Who Do You Say I Am?

Traditional Sermon Pentecost 12

Last week I was in a nursing home offering communion to one of our Sages who is currently doing a couple of weeks of rehabilitation.  She is somewhat hard of hearing and she has been placed in a four bed room.  And during the visit, there are two other visitors talking pretty loudly.  So I have my arm over her shoulder so that I can lean in towards her and read the words of today’s Gospel Lesson about Peter’s Great Confession right into her ear so she can hear it.  Then the time comes to speak the words of the communion liturgy.  As I recite the words we all know so well … “in the night in which he was betrayed ….” she starts to cry and some of her tears drop down into my wrist.  And I think again of the words of Peter’s great confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” … and realize that they have become real before my very eyes in Gloriann’s tears of faith.

A little later in the afternoon I am sitting with a man and his wife … both Sages … sharing communion again.  The man is quite ill, and can barely speak, so he lets his wife speak for him in the way that couples who have been married for a number of years can do.  We exchange small talk for much of the visit, catching up on news in their lives and in the life of St. Peter’s.  Once again, we share communion together … but it is the Lord’s Prayer that channels the potency of God’s presence this time, as this man who has mostly been silent starts throughout the visit, now prays in a whisper the Our Father, as we close our communion celebration.  And St. Peter’s confession is present once again, in Don’s quiet words that embodied for a few moments, the Spirit of God present among us.

In our Gospel lesson today, we have heard again one of the classic stories of Scripture … Peter’s Great Confession.  St. Peter’s moment in the limelight, when he delivers on his appointment as the leader of the disciples and the future leader of the Christian Church.  “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”  Say it with me … “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”  If you are a Sage, you remember it this way, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  The difference between the words Christ & Messiah is inconsequential … both phrases identify Jesus as our savior … the one who died for our sins … the one who invites us into the Kingdom of Heaven … the one who connects us to the God who gives us life.

It is an interesting passage of Scripture.  Because social scientists who study first century life in Palestine, would describe Jesus’ world as a “dyadic” culture.  By that they mean that people were other-oriented … they depended upon others to provide them with a sense of who they were.  That is why people might be identified as Saul of Tarsus or Jesus of Nazareth – it offered key details about a person by nature of the area of the country in which they were born or lived, and allowed conclusions to be drawn about their life and character.   As an example, I’m from Long Island … many here are from Pennsylvania Dutch country … it explains the language issues we sometimes have, right?  But let’s get back to Jesus’ world … in first century Palestine, persons were also judged “dyadic-ly” by words that they spoke or deeds that they accomplished, as those kinds of concrete actions were easily identified by others and helped them to form their opinions of you.  Thus Jesus’ first question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” is a clear attempt to assess the concrete impact of his ministry, his teaching, and his acts of power … in short, his actions.  Peter’s response seen in our Gospel Lesson today, notes clearly and concretely what people said about Jesus.  And the answer identifies people who had specific public ministries … John the Baptist … Elijah, one of the early prophets, and Jeremiah and the biblical prophets … all were noted as examples of the kind of leaders whose actions reminded people of what God was doing.  The “people” actually did OK with their answer, right? … they weren’t stupid at all, as we sometimes like to describe the crowds that followed Jesus around.  Watching from afar, they got it right.
Jesus ministry in many ways was a call to repentance and an invitation into a new way of living, as was the prophetic witness of the Jewish community.  And so, we have this “other-oriented” … dyadic question about Jesus answered.  We hear exactly “Who the people said that the Son of Man was.”

But Jesus doesn’t stop there … he is not solely interested in the “word on the street” regarding his ministry.  So he asks Peter, “But who do you say that I am?”  And the one who has traveled with Jesus … and listened to his teaching … and witnessed his miracles … and for whom Peter has even walked on water for a couple of seconds … THAT Peter responds with today’s great profession of faith, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

Those of you who are Sages have embodied this confession of Peter in the lives of faith that you have led for eighty or more years now.  You have been witnesses to the works of Jesus in the world around you.  You have seen babies and adults baptized into the faith … you have knelt or stood around altars of every shape and size and received the body and blood of your Lord … you have heard Scripture read in public, and you have prayed over it in private.  You have observed the life of the church at its best and its worst … watching congregations thrive and struggle … and seeing fellow members come and go … you have seen programs grow and stumble … and you have seen faith set on fire, and faith smolder in the ashes.  And … you have been witnesses to our Messiah, the Son of the Living God, through your personal proclamations of faith.  Your have proclaimed him through your actions, whether they be classic things like ushering, lecturing or singing in the choir …  You have proclaimed Jesus in the more contextual activities you supported, whether they were bake sales, fixing the sink when it leaked, or bringing a casserole to the grieving widows of the parishes of which you have been members.  You proclaimed Jesus as your living Lord in large groups, as you sang hymns like the ones we sang during our hymn sing, and you proclaimed Jesus face to face with others when you listened to their struggles or tried to assure them of God’s love for them in a time of crisis.  And … because you have been a member of the church for 60 … or 70 … or 80 plus years, you know that in the end … it was not what you did that mattered … but what Jesus has done for you that matters.  Your job has always been to simply let the world in on this truth of what a well-lived life is based upon … to allow the world to see the transformative power of Jesus in your life and actions.

It is that kind of faith response that we celebrate today on sages Sunday.  And as we celebrate it, we offer gratitude for this model of faithful living that you our sages have offered to us, because it reminds us of the proper perspective we are to bring into the world in which we live, today, also.  A world that is as complicated and conflicted as it was in Jesus day and age.  A world that forces us to stand in the aftermath of a rally in Charlottesville that showed us that hate and white supremacy is far more alive in our world than most of us have cared to admit.  A world where the fear of a nuclear conflict is very real again thanks to a tyrannical ruler who lives across the globe from us in the Far East.  And a world in which we struggle to understand and limit the human destruction brought to communities just about everywhere in the world, through the phenomena known as terrorism.  Yes, we need a longer-term view of life when are confronted with the reality that alongside of God’s presence at work in the world, is the presence of sin and brokenness, also.  We need the wisdom of those of you who have lived through much suffering … and much joy … and who recognize that while sometimes in the short term, sin and brokenness seems to win out, in the long run God’s will always triupmphs.

Our sermon question today is “To Whom or What are you Bound?’  In today’s culture, we don’t like to be “bound” to anyone.”  We flee commitment like the plague.  But the biblical model of binding is still a good one.  But to bind yourself to someone, is to enter into covenant with that person.  And that is an action that Christians have regularly chosen as a sign of faithfulness.  We bind ourselves in marriage as a sign of our devotion to each other.  We bind ourselves to our children, as a promise that we will raise them with as much love and commitment as we can muster, until they can stand independently as adults.  And we bind ourselves to our God through Baptism and in the active living out of our faith, whether the world is always kind to us in the moment, or not.  Yes, today, may we stand with you our Sages … and with St. Peter … and with the church of every time and place … and proclaim the truth that holds our binding promises together, in the face of a world that seems to become fractured at every turn … “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”   Amen.


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Rev. Craig Ross

Senior Pastor

The vibrancy of life here at St. Peter’s makes my service on our staff a joy and privilege. Visitation, teaching and preaching are the ministries that feed my pastoral identity, as together our staff and lay members share in our missional calling … Building a community of faith by God’s grace.

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