Sermon for Sunday, 24th August 2014 (Trinity 10/Pentecost 11)
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Matthew 16:13
In theological college days a fellow student had on his door a poster that summed up how many of us felt at times about our struggles with our theological studies.
Jesus said unto them: “Who do you say that I am?”
And they replied: “You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationship.”
And Jesus said, “What?”
“But who do you say that I am?” asks Jesus in Saint Matthew Chapter 16 Verse 15 and, in the following verse, Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” might be asked of the church today. Every Sunday we come to church and we profess the same faith as Peter, we say, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Every Sunday, we stand and we join in the Creed and we recite the words that have been recited by countless generations. But when the people in the outside world look at us, what difference do they see? What evidence is there that words are matched by actions? What evidence is there that our faith has integrity? What is there to show that we personally believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God?
Peter makes his profession of faith in verse 16 and if we read on to verse 24 we see that Jesus warns that if anyone says what Peter says then they are going to be expected to live up to what they say. There’s no option to say one thing and to do another. If what you do doesn’t match what you say, then you are not a follower of Jesus. Verse 24 says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. That’s fairly clear and unmistakable, no option there to be a Christian on a Sunday morning and do what we like the rest of the time.
Claiming to be Christians, saying to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” must mean accepting that he must come first, regardless of whatever priorities we might have ourselves. If our life is centred on God, then all our priorities will be the right priorities, we will get a right perspective on things and live our life to its full potential.
Jesus makes no promise to the disciples that everything will always go well or that life will always be easy, acknowledging him as the Messiah is not a magic formula that will make all our troubles go away. The teaching that being a Christian can mean expecting to become rich and successful is simply not found in the teaching of Jesus. The “prosperity theology” taught by some of the new churches, the preaching that believing in God will make you wealthy is not something you will find in the New Testament. All of us know that doing the Christian thing is sometimes the hardest choice. Jesus’ promise is not about wealth or success, it is about choosing the way of doing things that is right for our long-term welfare, it is about choosing a way where life has a direction and a purpose, and where it does not end at a graveside.
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven”, Jesus promise Peter in Verse 19. Jesus offers us the way to the kingdom of heaven. What better offer could anyone ever receive? Yet, given the best offer there is, how often do we still make other choices? When the best is on offer to us it doesn’t make sense to choose anything else, but we do. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” asks Jesus, and the answer shown in our lives is that we do not believe him to be Lord of all.
How many of us can honestly put our hands on our hearts and say that our faith is our first priority? Do the things that Jesus asks of us really take first place in our thinking? Being honest, aren’t we very lukewarm? There is always something that seems more attractive, something that seems more important, something else we feel that we need to do.
Jesus offers the way to the kingdom of heaven, yet we have often chosen very different ways. In our answer, Jesus has not had the status of John the Baptist, or Elijah or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets, instead he has been a figure from stories learned in our schooldays, or he has become a person whom we think has more to do with people we see as more “religious” than ourselves.
“But who do you say that I am?” asks Jesus
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
What would it take for us to live lives match the words of Peter? When we look around us, when we look at others, we expect to see integrity, we expect actions that match words, but do we see integrity when we look into our own hearts? When we stand to say the Creed let’s think about our own life in the week ahead. ,”Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” asks Jesus, and, if people looked at us, what would they see as our answer?
“But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks us. How are we going to answer him?