Peter’s Confession and My Truth

Exodus 1:8 – 2:10
Psalm 124
Matthew 16:13-20
Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

16:13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And 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. 18And 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. 19I 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.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (Matthew 16:13-20, NRSV)

Let us pray: O God you blessed Abraham and Sarah and made them a great nation. O God of Miriam and Moses, you are our help from age to age. O God of Martha and Mary, of Peter and the disciples, keep us in remembrance of the rock from which we are hewn, that the waste places of our lives may blossom to your glory. Amen

It is a really simple question that Jesus asks, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The responses vary. Some have been saying John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others, Jeremiah. Some say he is a teacher, a prophet, an especially good man or a fire and brimstone preacher. But Jesus isn’t interested in what “some people” are saying. So, he doubles down and asks, “But who do you say that I am?” Now that is not such a simple question to answer.

Peter, oh dear Peter, answers and he answer correctly by the book, in keeping with the Creed, remaining on the surface he is right. But Jesus wants more, kind of like the Math teacher who wants you to show your work, so she can see how you arrived at the answer. Jesus is giving his followers the opportunity to speak out of their own experience by sharing what they have seen and what they have heard.

A little over a decade ago, the Gallup Organization in cooperation with several other research firms did an extensive poll of how Americans perceive Jesus. The results of this work became a book, Who Do Americans Say that I Am? As you might imagine, Americans have a wide and interesting spectrum of ideas about who Jesus was and is. Here are a few examples:
• I think of him as a smart older brother.
• A martyr.
• An inspiring teacher.
• An encourager of passive resistance.
• A moral reformer.
• An idealist.
• A Galilean agitator.
• And then there was the interview with the psychiatrist. Asked her perception of Jesus, she answered, “Which one? At our hospital, we have three on the psych unit!”

Who do we say Jesus is? Well, the artists say a lot of different things. Think of all the different portrayals of Jesus in sketching, paintings, sculpture and various other forms. One of the most famous is Rembrandt’s portrait in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rembrandt depicts Jesus face as strong, yet gentle and very human. Then there are multitudes of depictions out there; the very masculine Jesus complete with tattoos on his muscle-bound body, there is the weeping Jesus, the angry Jesus, the hippie Jesus, the Jesus who looks remarkably like Brad Pitt. There is the white, blue eyed, blond haired Jesus, there is the Asian Jesus, the African Jesus, the Hispanic Jesus, and one of my personal favorites the laughing Jesus. I wish we could have more of an image of Jesus enjoying life. Finally, there is the crucified Jesus complete with the crown of thorns, blood trickling down his temples, looking full of anguish and defeat. Who do people say that I am?

Who is Jesus got me thinking about Peter’s confession? You know he got it right, Jesus is the Messiah, son of the living God. But he is more isn’t he?

I am breaking a big rule of preaching today and that is talking about myself and I do so fully knowing the dangers of doing so. So, bear with me as I describe what Peter’s confession that “Jesus is the Messiah, son of the Living God,” means to me.

I was born and raised in a church going family, I was baptized, confirmed, Ordained, Installed and Married in the Presbyterian Church. I was educated at Private Schools that were based on the Judeo-Christian practices. I went to Seminary and I have served the church as a Pastor for over 20 plus years now. You would think I could answer this simple question of who do you say that I am? You would assume that a Pastor with a Doctorate Degree can tell you a whole lot about Jesus, and not hem and haw about who this Jesus is. On one level, I can do that but in my own life, the Jesus I encounter is complicated. Jesus has called me to, as a spiritual director said to me once, “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” At my ordination service in a small Presbyterian Church in Marion South Carolina, Reverend Clarence Page, an African American Presbyterian Pastor charged me to feed Jesus sheep, feed my lambs, feed my sheep. I took that to heart and I believe that is all encompassing, not just literally providing food to eat, but spiritual nourishment and pastoral care as well. I think back over the years and his charge is still heavy in my heart. So, this Jesus I try to follow is a very disruptive force, meaning, that seeking a place of comfort in my life may not be possible. I was born to privilege and status, not that there is anything wrong with that but I have felt that with that position comes great expectations to give back to others. To whom much is given much is expected…be mindful of the needs of others, be a voice for those who have no voice, care for everyone and love your congregation. Most days it is a rewarding calling, other days it is a hard job but sometimes it is downright impossible. Sometimes people are challenging…

As George mentioned last week in his sermon being a fence sitter is important. I too try to maintain the middle, politically, socially and economically. Keeping the middle is important to me. However, I am also drawn to the underdog, for example, I am a Vanderbilt Football fan, the little university of the Mighty SEC, if you only knew the pain and suffering of 49 years of watching a team lose in unimaginable ways. I can’t cheer for the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers or the Boston Celtics, they win too much anyway. So, what does Jesus have to do with underdogs? Well, everything. He came to save the least, the last and the lost and eat with outcasts and sinners. Sounds like underdogs to me.

Fast forward to the crowds in Charlottesville a few weekends ago. I, of course, wasn’t there but I imagine that Jesus was and I imagine that many people on both sides of the protests had Jesus on their side. I imagine that some of the White Supremacists believe that God, the Bible, and Jesus are the basis for their beliefs…much like slave holders believed the bible sanctioned owning and holding of slaves. I also imagine that the resistance or other side believed that Jesus was on their side, lifting up the oppressed and the downtrodden. What does this have to do with me?

In the days and weeks following the acts of terror in Charlottesville, I have thought a lot about race, and class, and politics and faith and life itself. Personally, I would like nothing better than to have it all go away, and as Rodney King once said, “can’t we all just get along?” Oh, how wonderful that would be, but we are not in that time nor are we in that place, yet.

This is where Jesus comes in again, for me, Stephen, it is time for you to realize that “you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable!” Your comfort in these matters is a problem and you need to understand the hurt in our nation, in our communities and in the underdogs. So, no more fence sitting, no more go along to get along, Stephen, you need to move on from your comfort and follow me to a place of discomfort…talking about the privilege of being an educated white male, in today’s world. White supremacy and racism are evil and sinful. They are counter to God’s intention for humanity. They reject part of the human family and run directly contrary to God’s Word made incarnate in Jesus.

So, who do you say that I am? Jesus, you are a disrupter of my desire for comfort and harmony. Jesus, you are the one who calls me out to wake up to the hurt of the other in our midst. You are the one who helps me realize that White Supremacy is more than just a pointy hooded Klansman holding a torch, it is in the subtle laws of the land that restrict access to those who are not white. Jesus, you are the one who convicts me of my sin both known and unknown. Jesus, you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God but you are also the one who will not let us rest until your kingdom comes and justice, peace, and love prevail.

Let us pray: