Monday, August 28, 2017

Who Is Jesus?

Matthew 16:13-20
August, 27, 2017

Peter finally got something right!
Jesus asks the disciples who do others say that he is.
They give him the scoop on the street: John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet.
But then - and I think this is what he really wants to know -
Jesus asks them who do they think he is.

And Peter comes up with the right answer!
Not something that happens all the time in the gospels.
Peter and the rest of them are kind of goofy when it comes down to it.
But Peter got it right this time!

He says “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.”
And oh, Jesus is happy about it!
Confession of St. Peter - James Tissot
He blesses Peter and tells him that God has given him the information
and he tells him that he’s going to build his church on this confession,
and he gives him the keys to the Kingdom.

Of course this party doesn’t last too long and
within one verse, Peter gets it all wrong again.
But for right now, Jesus is pleased – Because Peter got something right!

Well, I don’t think it’s just that Peter got something right.
It’s that Peter got this specific thing right.
Identifying Jesus as the Messiah, the one sent by God.
That seems to be very important.

But why is that important?
Why is it important that we understand that Jesus is the Messiah
and not just another prophet or a just a good teacher or a good example?

I mean, Jesus doesn’t seem like the
kind of guy who needs be recognized as great.
Actually, right here after Peter’s confession,
he warns his disciples not to tell anyone about
the fact that he’s the Messiah and keep it a secret.
So why is it important for his disciples
to know that he is the Messiah the son of God?

First off, just a little bit on the Messiah.
In the Jewish faith, the Messiah was and is a person
that scriptures promise would come and would be sent by God
The one that would rule the people and deliver them
from the injustice of the world.

So the Messiah is the one that God sends to save the world.
But how that would happen, and what that would look like
is still a question in the disciples minds.
Would it come as a military coup, or a violent uprising,
would Jesus become the emperor or the Jewish King like Herod?

It is important that Peter and the others see that Jesus
is the one that was sent by God
and that the way that Jesus brings that salvation,
is the way that God wants it brought to us.
Not through the typical political means of the day,
but through service and self-sacrifice.

Basically, it is important that we understand that Jesus is sent by God,
and is God, because Jesus gives us a clear picture of who God is.

Throughout time, God has been kind of a fuzzy character
to the human race.
God has been labeled with a lot of different characteristics over time.
God is been seen as a wonderful creator but more often
as a destroyer –  angry and vengeful, a God of war.
God has been seen as demanding human sacrifice and animal sacrifice.
God has been used to defend slavery and hate.
God is credited with wanting the gratification of religious leaders.
giving wealth, taking away wealth, taking away pain and also often giving it.
God has been said to look down on women as second class citizens
condemning people, scaring, and threatening people.
All of these aspects of God might make an appearance in scripture,
but people have stressed them and over-used them
as a threat to manipulate people and get their own way.

There is a book we all had to read in Seminary,
It was the journal of a woman who came with her husband
to America and was a pioneer of the West.
She and her family were very devout Christians, but
her husband was a very angry and abusive man.
He told her every time that he beat her,
 to remember that it was actually God
forming her and shaping her through it. 

She began to believe that God shared exactly her
husband’s thoughts and values and actions.
You can see through the journal how her
relationship with God changed because of her
husband’s abuse and his claims to God’s authority.

It was a disturbing book to read,
but we read it because it showed us future pastors
how the identity and authority of God can be
abused by people in power.
To remind us that humans often take their own
thoughts, desires, prejudices, fears, and issues and make them God’s.
It’s happened throughout history and it still happens today.

We just had a Christian Pastor and one of the president’s advisors
say that The president has God’s blessing
to use any kind of force to take Kim Jong Un out.
Even if that means  engaging in a nuclear war with North Korea
in order to protect our country.
A blessing by God to kill millions.
That’s just wrong. Period.

These statements by Christian leaders should be condemned
by other Christians, not just because of the
frightening prospects of the violence it could mean for our world,
but because of the violence they do to our image of God.

Many religious leaders claim Christ’s authority,
but they forget Christ’s life and teachings and example.

To claim Christ’s authority –
To have the responsibility of the keys that Jesus promised,
and to use them with integrity –
 we always have to return to Jesus
not just who he is, but how he was.

We have to not just remember that God sent a Messiah
but that Jesus was that Messiah: we have to remember
what Jesus was like, who Jesus was, what Jesus did.
Jesus brings that fuzzy picture of God back into focus.
It changes the God who could be anything we want
into a solid, living, breathing, human life.

And when we see others in the world doing the things
Jesus did, we know that is sent from God too.

Eating with outcasts, sharing, welcoming children, healing,
caring for others, crying for friends, keeping company with shepherds and
prostitutes and sinners, feeding the hungry, giving good news to the poor,
demanding justice for others, caring,  and freeing.
Restoring humanity and bringing new life.
Not dropping bombs or making threats,
But speaking the truth.
Not coercing and intimidating,
but serving and empowering.

Jesus life is how God wants to be seen and understood.
Right on through his rejection by the religious and political leaders.
Right through his arrest.
Right through his trial and crucifixion.
Right through his suffering and death for the sake of others.
That is why it is important that Jesus is understood
as the Messiah, the son of the living God
because Jesus is how God wants to be seen.

Of course,  Jesus tells the disciples that suffering at the hands
of the corrupt religious leaders will be his fate.
And Peter tells him how much he
hates that idea and immediately gets it wrong again.
But that is a story we’ll hear next week.

Right now we can remember, Peter’s accurate confession:
Jesus is the Messiah, the living God.
God loves the world so much,
that God sent us Jesus.
To show us what God is really like.

God came into the world to be a part of the world.
To live like we live, to share the same challenges, joys, fears and pain.
And to save us, and to show us the way.
Death and resurrection, dying, and rising again.
Jesus came into the world to show us how God loves.

So who do we say that Jesus is?
Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God.
Jesus is God’s love and kingdom in our presence.

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