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Matt 16 :13-20
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Who Are You?
According to an ancient fable, there once was a young eagle that fell from the safety of its nest high on the mountain. Miraculously, the tiny, baby bird fell into a patch of soft grass and survived. He was discovered by a farmer who scooped him up and put him in the safety of his chicken coop.
As the eagle grew, he thought he was a chicken – watching other birds, he would strut about, scratch in the dirt and live like any other chicken. Hearing about this, a zookeeper came to see. The farmer assured him – that is a chicken, no longer an eagle. Being a chicken is all he knows. The zookeeper shook his head and said – that is not who he is. He lifted the eagle to the fence and told him to fly.
The eagle hopped down, strutted about, scratched in the dirt and hid in the safety of the coop. I told you he was a chicken said the farmer. The zookeeper, sure the eagle just had to know who he was, returned the next day and placed him on top of the barn and told him to fly. The eagle flew down to the coop gracefully but then set about again doing the things chickens do. The farmer shook his head – told you he was a chicken.
Not to be dissuaded, the zookeeper determined to try one more time. He came back the next day and carried the eagle to the mountain, climbing as high as he was able. Placing the eagle on the cliff top, he said – thou art an eagle, fly. Suddenly the bird seemed transformed. He stretched out 8ft wings, flexed razor-sharp talons and burst into the sky soaring like the eagle he truly was meant to be.
Today is a big day – yet as you look at me, and I look at you this morning, we are asking the same question – “Who are you?” How do we answer this all-important question?
The Presbyterian answer is a discernment process that is nothing if not thorough. You have done your homework and discerned who you are, who you want to be as Manassas Presbyterian Church. The Pastor Nominating Committee has done its work, defining who you want, combing through candidates, and finally learning to the best of their ability who I am. You even have a little sneak preview in the pamphlets to help out with the introduction. After the months and months of work, it is obvious nobody wants to be the chicken scratching in the dirt! We want to be Christ’s body in this place, transformed and soaring like an eagle – doing God proud, don’t we? But who are we really saying the Messiah is? Surely not a bird of prey that haughtily soars above the dust of the world! Christ showed us the way coming up alongside 12 ordinary men and calling upon them to follow just as they were.
And, that is why I like Peter so much – just an ordinary guy. The first answer of who the people say Jesus is - John, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets– these are dead heroes of bygone days – heroes of the Bible, but of a past day – Peter knows! He gets what seems so obvious to us from our perspective years later. “You are the Messiah, son of the living God!” Peter gets it – or does he? In the text immediately following today’s reading from the gospel of Matthew, Peter protests when Jesus foretells his upcoming suffering, death and resurrection. To the point where Jesus now calls Peter a stumbling block, saying “Get behind me Satan!”
Peter is reassuring as the foundation of the church, the holder of the keys, the rock on which Jesus proclaims he will build everything. Rather than a perfect soaring Eagle, Peter does his share of scratching dirt. He often has his foot in his mouth being the first to blurt out the answer in his enthusiasm, definitely the bumbling but good-intentioned leader. Remember when he saw Jesus walking on water and clumsily puts on his clothes and jumps into the water but then has doubts and flails toward Jesus. Peter is sooo human – soooo beloved, faults and all.
Peter gives us hope. Rather than a foundation rock that we can never aspire to – the most regal of birds, we get a real human example, still a rock of the church, warts and all. If Peter is a disciple, then I can do this Christianity thing. All our work as a church doesn’t come up short because of our human foibles. We can’t ignore our warts, our weaknesses, but we can pray together and work together to strengthen God’s body in this place. We started out like the simple chickens, but like Peter, our lives are being transformed by who we claim as Messiah – our living God.
As Will Willimon says, “We may come singing Just As I Am, but we will not stay by being our same old selves. The needs of the world are too great, the suffering and pain too extensive, the lures of the world too seductive for us to begin to change the world unless we are changed, unless conversion of life and morals becomes our pattern.”
Who do you say I am – when Peter says ‘You are the messiah’, he doesn’t get it - YET! But he keeps working, keeps following, even after what seems like the bitter end - denying Jesus three times. Jesus still loves Peter – he comes to Peter on the beach and charges him to show his love by feeding Jesus’ sheep. Jesus knows Peter loves Him, and tasks him to show it through tending the flock.
That was Peter’s answer and worth studying since he was declared to be the rock of the church. But who do you say I am? How do we answer this question? Depending upon who we are talking to, this answer might have different nuance. To a friend from the same church, you might share your favorite parable or story from Jesus’ life. To a seeker, you might backup to the bigger picture – and the answer might be Jesus is the Messiah the Son of the living God.
How do we begin to ‘wrap up’ who Jesus is? As The Reverend R. Scott Colglazier says, Jesus’ life was like the energy of a star released into the world and still changing people to this day. “Compassion exploded into the world through the life of Jesus… Creative, transforming and inspiring goodness was released into the world through the life of Jesus.”
For Colglazier, the answer to “Who do you say I am?” is an energy that shapes each of us and transforms the world. Those are really, big words, a powerful statement. But so what? Can you just make such a statement and move on living a mundane life going with the flow? I don’t think so. – the answer is wrapped in the second half Peter’s answer – son of the living God.
A living God who lives in and through each and every one of us. How we answer Jesus’ question of “Who do you say I am?” makes a claim on us, defines and shapes us. How we answer is with our actions, our very lives. The bird example may seem trite, but make no mistakes by selling yourselves short. As a beloved child, a dwelling place for God no less, you carry that God energy – it defines you and breaks the barriers and limits we set. Rest assured that our actions don’t have to be grandiose gestures, but they can be. It might be as simple as a smile to a neighbor, forgiveness where such is neither expected nor deserved.
Who is Manassas Presbyterian Church? After all of the discernment of the search process, does the enthusiasm and work end with calling a new pastor or is the transformation just beginning? Are we about the work of telling the world who we are – who our God is? Hosting a lunch for the needy, donating blood, volunteering at the shelter. It can be as big as fighting systems of oppression and traveling across the world for mission or as small as random acts of kindness, sitting by a bedside, offering a listening ear.
In our polarized world, this is how we as the church of Jesus Christ are telling people who Christ is – by allowing our relationship with this compassionate living God to define our very being. This is how we tell the world who we are - by being the hands, feet and heart of Jesus in a world of loneliness, anxiety and insecurity. Christ - a God of boundless love, grace and forgiveness meets us where we are. We are enwrapped in compassion, held, affirmed. We are God’s beloved children. Telling the world who Jesus is isn’t about reciting a book or simply inviting a friend to church – although those things don’t hurt. Who we are as defined by Christ is a people who, though broken, allow God’s light to shine through our cracks, a people who look upon every person we meet and expect to see God shining back at us through their eyes. How you answer who Jesus, our Messiah and Lord is – defines who you are.
Who we say Jesus is tells the world how integral and important our messiah is to us. How we live this answer speaks even more loudly and shows the world the love we seek to live up to. So, go out into the world. Treat everyone with dignity, respect, and compassion – that is who we should be, who we are as Christians. Living into the example of Jesus Christ, speak compassion - speak it with your thoughts, speak it with your actions, speak it with your finances, speak it with your very all – Should you vote today to call me as your next pastor, I will walk alongside you working with all my heart, all my strength, all my mind and all my soul that who we are might be defined by - and shine forth to the world the compassion of God. Let our lives tell the story, tell the world who Jesus the Messiah is carrying love to all the world that all may know that they are beloved children of God. Amen.