8.23/24.14 "Who do you say I am?"
11 Pentecost A2014 August 23/24
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus asks his disciples one of those questions that need a definite answer. It’s a question of commitment. It’s a reality check for them. “Who do you say I am?” Peter, characteristically impulsive, answers right away, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus blesses him for it. And he goes on to say that upon Peter, or upon Peter’s confession of faith, he will build his church.
Jesus goes on to tell the disciples that whatever they bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven. This is an interesting expression that comes from early Judaism. In the synagogue, the rabbis had power to bind and to loose. That meant they had authority over interpretation of the Torah. And now, through Jesus, the disciples and the church have authority over the interpretation of Scripture.
Now, that’s all very heady, and very interesting in its own way. But I’d like to turn us to consider the most essential part of the gospel—that question of Jesus: Who do YOU say I am?
I think this is THE most important question for us all. Ever. Who do we say Jesus is? Who do we believe him to be? And, of course, our answer to that question might be really different now from, say, 10 years ago. That’s because we’re constantly changing and growing.
There’s a 19th Century saint in the Russian Orthodox Church named Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894). He wrote that people start out in the life of faith in their heads. And he pointed out that each of us is challenged to descend from our heads into our hearts when we deepen our love for Jesus. [www.edgeoftheenclosure.org for August 24, 2014]
I first made that journey—head to heart--after being challenged by a neighbor about my faith. That was a good 24 years ago. I’d been trained as a scientist and was well aware of my discomfort with the Christian faith. But my neighbor’s challenge made me confront my deep yearning for connection—even when I knew I’d be connecting with something that was Mystery. And Mystery was something I’d always connected with the irrational. Not good for a scientist.
I was ironing one day, which is a funny thing, as ironing involves smoothing out wrinkles and getting rid of imperfections. All of a sudden I faced the fact that I’d been yearning for what my rational mind had been objecting to. And I decided to leap across that big divide, and have never looked back since. Embracing the Mystery, knowing the unknowable, has been the driver for me. It was a matter of consciously opening the door to my innards, to invite in what I could not prove.
Brother Lawrence, writing in the 17th Century, reflected that “He [Jesus] alone can make himself known as he really is. But we go on searching in philosophy and science, preferring, it seems, a poor copy to the original that God himself paints in the depths of our souls.” (www.edgeoftheenclosure.org for August 24, 2014)
That was true for me.
Now, listen to the Rev. Suzanne Guthrie’s experience. She writes, “I raged. I paced. I muttered under my breath and aloud. I sat in the back pew of church with a dark cloud over my head. I left. I came back. I muttered some more.
“What kind of a Christian can’t fit Christ into the landscape? I had no problem with Jesus the rabbi, walking ‘the dusty roads of Galilee.’ But after the crucifixion? Resurrection appearances? Ascension? The Christ of the Church? The Cosmic Christ? No. I don’t think so.
“And yet. And yet. Something drew me to Christianity. To church. To community. To prayer, now getting quite intense.
“…But once, a set of words floated up from deep inside.
“’Who do you say that I am?’
“I knew the answer. You are the Christ.”
I think it’s interesting and funny AND ironic that at least these 2 priests started off their lives running away from commitment to this Jesus the Messiah, this Jesus the Christ.
If anyone here today hasn’t yet made that jump from arguing with the head to loving with the heart, maybe it’s getting to be the right time to do it.
And when we open the doors of our hearts to him, some of us catch fire and can’t get enough. Some of us find deep peace and shed tears that come from knowing we’re home. Some of us quietly keep on growing and seeking more and more of him in a quieter way. Things begin to fall into place. We come for more companionship in the Church, because we know that there are people here who’ve been through these growing pains already and have come out on the side of a deeper faith.
We have many members with many gifts, as St Paul said in today’s reading from Romans. Each of us is in a different place in the life of faith, each of us still seeking. Each of us is still growing past our own objections and roadblocks. And so it goes.