Proper 16 Year A, August 27, 2017

Reverend Deacon Katherine G. Dougherty
Sermon Text: 

Year A- Proper 16

Matthew 16:13-20… “Who do you say that I am?”
August 27, 2017

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

            “Who do you say that I am?” – when reading scripture and hearing the stories of Jesus’ time on earth and his interactions with the disciples, have you ever thought…Man, I’m glad it was them answering those questions and not me! 

         Jesus was never one to ask easy questions of those around him. In light of the powerful deeds he performed and the many people who followed him, who really was this man named Jesus? 

         In our scripture today, we hear Jesus ask the question, “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?”  Just hearing the responses, we quickly realize that people weren’t sure.  Could he be John the Baptist…or Elijah…or the suffering prophet, Jeremiah?  All were important figures in our history, but those who saw John the Baptist baptize Jesus, knew that was not correct.  And Peter, James, and John stood on the mountaintop, just four weeks ago in our scriptures, at the Transfiguration, and they saw Elijah and Moses stand along side Jesus, so they knew that too was incorrect.  Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?  No one truly knew the answer to the enormous question Jesus asked that day. 

         Then, he turned to his disciples and asked, “Who do you say that I am?” As we heard in our reading today, the disciples, the people who had walked this journey with him, remained silent after Jesus asked that question.  Peter stepped forward and said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus responded by telling Peter that his answer did not come from human beings.  His answer could not be based on rumors spread through the land or the hearsay of others but this knowledge could only come from God.   

         Just like Peter, how we identify Jesus, needs to be based on our personal encounters with God.  How we identify Jesus can be informed by the reading and study of our sacred scriptures and in conversation with others, but how we truly identify Jesus is by being grounded in a lifelong conversation with God.  It is by staying in conversation with God that we come to adjust our understanding of what is holy, what is love, what is important in this life. 

         This piece of scripture, like many others, show up in other gospels.  The writer of Mark as well as the author of Luke relay this moment when Jesus asked who the people thought he was and more specifically who did the disciples think he was.  All three gospels tell a similar version of this story, but Matthew adds the smallest detail that blows my mind.  This one word carries so much weight when it comes to our question today of, Who do you say I am? 

         Peter’s response?  “You are the Messiah, the Son of the LIVING God.  Did you hear that?  “You are the Messiah, the Son of the LIVING God.”  Not some divine being who created us and has been around a long time…or…who may or may not be involved in our lives…or…who may seem a little dusty and irrelevant in our modern 21st century world…but a LIVING God! 

         Why is this important? (pause) A living God is a dynamic God…not a static God whose clearest communication happened sometime in the past.  Jesus is the Messiah of the living God.  Jesus, as Son of Man, means that God continues to speak and to act.  God does not have to resurrect John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or any other prophet to speak.  God never ceases to exist and to create, to anoint, or to be present in our lives.[1]  

         But what is incredible about the idea of a LIVING God, is…if God is dynamic – that means we…you and me…can be in relationship with God.  We are not praying to, reading about, or believing in some dusty, old divine being from history.  God is here with us – everyday – wanting to be in relationship with us – calling out to us – engaging us – loving us. 

         How do I know this?  I’ve seen it.…here in Mechanicsville, Virginia!  This Sunday marks my 7th week here among you.  Only seven weeks, yet I have already seen and experienced so much.  This God of ours  - this Jesus who gave up his life for us - dances across our property on Atlee Rd everyday.  As the sun rises and the plants stretch their beautiful limbs to the sky, God is present and celebrating!  Want to know how much food we’ve grown and harvested – over 2,000 pounds – gone out to people who otherwise eat heavily processed food or very little at all. How is this being in relationship with God?  The hands that planted those seeds…or came and picked the vegetables…or helped to care for the fence…or mowed the lawn  - those moments are when people showed up and spent time with God.

         I’ve watched many people come, after a long day at work, and give time to our community in many different and important ways.  I’ve heard the laughter of people who care about one another, and seen folks show incredible hospitality to each other.  I’ve had the honor to hold the hand of someone who was ill and needing the reminder that God was with us.  These were all examples of when people in our community have spent time with God – reaching out to God – being in relationship with God.

         I’ve also watched a call go out for help and seen numerous people respond in a heartbeat.  I’ve listened to your voices sing out in celebration and looked into your eyes as you’ve come to this Table to be fed and to be renewed.  In my short seven weeks here, I’ve seen joy, exhaustion, kindness, and love in the faces of our community.  This is what relationships looklike – this is how people reach out to God and how God reaches back.

         Who is Jesus?  “Who is it that you say I am?”  You have to determine that yourself.  We each do.  How do we do that?  We enter into relationship with God – a dynamic – living God who is right there with us and celebrates our attempts to connect.  Who is Jesus?  Your answer will change over time but the foundation on which that relationship is built…will never change…Jesus is who loves us – cherishes us – and never leaves our side no matter what. 

         It’s a pretty wild relationship.  One that will baffle you at times, comfort you when you need it, frustrate you some days, bring tears of joy to your eyes, drop you to your knees in awe, and can be the most glorious ride of your life.  Jesus not only stood before the disciples many years ago and asked, “Who is it you say I am?” but stands with us now and invites us into that conversation.  Who is Jesus for you, today?

[1] Mitz J. Smith,

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