Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 16

Text: Matthew 16:15-17
“What about you?" he asked them. "Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 
"Who do you say I am?"

“Who do you say I am?”

Who is Jesus?

When I was about 6 or 7 I was quite certain about the answer to that question.  Jesus is the man who could walk on water, heal sick people, bring people back to life, and feed a large crowd of people with the food in a boy’s lunch box.  Without a doubt Jesus was someone very special.  When asked, ‘Why is Jesus special?’ my answer was no different to the prep children from St Paul’s school who will be attending the next service, ‘Jesus loves me.’

At confirmation classes my understanding broadened to include the idea that Jesus was not just a man but was also God, intricately interconnected with the Trinity.  His birth, life, death and resurrection were all part of God's plan to save all us from sin and death.  I learnt Bible passages that talked about Jesus being Immanuel, Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace most of which I didn’t understand but I believed anyway. 

If someone asked me, ‘Who is Jesus?’ on my confirmation day, at least I could say from memory Luther’s explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed.  I may not have understood all that lay behind each statement but in my own way this is what I believed about Jesus. 

Many of you may have had a similar experience.  Things that we learnt as teens may not have had an immediate impact on you or you may not have fully understood what you had been taught but you listened and learnt it.  You trusted your parents, pastors and teachers who taught you about Jesus that they weren’t leading you on.  You witnessed their faith and their sincerity and this led you to believe that this must be important.  And so in your own way came to know and trust Jesus.

I know that for others in my confirmation class all this was a lot of mumbo jumbo and they only attended classes because their parents sent them along.  At the time the words were meaningless and if they were asked ‘Who is Jesus?’ they would have most likely responded, ‘Who cares?’ 

For some it was only as an adult that the question ‘Who is Jesus?’ became an important one.  I recall visiting one of the lads in my class when we were in our early 20s.  He didn’t care too much for the confirmation classes and was always in trouble for messing around.  Now he was dying of cancer.  What I encountered surprised me.  This was the same kid who didn’t take religion seriously but now he really trusted and believed in Jesus.  I thought this was going to be a sad visit but instead we talked about his sickness, dying and hope and had lots of laughs as we told stories about teachers and school days. 

It often happens that our answer to the question ‘Who is Jesus?’ is different depending on what is happening in our lives at any given moment. 
When we are feeling depressed because of the way sin has affected and infected our lives, Jesus is our forgiver and saviour.
When we are feeling vulnerable and weak because of sickness, ongoing medical issues, and life threatening surgery, Jesus is our comforter and strength to endure what is seemingly impossible to endure.
When we are afraid or feeling alone, harassed or depressed Jesus is love, God's care, God's hand around us holding us and supporting us.
When death is approaching we see Jesus as the one who extends his hand to walk with us and welcome us into our heavenly home.  His presence removes fear and we are willing to go with him.
When we have a sick child, an aging parent, a dying friend we see Jesus as their guardian and helper in their time of need.

There may be times when we ask ourselves ‘Who is Jesus?’ and the darkness of our circumstances leads us to call out, “I don’t know.  I wish I could see him more clearly!  I want to know him but the darkness around me blocks him from my view”.  At times like this we go back to verses from the Bible or sections of the Catechism we had learnt and use those words to remind ourselves who Jesus is and what he means to us.

Let's answer the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’ as we say together the words of the Small Catechism.  (On the screen)

I believe that Jesus Christ - true God,
Son of the Father from eternity,
and true man born of the Virgin Mary - is my Lord.
At great cost he has saved and redeemed me
a lost and condemned person.
He has freed me from sin, death, and the power of the devil -
not with silver or gold, but with his holy and precious blood
and his innocent suffering and death.
All this he has done that I may be his own,
live under him in his kingdom,
and serve him in everlasting righteousness,
innocence, and blessedness,
just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally.
This is most certainly true.

Behind this neat formula and precise wording there are many important truths but one that strikes me the most is the reason why God was born a human and suffered and died on a cross.  It is in the sentence that starts, “All this he has done that I may be his own” and continues that I may be in his kingdom to serve him, be free of sin and guilt and live with him now and forever. 

It’s all about the relationship between Jesus and us.  And that’s how we answer the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’  The question is not answered with stringing off a whole lot of words that describe who Jesus is but is answered best about what Jesus means to us in the everyday circumstances of our lives.

A young man graduated from a Christian High School went to university and during his undergraduate years became disenchanted with the church after experiencing the affect a conflict in a congregation had on his parents.  He became, in his own words, “sort of a Christian, but one who didn’t actually practice Christianity, a believer but not a doer”.

In the 1980s he became an expert in East-West business relations and attended a conference in the Soviet Union and got into a conversation with a female delegate from the Soviet Bloc.

“You are a Christian”, the Soviet woman said, “I am an atheist.  Tell me – what difference does your belief in God make in the way you vote, the way you spend your money?  Tell me, when is the last time that you did something because you stopped and asked yourself, ‘What does God want me to do in this case?’”

The young man was stunned.  He said, “I realised that though I believed like a believer, I lived like an atheist.”  It was a stunning moment of honest recognition for him as he reflected on this conversation.  He claimed to be a Christian but his Christianity had no effect on the way he lived his life.  Eventually he was led back to a vibrant and active Christian faith.

If we believe that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”, then what difference does that make to how we live?

The remainder of the apostle Peter's life can be seen in the light of his answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”  From this point on, he is either falling short of his bold confession of faith or he is living out its implications.  What awaits Peter is no straight, flat road, a smooth superhighway, but a journey into the unknown, with many twists and turns, a dead end here and there. 

One moment he lives up to his confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” like at Pentecost when he preaches about Jesus clearly and simply and another time he fails badly when he says about Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest, “I swear I don’t know the man!”

The Christian life of each of us resembles that of Peter. There's a confession of faith, which we make or our baptismal sponsors make on our behalf.  We affirm our commitment to being disciples of Jesus at our confirmation and again confess our faith in the Triune God.  But it seems that no matter how much sincerity and commitment we have at that moment, life becomes a series of either falling short of this confession of faith, or living out its implications.

There are times when we feel close to Jesus and we are ready to do anything to honour his name and to further the work he has given us to do and we gladly live up to the confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Like Peter at the Last Supper we boldly declare, “I will never let you down, Jesus.  I would rather die than let my confession be mere words and empty promises”.

But there are other times when we realise that the way we live our lives is in stark contrast to what we confess about Jesus.  We confess that Jesus is our Saviour and our Lord and that in him and with him we have received new lives,
a new way of seeing people and the world around us,
a new set of values and attitudes,
a new way of dealing with people as the Holy Spirit works in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control,
but none of this has any effect whatsoever on the choices we make and the way we interact with others.

Putting our confession that Jesus is our Saviour and Lord as central in our life is not easy.  The confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” involves more than talking the talk, saying the words; it also involves walking the walk; matching what we say with what we do.  It involves sacrifice, commitment, dedication, sticking to what we believe and making choices which are centred on our confession that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour.

That is the constant challenge for us as Christians and we readily admit we get it wrong far too often.  Jesus knows that we are not that different to Peter.  We know what the right thing to do is, yet our sinful human nature gets in the way.  Thankfully we have a loving and gracious God.  He forgave Peter and he forgives us freely too.  That encourages us and gives us the confidence to make our confession of “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” real in everything we say and do.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
21st August 2011

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