Eleventh Sunday after Trinity Matthew 16 13-20
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Father, may these written words lead us to the living word Jesus Christ our Lord
In the heart of the gospel reading is the most controversial and most debated theology since Jesus' time on earth. It is a Theological Minefield; it is the parting of the ways between Catholic and Protestant. For the Catholic it is the foundation of Apostolic Succession – the handing down of the keys to the kingdom, and all church rules and decisions from Pope to Pope until the present day. For the Protestant we look for the call of God as the vehicle for ordaining our leaders. I don’t want to explore this in any depth this morning but it is important to note the foundation of the division.
When my Mother was loosing grip on reality I went to see her and she asked who I was. I explained I was her daughter and she replied. ‘Look dear, I don’t know who I am let alone who you are.’ A sad statement, a humorous statement, but have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered ‘who am I?’
There is help for the bewildered of course as there is a lot of information stored about me (and you of course)
I have a National Insurance number, a credit card number, a book club number, a sailing club number, a hospital number.
I am known by my fingerprint, and my iris reading, by blood group and my DNA.
You can reach me with my telephone number, mobile phone or my email address and dare I confess Facebook as well. You can see a photo of me on my passport and driving licence. By putting all this information together you will be able to identify me. You will know a lot about me, but will you know me?
There is a TV programme called ‘Who do you think you are?’ Celebrities are delving into their past family history in an attempt to see who they are and who their ancestors were, but will it help them to truly know who they are?
Very often we are described by our uniform: nurse, policeman, or priest. Or we are described as somebody’s wife, husband or child.
This is Freda the pilots’ wife. But is this who we really are?
Imagine Jesus and his disciples sitting in the evening around a campfire chatting. They are still in the pagan area of Caesarea Philippi – keeping out of conflict with the authorities. Jesus is soon to head towards Jerusalem and his death and he needs to be sure his disciples understand who he is. First of all he asks ‘who do people say that I am?’
They were probably caught off guard as the answers tumble out. Some say John the Baptist has come back – but this is silly, as the disciples knew John was dead, and then they list some Old Testament people, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
But Jesus isn’t really interested in what they have been told; he wants to know what they think.
So he asks the million-dollar question:
‘But who do you say that I am?’ or in modern parlance, ‘Who am I?’
I am sure there was a deathly silence and you could have heard a pin drop – and then Peter, who was always ready to offer an opinion, said, ‘You are the Messiah the son of the living God’.
Despite his many errors and failings, Peter was chosen to be the first to receive the revelation that their Master was the Christ, the Son of God. Or perhaps it was because of his frailty that he was chosen, the power of God working through the weak and fallible. This gives hope for the generations of inadequate men and women who would yet try to love and follow Christ.
St Paul obviously thought this was true as he wrote: "Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful."
Peter’s reply to Jesus is not just a statement of fact - “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” The words contain all the attributes of God’s Son.
You are the Messiah the one we have all been waiting for – the Christ, anointed one, prophet, priest and king, and as Peter utters the words so he begins to understand, and he discovers for the first time who Jesus really is and then Peter discovers who he is as well.
This impetuous fisherman is to be moulded into solid rock.
This is who Peter is: he is the firm foundation, the founding father of the Church, which will remain, against all odds, until the end of time.
So then we return to the question ‘who am I’ and ‘who are you’.
It is a question we can only answer for ourselves – as I answer this morning I trust there is an echo in all our hearts.
Who is this person Sandy Mitchell?
First and foremost I am a sinner saved by the grace of God.
I am learning continually how to be forgiven and I am humbled.
I am a friend of God because Jesus calls me his friend
I am constantly learning how to dare to draw near to God and I am comforted
I am a lamb because Jesus is my shepherd and I am learning what it means to feel secure and am safe.
I am a branch because Jesus is the Vine and I am learning, slowly to allow his holy spirit to grow fruit in my life; and I am overwhelmed.
I am a child of God because believing in Him I am reborn, like a child, growing, and knowing God as father and mother.
I am growing to be more like Jesus and waiting for that day in heaven when I will fully know who I really am.
For each one of us who call ourselves Christian it is not enough to know about Jesus; we need to know Him, to have a relationship with Him. Faith is not what we believe about but who we believe in, and our faith will be seen in how we live and not in what we say.
As we ask the question of ourselves ‘Who am I?’ Your answer will be unique as no two of us the same anywhere in the entire universe. Hopefully this morning you can answer that you are a child of the living God. How we live out that reply will be different for each one of us.
Paul in his letter to the Romans spells out the different gifts that we have, prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, generosity, leadership, diligence, compassion and cheerfulness.
In our epistle reading Paul pleads with the Romans, ‘I appeal to you therefore brothers and sisters - and we hear that cry again this morning by the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God and be transformed’– why? In order that we might know what the will of God is for us. The will of God which is always good, acceptable and perfect. G A P. This is one GAP we don’t have to watch out for in case we fall in. The good, acceptable and perfect will of God is one gap to readily fall into.
So we return to the question that Jesus asked the disciples and the same question that he asks each one of us this morning.
‘Who do you say that I am?’
The statement of Christian faith is in the words of the Creed as it sums up all that we believe that Jesus is. May they be words of truth for each one of us, truth that will set us free and not just familiar words.
Who do you say that he is?
I pray that each one of us can say with faith that you, Jesus, are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.