Grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Who are you? When you introduce yourself to someone new, what do you say? Mostly, we begin with our name, and then move onto what we do, where we live or work, what roles we play in business, in our volunteering, in our families. Today, both Jesus and Paul are challenging us to notice beneath the surface. Jesus is using questions to teach his followers about His mission. The answers are varied and center around the prophets: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, and that important category “other prophets.”
Then, Jesus turns the question to them. “Who do YOU say that I am?” Impulsive Peter doesn’t give anyone else a chance to think, much less speak. “You’re the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” We know that, don’t we? This short, short story this morning is sort of anti-climactic. “Atta boy, Peter! Good job!” Jesus says. Okay! Let’s move on now. But wait a minute. Is this the same Peter who is constantly challenging Jesus with questions and doubts? Misunderstanding is second nature to Peter. Wait until you hear what happens NEXT Sunday!
Remember the whole walking on the water thing? Peter jumped out, and then looks around, forgets to keep his eye on Jesus – and starts sinking. Jesus grabs him by the collar and then fusses a bit. “Why did you doubt?” THIS is the Peter who says, “You’re the Messiah, Lord!” This story gives me so much hope. Jesus pats Peter on the head here, KNOWING that Peter really doesn’t get it yet. Really, none of them would get it until after Jesus rises from the dead. And even then, the story in Matthew says, “Some doubted.”
We confess, in the Creed every Sunday, the core things we believe about God. The section on Jesus begins… “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” What exactly are we confessing here? Who do YOU say Jesus is? How would our lives be different if we really believed what we confess in the Creeds? Jesus, the Christ – the Anointed One, the One set apart. Jesus is God’s Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit and a human mother. Not a second God, but God. Does saying we are followers of Jesus make a difference in the way we live? St. Paul says the same thing in the letter to the Romans today: “Do not be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of your minds.” But we KNOW the ways our lives don’t measure up. We can count the ways, and do so on a regular basis. So what can we do? Where do we turn? Perhaps we might start with answering the question for ourselves. Who do YOU say Jesus is? Not the Sunday School answer, or the Creed answer, but an answer that comes from the core of YOUR heart and spirit.
Jesus is God, who became a human being, so we could trust that God cares about us and understands us. When we look at Jesus, we see what God is like; a God who loves us and wants a relationship with us. When we see how Jesus lived, we have an idea of what life could be like for us when we follow Jesus’s example of loving and serving. When we hear Jesus’s words of forgiveness, we hear them for our own lives – and find peace and transformation. When we see how Jesus died on the cross, Jesus’s Resurrection fills us with hope that the promise is meant for us too. Jesus is God’s promise of acceptance, and the possibility of renewed and changed hearts and minds.
So what does all this mean? God’s love wins! God’s love wins when we’re feeling overwhelmed. God’s love wins when we’ve sinned and need to change direction back toward God. God’s love wins when we’re struggling with spiritual disciplines – and let go, trusting in God’s love and mercy.
In Matthew’s story, Jesus builds His church on the confession of Peter, an impulsive, uneducated fisherman who denied Him. Peter fell a lot, but he always got back up with “Lord, save me” on his lips. We can trust that as we fall, and we will, Jesus has us by the collar as well. We aren’t in this alone. God’s love wins! Amen.