Pentecost 12 Isaiah 51:1-6 Romans 12:1-8 Matthew 16:13-20
Let us pray: Lord, though we do not always recognize you, you reveal yourself to us in so many ways. Open our hearts and minds to know more about your action in our lives each day. Enable us to see you more clearly in order that we might follow your Son more nearly. Amen.
ho 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 “Jesus loves me.” Later on, in my Lutheran confirmation classes we were required to memorize Luther’s Small Catechism. 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 learned 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. On the day of our confirmation we had to stand in front of the congregation and be able to recite from memory random questions from the catechism which included “Who is Jesus.” The appropriate answer was Luther’s explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed. Which was: “ I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.” I may not have understood all that lay behind that statement but in my own way this was what I believed about Jesus. Many of you may have had a similar experience. Things that we learned as teens may not have had an immediate impact on us or we may not have fully understood what we had been taught but we listened and learned it. We trusted our parents, pastors and teachers who taught us about Jesus, and they weren’t leading us on. We hopefully witnessed their faith and their sincerity, and this led us to believe that this must be important. And so, in our 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. At the time the words were meaningless and if they were asked “Who is Jesus?” they would have most likely responded, “Who cares?” It often happens that our answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” is dependent 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 savior. 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 our guardian and helper in our 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 learned and use those words to remind ourselves who Jesus is and what he means to us. 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. If we believe that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” then what difference does that make in how we live? 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” as 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 honor 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 realize that the way we live our lives is in stark contrast to what we confess about Jesus. We confess that Jesus is our Savior 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 Savior 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 centered on our confession that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. That is the constant challenge for us as Christians and we may realize 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, however 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. Let us pray: Loving Father, through the grace of your Spirit, you enabled Peter to recognize the true identity of your Son. Grant us the grace to always profess our faith in your Son through all that we say and do and become rocks upon which your Church is built here on earth. This we ask through Christ, your Son and our Lord. Amen.