Following tradition, here are my words from the back side of the pulpit today at Dover-Foxcroft (ME) United Methodist Church.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
A Sunday school teacher at a church slightly larger than ours was testing the children in her class to see if they understood the concept of getting into heaven.
She asked them, “If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into heaven?”
“NO!” the children answered.
“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard and kept everything tidy, would that get me into heaven?”
Again, the answer was “NO!”
“Well then, if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children and loved my husband, would that get me into heaven?” she asked them.
Again, they all answered, “NO!”
The teacher was just bursting with pride for them! She figured they understood the concept.
“Well,” she continued, “then how can I get into heaven?”
The room was quiet. Finally a five year old sheepishly said “yousortakindagottabedead.”
“What, Joey? Speak a little louder so we can all hear,” said the teacher.
The little boy shouted out, “YOU SORTA, KINDA GOTTA BE DEAD!”
Of course, what our school marm was after was we don’t have to do anything. It’s through God’s grace that we enter heaven. It has nothing to do with what we do, how committed we are, how much we give. Our ticket gets punched through the grace of God. As John Piper said, “What defines us as Christians is not most profoundly that we have come to know Him but that He took note of us and made us His own.”
That’s one of the paradoxes in today’s gospel reading. Jesus is trying to find out the scuttle on who people think He is. And his merry followers tell Him what some people think . They tell him, John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
It wasn’t the answer Jesus was looking for. Who do you say that I am?
Okay. Who do you say Jesus is?
That’s our question for today. Some say Jesus was a great teacher. Muslims say Jesus was a prophet but not God. The Mormons say Jesus is the Son of God but a totally separate Being from God the Father and the Holy Spirit and He is the brother of Lucifer. Some say Jesus never lived and He is the wishful thinking of demented minds. Those are the answers we get today.
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Most of us, girded by the Word, would probably say something similar … or at least I hope we would. You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
But, just exactly what does that mean? Let’s parse it a bit.
You are the Messiah…
Messiah was the term given to the Promised One, the leader the Jews were waiting for to deliver them. He was the One promised through the prophets.
Son depicts a relation, a kinship.
…of the living God…
The relation is to God. He is God’s Son. But more important, God is the living God. He isn’t just floating around in the cosmos. He is real, active in the affairs of His creation. And since Jesus is His Son, He too is real and active in our lives. He is more than a prophet. He is more than those who preceded Him. He is God’s Son.
I have to break for a second. While “Messiah” may have been understood, “Son” was more problematic in those days. Followers could recognize Jesus’ earthly lineage, but this whole “of God” thing was a new concept. The disciples hadn’t quite made the connection. Until now. Until Simon Peter blurted it out.
To be honest, I am always amazed with this story. I don’t think Peter was the sharpest tool in the shed. And we know his faith was, well, human. He had his ups and downs. But you can’t find fault with his passion. And when his passion for the Christ intersected with his faith on the upside, the fisherman had his “ah hah” moment.
I think Jesus might have been surprised too. He tells Peter, flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven. And He commissions Peter as the Rock of His church, the foundation, the keeper of the faith to follow.
But then Jesus does something very strange. He tells His disciples not to share this revelation. That’s actually the opposite of everything we’ve been told as post-Christ Christians. We’re told to proclaim the Good News, to share the message of the Gospel, to let the light of Christ shine through us.
I don’t know if there is a simple answer why Jesus took this tact. I suspect it was because the time wasn’t right. Jesus’ ministry wasn’t over. He still had more to do before making His final commission. He still wanted His disciples to look and learn from Him. There was more that had to be told. Perhaps Jesus told the disciples to wait because the people wanted to make Him an earthly king and didn’t understand His kingdom was other-wordly and spiritual, or perhaps it’s because the disciples didn’t fully understand Jesus’ mission until after His resurrection.
This moment was the rock. This was the foundation. But it wasn’t the final structure.
In that moment, Peter’s eyes were opened, but we know his faith still wasn’t anchored. He ran away — sort of like Jonah, his ancestor, whom Jesus referred to in our reading. I think the message was you can run, but you can’t hide but if you follow Me in My time, great things will happen for the glory of God.
Those words weren’t just for Peter and his crew. They are for us as well. We often run from God, but we can’t hide. And, all of a sudden, when we “see the light” we become passionate. We want to scream our faith from the rooftops … only to become disillusioned when those words appear to fall on deaf ears.
I think Jesus was telling us through His disciples in this story — and others — to wait for Him. There’s a time to preach. There’s a time to reach out. There’s a time to tell our salvation story. But there is also a time to shut up, to be still, to catch up with Jesus and His message.
It is easy for us to hear something and make decisions, especially when we are feeling “spiritual”. Here lies the problem. When we begin to feel “spiritual” we often forget it is God who produces those spiritual things, not ourselves, and the next thing you know we are doing the talking, planning and decision making for God.
Peter had no problem confessing Jesus as the Son of God but he had a huge problem with Jesus dying on a cross. The cross was a symbol of terrible shame and humiliation and Peter just wasn’t going to let that happen. Peter had allowed his flesh to jump in and he started looking at things from the world’s view. Remember the garden?
The world’s view is never God’s view. His lens is much wider than ours. Our time is never God’s time. We’re constrained; He’s not.
Jesus is a gift from God, but we have to unwrap the present in His time.
Certainly some of us just tear into that package. Shards of paper go flying as we rip open the wrapping to reveal the gift. Others are more deliberate, carefully unwrapping the box. It takes seemingly forever to separate the paper from the gift.
