12th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who gives us identity and purpose. Amen
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks the disciples,
Simon Peter says, “you are the messiah, the Son of the living God”
and in return Jesus gives Peter a new identity and purpose,
he is the rock on whom Jesus will build the church,
Peter’s new identity and purpose
are a direct result of who he says that Jesus is,
and he is able to confess this only with the help of God the creator,
Jesus’ and Peter’s identities are intertwined.
The question of identity is all over our readings for today
These days a lot of people
have a lot to say about who Jesus is,
as a matter of fact
a lot of people have a lot to say about who they think we are
and into that conflicting conversation
Jesus has us pause and asks “but who do you say that I am?”
because who we claim Jesus to be
directly impacts who we understand ourselves to be
and how we live in the world.
But first and foremost God claims us.
As the creator of the universe
God is the source of our lives,
and our relationship with God is formalized at our baptisms
when God says “you are mine, sealed with the holy spirit and marked by the cross of Christ forever no matter what anybody says you are a child of God.”
And while this will never change,
we encounter events in our lives,
whether expected or unexpected
that cause us to question: who is God and who am I?
Our readings for today
model how God suggests that we might begin to answer these questions.
In our reading from Isaiah
God is speaking to people who are seeking the Lord,
they have experienced the tragedy of exile from their homeland
and it has caused them to ask who is God?
God points them back to the past actions of God.
Saying “Look to the rock from which you were hewn…
look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; f
or he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.”
God recalls to the people
their collective experience with God,
in a way saying ‘if I acted this way in the past I’ll act this way again,
I was with Abraham and Sarah when it was just them
and I grew them into a great nation,
your number might be depleted but if I did it with them I can do it again.”
In many ways who we confess God to be
depends on our experience of God,
both as a community and as individuals.
Which is why it is important that we gather and tell the stories of who God is,
when we tell the story of the exodus
we are proclaiming that God is a God of liberation,
when we tell the story of Jesus
we are saying that God is one who walks with us,
when we hear of the work of Jesus through the disciples
we are confessing that God works through us.
When we tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection
we are saying that God is not stopped by death.
And we each have our own stories of God in our lives
that shape and define who we confess God to be.
When I tell the story of growing up in the church,
I am proclaiming a God that has nurtured me
When I tell the story of how my community took care of me
At the most difficult times in my life
I am proclaiming a God that is loving and works through community
When I marvel at the times when I had nothing to say
and the right words came out of my mouth
I am proclaiming a God that sends the Holy Spirit to assist me
What we say about God
based on the scriptures, the community and our own lives
paints a picture of a God who is intimately involved in our lives
and this realization causes us to ask, if this is so, who am I and what am I to do?
“You are a member of the body of Christ,” says Paul
speaking to a group of people asking that very question,
“and members of the body of Christ are unique,
with various gifts and talents that all come together
to help communicate to others who God is”
because our main mission,
as we hear at the end of the gospel of Matthew
is to go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing and teaching them of Jesus.
And Jesus has given each of us gifts
that allow us to work together as a community
to live out this mission in the world
and sometimes our gifts are not always obvious
so Paul recommends to the Romans,
who are wondering what role they have to play in the body of Christ
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect”
realizing that it is possible to get caught up in the world around us,
that unless we take time to read scripture, pray and think about it
we might confuse what the world wants with what God wants.
Which is why Who we confess Jesus to be is so important
Because understanding who God is
Helps us interpret how God wants us to live in the world
Our confession directly impacts
how we understand ourselves
and what we do with our lives.
Jesus’ identity and our identity are intertwined
and it can take us in some unexpected directions.
Peter confessed Jesus to be the messiah, the Son of the living God,
and Jesus gave Peter a new identity and purpose,
the foundation of the church
and it took Peter in some un expected direction, the garden of Gethsemane,
the court yard of the high priest,
the empty tomb, breakfast beside the sea of Galilee,
his purpose as the base of the church
even took Peter, a good Jew,
to the gentiles with the message of Jesus
including visions of breaking the dietary laws
for the sake of the gospel
a place he certainly didn’t expect to wind up
but which deepened his understanding of who God is
and expanded who he shared the good new with.
We are at a time in history
where we are being called to reexamine the questions
who is God? and who am I?
and we need to take time to discern what is good and acceptable and perfect
because how we live out our answers is a reflection of who we believe God to be
So we ask: Who do we say God is in the face of Charlottesville? And
How do we live out our answer as the body of Christ?
Who do we say God is in the face of sickness and death?
And How do we live out our answer as a member of the body of Christ?
Who do we say God is in the face of hurricanes and natural disasters?
And How do we live out our answer with the gifts given us by God?
These questions can be daunting
but when we ask them in community,
with the scriptures as witness,
the Holy Spirit our comforter and guide
and Jesus who has claimed us as his own
God will give us identity and purpose.
So, who do you say Jesus is?
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.