Kenduskeag Union Church
“Who is Jesus and what does he ask of us?”
The Hall of Fame golfer Lee Trevino has been struck by lightning three times while playing golf professionally.
He was invited to tell his story on a late night talk show and the host asked him after hearing about surviving three lightning streaks, what would he do different or would he have a different approach to golf?
Mr. Trevino looked at the host and said this,
“The next time I am on the course and there is a lightning storm, I am going to hold up a one iron.”
The host was slightly confused by this answer and asked Lee Trevino to further explain his answer.
Mr. Trevino went on to say this, “The reason I would hold up a one iron is because I know that not even God can hit a one iron.”
While that is a humorist story and light story, it reminds us that people have all sorts of different perspectives and understandings of who and what God is, and maybe more specifically who and what Jesus Christ is.
The larger context of today’s gospel lesson finds Jesus and the disciples making their way east from the Sea of Galilee westwards to the city of Caesarea Philippi on their journey south towards Jerusalem so that they could celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover.
And as Jesus and a handful of his followers enter the shadow of the very much Roman city, he starts a conversation with those who are traveling with him.
Jesus looks at his followers and asks the question, “Who do people say I am?”
You see at the time of this conversation as found in our gospel reading, all the who and what Jesus of Nazareth is had not been revealed yet. Some who followed him thought him to be some sort of political deliverer, others thought him to be the top spiritual teacher of the day, others saw him as some sort of miracle worker and prophet, still others thought he might be the one who would restore the kingdom that belonged to the line of King David; though no matter the particular slant or thought, most found common ground in the hope that Jesus would rid the Holy Land of the Romans, those who oppressed and occupied.
You see Jesus was very intentional in asking this important question in the place that he did.
The city of Caesarea Philippi was the center of Roman worship. In the time of the First Century it was a marvel. The outside of the city was made of sea side villas and palaces and rising up out of the middle of the city was a large white marble temple built by Herod the Great in honor and for the purpose of worshiping Ceaser.
Everything about this city spoke to the power of Rome and the power of Ceaser. Everything about this city spoke to the military power of the Roman Empire.
For those who are familiar with the stories of the Old Testament you will remember that the area around Caesarea Philippi was also once home to the worship of the pagan fertility god Baal. There are many stories found in the Old Testament of the people of God going back and forth between the worship of Yahweh and the worship of the Baal. In 1 Kings 18 you will find the contest between Elijah the Prophet of Yahweh and the prophets of Baal, I will not going into the story now, but it is worth your read at home.
So in the place where lust for military and spiritual power found its home, Jesus asks his question.
“Who do people think that I am?”
From as 21st century American eye, the responses that the disciples give me seem a tad bit from left field, but in light of First Century Judaism they make perfect sense.
“Some people think that you are one of the prophets come back from the dead, maybe even John the Baptist or Elijah, ever even one of the other prophets come back from the dead”
During the times of the Old Testament, God would send a prophetic voice to his people during the times of their oppression, many of the people figured that Jesus was this prophetic voice, and while he was, he wasn’t in the way they were expecting.
Then Jesus flips the question and makes it more personal, he says to the disciples, “But what about you? who do you say I am?”
Without sounding too preachy, this is the ultimate question that we have to deal with.
Who do we say that Jesus is?
And all of a sudden Peter jumps up out of the group of disciples and blurts out “You are the Messiah!”
Have you ever said something out of your mouth that by passed the filter of your mind?
This is what Peter experienced.
We have to turn our attention to Matthew’s gospel to find out what happened next, after Peter blurts out this confession, “You are the Messiah”, Jesus says to Peter, “Peter, you are blessed because flesh and blood (that is human beings or human reasoning) did not reveal this to you, but God the Father did.”
Then Jesus does something that runs counter culture to our society, he tells, in fact he warns the people following him not to tell anyone about him.
Jesus wasn’t about self-promotion, he wasn’t about making his name known, he didn’t even want his disciples to let other people know about this confession of messiahship from Peter.
And then he does something that probably seemed really unusual for what was going on, he sat the disciples down and began to teach them the purpose of the Messiah was not come in like a ceaser and kick the Romans out and re-establish the golden age of Israel, but instead the purpose of Messiah was that he was to be rejected and to suffer, even to suffer to the point of being killed.
And one again Peter does something note worthy.
After Jesus finishes his teaching, Peter pulls him aside and actually rebukes him.
Peter rebukes Jesus.
Think about that.
Peter the one who made the bold confession of the messiahship of Jesus just probably a few hours back, is now rebuking Jesus because he didn’t like or understand what Jesus was teaching.
If we can pause just a moment here and reflect on Peter, I believe that many of us, if not all of us, can find some common ground with Peter.
In one moment we are doing the work of God, the next moment we are acting like the evil one. In one moment we are reflecting the grace and mercy of the savior, the next moment we are reflecting the darker sides of our humanity. In one moment we are shining light, in the next we are showing darkness.
Peter didn’t like the idea that Jesus had to be rejected, to suffer and to die. He wanted Jesus to be like Ceaser, he wanted Jesus to act with military force and power, and Jesus told him he was acting like the evil one and that Peter had his mind set on human concerns instead of the concerns of God.
And to give cement to his teaching, Jesus has the crowd that is following him sit down along with the disciples and shares with them the news that not only will he as Messiah have to suffer, those who wish to follow him in discipleship will also have suffer.
“Take up their cross”
“Lose their life”
“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
There are some one who think that once you start following Jesus that everything becomes perfect. That once you start following Jesus everything will be great, every day will be rainbows and sunshine and you will have no more problems to deal with.
A simple reading of this gospel text will show that not to be the case.
As it would probably take more time this morning that I have left to really dive into all of this, I do want to leave you with some thoughts concerning what this text says;
In a world where we are pressured to do whatever it takes to get more, Jesus asks us to give more.
In a world where we are pressured to hate and act inhumane towards those who are different then us, Jesus asks us to extend love, especially towards those who are perceived enemies.
In a world where war and violence is celebrated, Jesus asks us to be peacemakers.
In a world where the rich are celebrate, Jesus tells us that the poor will take a prominent place in his kingdom.
Who is Jesus? He is the Messiah. What does he ask of us? He calls us to suffer with him for the advancement of his kingdom.
In closing this morning I would like to read a prayer that is traditionally attributed to Francis of Assisi and if you know please feel free to say it along side of me;
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood and to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.