non-violence, and by working to protect the environment.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve noticed the change on our church sign out front.  I think a church sign says something about the congregation inside.  Ours is now a field of black with rainbow letters spelling out some of our most important values.  Faith, Love, Peace, and Justice all surrounding our name “Cable UCC”

Now, I’ve had many positive comments on the change.  But our challenge is to live-into what the sign says. We are called to continue to evolve, to make this faith our own in our generation, by finding new and creative, and not-so-new and creative ways to love God by loving our neighbor.

One final thought this morning. Gandhi once said, “We win justice quickest by rendering justice to the other party.” It seems to me, as I look out across the landscape of our current world, that this kind of wisdom is a rare thing. Maybe that’s our challenge today, maybe that’s our take-away from this text, maybe we are meant to see that Jesus’ identity was all about justice.  Not for himself or for personal gain, but for the betterment of others, especially those who were most exposed, most vulnerable; those on the fringes of society.  Yes, he was the Son of the Living God and yes, he was the Christ, and today, in our presence, the Living Christ continues to live and move and have being.  And the Spirit of the Living God continues to bring healing, compassion, and grace to all of us.  And for that we are so thankful.

Amen.

[i] Reverend Dr. Norman Pott. The Abiding Question.  A reflection on Peter’s Confession (Day1.org) 1996

[ii] Rev. Dr. Ian Markham. How Do We Know What God is Like? (Day1.org) 2008

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