Lectionary 21 A
August 24, 2014
When you look back at your life, are there moments when you just had a real sense of clarity? Perhaps when you fell in love and realized that this person was the person you were ready to commit yourself to as a faithful companion for the rest of your life. Perhaps it was sorting out your skills and passions and focusing on the career you were committed to pursue. Perhaps some experience was for you an encounter with some great need in the world, and you were overcome with a passion to do something about it. I think we have such moments of clarity in our lives when focus and commitment give direction and purpose to our lives.
That was the kind of moment the disciples experienced with Jesus as Caesarea Philippi. Jesus is leading them to that point of clarity. He has been teaching and he has been demonstrating God’s will through all kinds of signs and wonders. And a number of times, when the disciples are close getting it, they still just don’t understand. So Jesus withdraws. He goes away where he can be alone with his disciples. According to Matthew, Jesus has been trying to do this for two whole chapters – ever since the report of the death of John the Baptist in Chapter 14. But the crowds keep following – into the wilderness, across the water, and even into the Gentile districts. But finally, in this thoroughly Roman city north of Galilee, Jesus is able to be alone with his disciples for some clarity and discernment.
And it is a catechism session – questions from the teacher. Time to test the students and find out what they understand. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
It would take an intensive Bible study session to unpack the meaning of all these titles. But to say Jesus is Messiah or the son of God means that he has authority over our lives — he has authority to transform our lives so that we might enter into life in the kingdom of God. The early church was known as “The Way,” because they followed the authority of Jesus as the way to entering the kingdom of God here and now. And it’s not just getting to heaven when we die. The way of Jesus is how God’s kingdom comes alive in this world. When Peter says that Jesus is the Messiah and son of Giod, he means that Jesus is the one whose command he will obey and the one he trusts to bring God’s kingdom to life. It is a moment of clarity for Peter and the disciples. If Jesus is the Messiah, he has authority to direct their lives into the way of God.
And Jesus responds saying, “you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church.” And it is within the church that we grow in giving Jesus authority in our lives. Because Peter isn’t the only rock; in his letter he says “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” So together, as we seek to live the way of Jesus, the kingdom of God comes near to us. And what is that way? I like to think about the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.” So, how do we envision heaven? Will there be poverty there? Or hunger or war or sickness? Will there be wealthy gated communities with many roomed mansions for some, while others in heaven sleep in cardboard boxes? And if that’s not the way God will arrange things in heaven, why do we permit such conditions, such inequality, here on earth? The task of the church is not to just sit back and feel good about God’s love for us. The task of the church is to let God’s love flow through us and empower us to transform the world around us. As Paul says to the Roman’s, “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.”
I like a cartoon I once saw. The first character says, “Sometimes I’d like to ask God why he allows poverty, hunger and injustice, when he could do something about it.” The second character asks, “Well, what’s stopping you?” To which the first character replies, “I’m afraid God might ask me the same question.”
The thing is, we have the capacity to live in ways that bring God’s kingdom to life. We can make a difference – and Jesus shows us the way. When we follow Jesus, when we bring our whole lives in line with the way he leads, the kingdom of God is present for us. For the disciples at Caesarea Philippi it was a moment of clarity – of knowing the work God had given them to do – of coming together to become the church where the way of Jesus was lived – of being transformed and becoming the body of Christ.
May that moment of clarity come for you so that you can become the living stones you are called to be and the Body of Christ, so that God’s will might be done through you on earth as it is in heaven. AMEN.