Once we open it, however, what are we going to do with that gift? Are we going to place it on a shelf and look at it from a distance? Or are we going to use it, enjoy it, share it.
You see, I think when we meet God face to face, He’s not going to ask us how much money we gave or how often we went to church or how we supported missions. He’s going to ask us two simple questions.
First, He is going to ask us if we believe in His Son.
I think everyone who passes themselves off as a Christian will correctly answer that question. You see, Jesus Christ – His Son – is the gift. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). That’s the good news.
But I think there will be a second question. What did you do with that gift?
It might be enough to get us into heaven just believing in Christ but if He is just a trophy sitting on a shelf to be seen only on Sundays and special occasions, do we really believe? Or are we fooling ourselves?
Friends, we’ve seen the fulfillment of Jesus’ ministry. It’s not a time to be quiet and wait. It’s time for action.
That’s why the second question is so important. We have to believe not only in Christ but in His power. And we have to use that power every day. And we have to share that power. And we have to allow Christ to shine through us in all we do and say.
Is it easy?
No. In fact, it’s hard … real hard. And there will be times when we fail to let Christ shine through us. We’ll do things we shouldn’t. We’ll say things we shouldn’t. We’ll go places we shouldn’t. We’ll try to outshine Christ, take His glory. It’s all called sin.
God knows we fail. And we’re in good company. Noah was a drunk. Abraham was too old. Isaac was a daydreamer. Leah was ugly. Joseph was abused. Moses had a stuttering problem. Gideon was afraid. Samson had long hair and was a womanizer. Rahab was a prostitute. Jeremiah and Timothy were too young. David had an affair and was a murderer. Elijah was suicidal. Isaiah preached naked. Jonah ran from God. Naomi was a widow. Job went bankrupt. Peter denied Christ … three times. The disciples fell asleep while praying. Martha worried about everything. The Samaritan woman was divorced. Zaccheus was too small. Paul persecuted early Christians. Timothy had an ulcer. Lazarus was dead.
God doesn’t look at our failures. He looks at our actions. He looks at how we share our gift.
A holy purpose would be to bring God’s wholeness into the brokenness of our world. A selfish focus makes the world more broken. If someone walked 10 yards behind us throughout our day – a football first down – would he find a trail filled with more kindness than if he walked 10 yards in front of us?
The answer to that question would say more about our purpose in life than any message I could ever deliver.
Through our faith, we actively make choices to do something. Is that “something” always the right choice?
Probably not, but if it is guided by our faith, we’ll make another choice to correct it and get back on our original path.
We all look for the “flashes” of miracles, but we ignore the everyday miracles right in front of us. That’s what happened 2,000 years ago. People were mesmerized by the miracles of Jesus, but couldn’t figure out His message. That has happened through the ages. That continues to happen today.
Chances are, we are going to see few “flashes” of miracles in our lives. But there will be times when we get by – and not know how we did it. That’s our fish and loaves miracle. There will be times when our illnesses go into remission. That’s our healing miracle, even if it’s just temporary. There will be times when we see the hand and heart of God with complete clarity – perhaps just a precious few times. That’s our burning bush. Truth be known, the burning bush is there all the time. We just fail to see it.
Even Jesus did things … made choices … performed actions. He instructed the servants on what to do when He turned water into wine. He told the disciples to find the kid with the fish. He healed the sick … but not everyone. He raised people from the dead including Himself — again not everyone. He took advantage of the circumstances at the time and used them for God’s good and glory.
That’s what we’re called to do. Use the gift. Make choices. Do something. Be observant. Keep the big picture in sight. Let the Light of the fire shine through. Take time to witness the little ordinary everyday miracles. Refresh in the summer breeze. Be energized by the majesty of fall’s colorful landscape. Enjoy the sunshine even on a cold, windy, wintry day. Watch spring spring. Hold a baby. Dance in the rain. Sing. Soak in life.
Each day, angels visit the footsteps of the faithful, leaving gifts that quietly offer God’s grace, comfort and protection. All we have to do is recognize them and pick them up.
Some of us received the gift at an early age. I, for example, accepted Christ as an early teen when I received the sacrament of Confirmation. It was then I reasoned, if I was talking the talk of following Jesus, I had to walk the walk as well. And even though I’ve strayed from the path from time to time, I’ve tried to make sure my way was synonymous with His way. Others come to Christ later in life, an epiphany, an “ah hah” moment. They tend to be passionate about their faith. I call them Paul Christians, turning their back on their past on their own road to Damascus and using the gift to move forward.
Others, unfortunately, are still waiting. Some may be working on the wrapping. Others may be working on other presents – self, idols, control, anger, impurity, evil desires, greed.
It’s up to us seasoned and newbie Christians to let the power of Christ shine through for them, not by telling them but by showing them. You can’t preach or prod or persuade or nag them to salvation, but you can show them salvation. You can be the example. You can be the spark. You can be the conduit God uses to present His gift to another soul.
Don’t leave your Jesus in the pew. Bring Him home with you so others can see why Jesus — complex and complicated, simple and uncomplicated — is such a valued gift.
Don’t wait until you’re sorta, kinda dead to realize the importance of the gift we’ve been given. Let the Light shine through us while we’re very much alive.
Who is Jesus?
Jesus is the only hope for your life and my life.
Jesus is the only hope for the church.
Jesus is the only hope for our town.
Jesus is the only hope for our state.
Jesus is the only hope for the USA.
Jesus is the only hope for the world.
Jesus is the only hope for eternity.
Who do you say Jesus is? And what are you doing with the gift of Jesus Christ?
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.