Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Big Question - homily for St Matthew's, Trinity 14 B

I wonder what would happen if I stood in the Co-op car park and asked passing shoppers “Who's Jesus?”
The answers would surely be quite varied...from “dunno really” through “a good man and a wise teacher” to, maybe, just maybe “the Son of God”.

Who's Jesus? It's an important question – perhaps THE most important important that Jesus asks it himself.

Who do you say I am?”

His whole ministry is a story that points to his identity…and now Jesus wants to see if his disciples have learned the central lesson he came to teach
Who do you say I am?”

Imagine Jesus asking you….

Who do you say I am?”

What's your answer?
Son of God?
Good man?
Innocent victim?
Colossal embarrassment?
Disturber of my peace?

Who do you say I am?”

It's not a question reserved for theologians, for priests, for the great and the good, or those who like that kind of thing.
It's a question aimed at each one of us, one on which pretty much everything depends…for if we decide against Jesus, then there’s not much point in hanging around waiting to see what will happen next.

We can, of course, answer with our lips…like dear Peter, quick to leap in with his extraordinary insight You are the Messiah – but then as quickly disappointed when Jesus turns out not to be the kind of Messiah he expected .
That’s something I can sympathise with. I have my own preconceived notions of who Jesus is, based on childhood imaginings, on received wisdom, and some serious Bible study…
Sometimes I think I know…Often I get it very wrong.
I think Jesus should be over HERE doing THIS, when he is apparently over there doing something else, and I feel confused and at odds with him.
That’s when I’m specially grateful for Peter – so proudly and gloriously wrong, but redeeming his blindness with the warmth of his love! Peter can't be doing with all this talk of death & defeat...he wants a triumphant Lord, who will turn the world upside down and put everything right in an instant. In the end, of course, he won't be disappointed – but for the moment it seems he's way off course.

I suspect that I (and maybe you) would have felt very much the same...specially when asked to answer that great question not just with our lips but with our lives.
That's really challenging – specially when you hear today's gospel in the words of that modern paraphrase The Message

Jesus confronted Peter. "Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works! Calling the crowd to join the disciples, he said, "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat;I am. Don't run from suffering, embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self Help is no help at all. Self Sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I'm leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you'll be an ever greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendour of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.

Don’t run from suffering…embrace it.
You’re not in the driver’s seat. I am.


That’s not the sort of thing we want to hear, is it? We believe in self help, in independence, in clear rewards for effort and in prudent business practice…
In fact, this invitation to embrace suffering is indeed deeply embarrassing for us, - conditioned as we are to seek an easy path for ourselves and for our families.
If this is what it means to be a disciple of Christ, then maybe we're not up for it after all.
We would so much rather choose the easy way, the way of green pastures and still waters. The hard way is, quite simply, too hard.
Why go there?
We want Jesus to lead us to life, but we want him to clear the way and make it easy for us. We want to enjoy the glory, but skip the slog.... But that's never been the way of it. Again and again, we find Christ in the hard places..In the washing of feet and the carrying of crosses.

Christianity - not for the fainthearted!

So, though we might make a reasonable stab at answering that crucial question with our words, our actions too tell others just who Jesus is for us.
"Who do I say Jesus is when I cut in on someone in traffic?"
Who do I say that Jesus is, when I ignore the Big Issue seller on the High Street?
When I fail to stand against injustice, at home or abroad?
When I put my own needs, or those of my family, ahead of the needs of my neighbour?
When I just can’t be bothered to go the extra mile?
When (to touch base just briefly with our New Testament lesson) my words are destructive and hurtful, not affirming and encouraging?
Who do I say that Jesus is, then?
If we are known as disciples, then our actions tell the world just who we say Jesus is as loudly as any declaration of faith…and sometimes they seem to be sadly at odds with our protestations here, Sunday by Sunday.

Think about that.

We need to show the world who Jesus is for us...Lip service or agnosticism just won't do.

Who do you say I am?”

He stands there, waiting for an answer…
There’s no time like the present…
We are each called to respond, and there’s no way to hide.
It’s such a deceptively simple question, really…but the answer must shine through all that we do and all that we are...
- for what will it profit us to gain the whole world and lose our life?


Neb said...

Beautifully and powerfully put. Thank you. This sermon will stay with me for a long time I think.

Still Breathing said...

Graffiti allegedly seen in Surgeons College read:

Jesus said to them, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ They replied, ‘You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, in which kerygma we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships!’ And Jesus replied, ‘Do what?’

Still Breathing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.