Sermons on identity
Jesus claims the meaning of being named the Son of God in today’s scriptures. We explore what it means to live in and be propelled through the gap between who we claim to be and who God desires us to become.
People were saying all kinds of things about Jesus. People always have, and will continue to say all sorts of things about Jesus. The disciples report on the word from the street. “Some say you’re John the Baptist, come back to life. Others think you’re the great prophet Elijah, returned. And some others think you are another in the line of our great prophets.” All their answers suggest that most Galileans think Jesus is the forerunner of the Messiah. That’s a safe bet. It’s easier to believe a Messiah will come, than to believe one has come. A Messiah yet to come makes no demands, calls for no change. Jesus listens, just taking in the disciples’ report. Then he looks at them and says, “But who do you say that I am?” Can’t you just see it? The disciples’ heads all drop, eyes to the ground, and they intently begin to study their feet. No one wants to be the first to make eye contact with Jesus. Well, there always comes a time when what other people think and say is just not enough. It’s Peter who finds his voice. He has allowed God to show him in his soul who Jesus is, so he breaks the awkward silence and speaks his truth: “You are the Messiah”.
“Look within yourself,” Jesus implores them. But they don’t. What we would have hoped would have been the turning point in the story– the disciples’ transformation into a living and breathing faith — doesn’t happen. When the seas calm and Jesus begs them to go into the dark and foreign places within their own souls, to examine why their fear has overridden their faith, they don’t. Instead, they focus their attention on understanding Jesus, rather than understanding the difference Jesus makes in their lives of faith.
Oh those Israelites. They were grumbling and mumbling their distaste with God’s plan. Their worn out bodies were wracked by the relentless heat of the day while the few blankets they had grabbed from their hurried escape from slavery were worn thin, nearly translucent. Every night, they had to huddle together, clasping the tattered material tightly around them to survive the frigid evenings. Their throats were parched, their stomachs empty, their legs ready to buckle and collapse, when from their…
In Matthew’s gospel, today’s story is Jesus’ last teaching opportunity before he is crucified, so we have to imagine Jesus has saved the most important for last. Jesus is saying to us that our actions matter. We are to be accountable to what Jesus has asked us to do. This really is non-negotiable. You may notice that Jesus’ last teaching has nothing to do with orthodoxy, right belief, or how the church is to be structured, but rather, it’s all about orthopraxy – walking the walk, being authentic, making a difference in the world, being accountable for our choices or the choices others make on our behalf. We are living an authentic Christian life when we receive the bread on Sunday and on Sunday afternoon, as we plan our week ahead, we orient our lives to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and welcoming the stranger. Jesus did all of these things, which is why, when we do them, these moments are sacramental. Take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you. In receiving the broken bread, we become Christ’s body, so that we can see, be, and do for Jesus, so we can be sent out into the world to move it toward justice, where wrongs will be set right, and only God’s love will pour from all hearts.
Jesus made an audacious living promise to the disciples. It still sparks hope, leaves us breathless and wondering – could this be true? In these few words of John’s gospel is the pearl of promise pointing to how we can claim a full life in the face of the fear, terror, panic, isolation, loss, and grief that comes to us. The strain and struggle that comes to us simply from living, that comes simply from the very nature of our being alive in this world.
Many of us can look upon the time Matthew describes as analogous to our current time. We too may be anxious and wondering what it means to be Christian and what the future of Christianity may hold. Daily, we hear extreme voices on what it means to be Christian on both ends of the polarized political system we find ourselves in. This is why we must listen very carefully to Jesus’ words in our gospel today, so we may return to the common ground that Christian identity and vocation is all about.
In our modern-day terms, Paul’s words might read as this: there are no gay nor straight people, there are no people of color and no people of no color, there are no immigrants or citizens, there are no democrats or republicans, there are no monied people and those without, there are only people being united in Christ. There are outward distinctions, but there is no inward spiritual difference. And this is what Paul says is what matters: only our relationship with Christ. If we have turned our heart toward Christ, if his body and blood feed us, if we are nourished through the care of others, then the only identity that truly matters is who we are in Christ. This is the gift offered to us. If our core identity is one with Christ, then we can no longer be judged by others nor be judgmental of others, we can no longer be ostracized to the margins, nor ostracize others to the margins. Instead, we search for those on the margins and draw them inward, as Jesus did, so they too know they are loved by Christ.