Matthew 16:13-20

Matthew 16:13-20

The Rev. Marc Vance

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

August 24, 2014

Last week we played follow the leader and you actually did that silly lip thing!  I am tempted to be interactive again this week, but what I would otherwise do (having you move around) would be pretty chaotic - so…maybe just raise your hand or something, depending on who you are: 8:00er/10:15er; under/over 50; (dangerous) vote red/blue (don’t answer that!).  How about this question: Who do you say Jesus is?  There are a lot of different ways to answer this question, even among Christians, much less other faith traditions and those who espouse no faith at all.  But think about your answer for a minute.  Do not treat it as a rhetorical question during sermon time when you expect to hear the answer, but really think about your answer.  My answer is that Jesus is the incarnate, crucified, and risen savior, essentially a bullet-point rendering of the Creed.  We all have answers, all have some idea of who Jesus is, but we also see how much our answers to that question vary even among us here.  Now think back across time and see just how much history is littered with the carnage in the aftermath of arguments about the answer to that question.  What should be the most potent force for unity is misused to create division and judgment rather than fulfilling our opening prayer that God’s church, being gathered together in unity by God’s Holy Spirit, shows forth God’s power among all peoples.

That is one reason I did not want you to answer that question about your political leanings!  Among us, we will find no unity in political conviction or answers to hot-button social issues.  That is one, if not the, primary reason we demonstrate our commitment to gathering in the unity of God’s Spirit when we have only one service on our annual parish picnic day and come together, side-by-side, to accept our Lord’s invitation to receive the holy food and drink of this Table.  (Or at least it is my hope that a Rite I service with music will incorporate enough of what is sacred to everyone to be unifying rather than cause for divisive consternation!)

I think Jesus was trying to get the disciples to wrestle with the same issue when he asked the disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  “Well, basically, the people do not know who you are.  You are not like anyone else, so they are scrambling for an answer, any answer: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah; they do not know.”  “That is because they do not know who they are (and whose they are).  But who do you say that I am?”  Peter answers for them: “They may not know, but we do: you are the messiah, the living Son of God!”  There are a couple of interesting things to note here.  Jesus is here not trying to gauge popular impressions of him.  He notes his own self-designation of “Son of Man” in his questioning what the people think (the people who do not know him) before Peter ever mentions the word “messiah.”  This is because this aspect of Jesus’ nature is nothing new to the disciples.  All through the gospels, Jesus has been revealing who he is: the voice at this baptism, the temptations in the desert, feeding the multitude, the transfiguration, healing, and walking on water that we heard a few weeks ago when the disciples made the realization of who Jesus is (“truly the Son of God”), which is why Jesus was comfortable using a familiar self-reference.  They already know who he is and it is no accident that Jesus ends his question to the disciples, not with “Son of Man” (the disciples already know that), but with “I am,” not unlike when God first revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush.

Fascinating stuff, but the point is that this is not really about who Jesus is, at least not for what is becoming a unified community of faith, because they already know who Jesus is.  It is now, for them, far more about who they are because of who he is.  And that is important, not only for their own sakes, but for the sake of those who do not yet know what the disciples know.

We already understand Jesus to be the incarnate, crucified, and risen savior; the messiah, the living Son of God.  That is nothing new.  The real issue is what that means for ourselves, personally, and for St. Paul’s as a community of faith because who we are has implications for what we do both here and outside these doors.  This is reflected in the statement we make about ourselves, but if you are not new, it likely has escaped your attention for a while.  It might not hurt to take one of those welcome brochures out of the center holder and look through it because who we say we are is outlined right there.  We are first and foremost a worshipping community, participants rather than spectators who value our traditions of the scriptures, the Creeds, the sacraments.  All that we do is informed by our identity as faithful disciples of the risen Christ.  That is what we say, both to remind ourselves who we are and what we want the world to know about us because of our faith in our Lord.  Hospitality and service to our communities are of particular importance to us.  We are a community who recognizes and values every person as made in the image of God, welcoming all into our midst, respecting the dignity of every human being.  We seek to equip all the saints in the baptismal ministry to which they are called as we endeavor to build up the body of Christ by serving and giving of our resources, both within the St. Paul’s community, as well as to the larger communities of Columbus, our nation, and the world.  We are able to do all that, to be that, by exercising the gifts for ministry about which Paul spoke - exhortation, giving, leading, diligence, compassion, even cheerfulness! - but only if we treat them as a unifying force, as many members, yet one body, bound not by political perspective or conformity on social issues, but in who we are because of who Jesus is.

When I look at all the varied ministry that occurs here from people who exercise it for no other reason than because of their faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ - the new approach to children’s ministry, the consideration given to our sacred space, the attention we give to those among us who are experiencing some difficulty, giving beyond ourselves through our various outreach efforts, and more - I would say that these descriptors in the welcome brochure do describe us pretty well, but I am convinced that we can do a better job of explicitly articulating these things to those who might need to hear that there is a faith community in Columbus who offers an experience of God’s presence unlike any other.  You are here because these things, the way they are expressed within this particular tradition of the Christian faith, are important to you.  But there are others who will, in effect, wave to you from their front porch on Sunday morning as you come to church, and more still who would not have an answer to the question, “Who do you say the Son of Man is?”  If this is important to you, if it is important to us as a congregation gathered together in unity by God’s Spirit, it may very well be equally important to those beyond these doors who do not know that they do not know.  The only person who may be able to convey the significance of what we do here to one out there who needs to hear it is you.

So who do you say Jesus is?  John the Baptist, Elijah?  The messiah, the living Son of God?  The incarnate, crucified, and risen savior?  Yes, all this and much more.  We know this already, but however way we answer that question, what we still need to wrestle with is who we are (and whose we are) because of who Jesus is.  Whether 8:00er or 10:15er, whether under or over 50, regardless of how we vote, we are many members, yet one body.  That is one, if not the, primary reason we have only one service on our annual parish picnic day: to come shoulder-to-shoulder at our Lord’s invitation to receive the holy food and drink of this Table, the most potent force for demonstrating our commitment to gather together in the unity of God’s Spirit and show forth God’s power among all peoples.