Sunday, August 27, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
There’s a lot going on in our congregation right now. We’re gearing up for God’s Work. Our Hands Sunday, Rally Day, the Fall Festival, and many other events that you’ll see highlighted in our upcoming newsletter. There’s a lot going on in our personal lives too. Children, youth, and young adults are heading back to school, summer vacations are coming to a close, and most of us continue to juggle the everyday ups and downs of life. Something is always going on; there’s always competing things vying for our attention. And the news in our country and our world pulls us in different directions too. So much is also happening – good and bad – and it’s impossible to avoid the bad. In fact, it’s our responsibility as Christians to pay attention to anything that hurts another human being. This weekend our attention is focused on those who are devastated by Hurricane Harvey. There are so many things that are competing for our attention and focus.
We can become overwhelmed with all that is going on, with all that is around us. Some people have told me, “I just need to take a media break,” and that’s certainly not only understandable, but a good idea from time to time. Sometimes we just need to hit the pause button – like when we’re watching something on television – and stop everything. Today is time for us to do that as we gather outdoors in worship and take time for fellowship at our congregational picnic. Periodically, we need to hit the pause button – wherever we are – and re-focus, re-connect with what’s most important.
That’s exactly what’s happening in Matthew’s gospel account today. Jesus and the early disciples were outside – not in the temple – but 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee in Cesarea Philippi. . It was a strange setting. Cesarea Philippi was a place filled throughout the centuries with all kinds of temples and idols to various gods. There was a giant marble temple built for Caesar Augustus and his son Philippi who were worshipped as gods (That’s how it got its name.), a temple to the Syrian god Baal, a temple to the Greek god Pan – god of shepherds and flocks and various other temples. It was a familiar setting, but a strange one to pause and reflect on what was most important. We need these moments to pause, to re-balance ourselves, re-focus ourselves on what it is that really matters in life rather than going through life on auto pilot.
It was here that Jesus asked them to pause – look around at all those competing images, all those other powers that try and ask for attention and devotion – and answer the question that brings everything into focus, “Who do you say that I am?” In the midst of competing images and powers, Jesus is asking us the same question, “Who do you say that I am?” It’s the defining question of our lives, because it’s the question that puts everything in focus. How we answer that question – not how anyone else answers it – makes all the difference in the world, and to the world.
There are other defining questions to be sure like, “Will you marry me?” And that is a life-changing question. But Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” is the most life-changing, because who Jesus is to us determines the course of all our actions. If Jesus is a prophet like John the Baptist, Elijah, or Jeremiah, then he is just one among many of God’s messengers that we may/may not pay attention to as flawed humans. If Jesus is a historical figure that existed at a certain time thousands of years ago, then we may hear his words as inspiring, but no different than the words from any other person from a time far removed from us today. But if we say – like Peter, through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit – that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” then everything we do is changed. Because to profess Jesus as the Messiah – the Savior – the Son of the living God – is to profess that Jesus is our focus. Jesus is more important than anything or anyone else in our lives. Jesus is our reason for living. To profess Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God is to acknowledge that all life-giving power resides in Jesus. To profess Jesus as the Messiah – the Son of the living God – is to know beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Jesus is alive, he is risen, and is working through the Holy Spirit to continue God’s mission of love for all the earth. We need to pause and think about the impact of this confession of faith.
This pause to re-focus and re-center our lives based on this confession changes us. So many things try and lead us in so many different directions, often the wrong directions. That’s why is so important to pause and reflect on the question Jesus asks us today, “Who do you say that I am?” Every week during worship we make our confession of faith in the creed, but so often we don’t pause to really reflect on what it is we are saying. Do we truly believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of the living God, who will deliver us from all our burdens?
The challenges in life can at times seem overwhelming. It is hard to deal with one tough thing after another. Yet when we pause to re-focus, we realize that we aren’t alone, and that Jesus is willing to take our burdens on himself. Trusting in Jesus eases our burdens. Being a Christian, a follower of Christ, doesn’t mean life will always be easy or that we’ll always understand – we’ll hear the continuation of this story and Peter’s subsequent remarks next week – but being a Christian means we literally pledge our allegiance, our loyalty, our life, to Jesus who has the power to overcome even death. We re-focus on letting Jesus be in control and not us.
We need to take the time to pause – to answer “Who is Jesus to me?” not anyone else. When we do this we see God at work in the world where we may not have seen God before. This past summer our interactive bulletin board has been filling up with post-it notes of where you have seen Jesus in your travels. Some of the responses so far are: “Watching my garden thrive and grow.” Yes, we see God in the beauty of nature as other post-its continue: “The bounty of Steve’s garden.” “In the beauty of the sunset,” and the “beauty of a day lily tour at a friend’s garden.” Other responses talk about how God works through people such as: “Sand art of Christ in Ocean City, NJ Boardwalk.” “a special blessing – a vist to our grandson and wife Nevin and Lauren in Walford, MD.”“A hug and smile from ‘my grands!’” “Enjoying a week at the ocean with family,” “Cousins breakfast’ with the grandchildren.” “the kindness of strangers.” “The support and encouragement from friends who listen,” and “the healing of God’s hand.” God continues to be revealed in nature. Jesus continues to work through others. Please pause and look around to be aware of God’s presence, and share them on the bulletin board for all to see.
“Who do you say that I am?” This question is for each and every one of us as members of the body of Christ. We – the church – not a building made of rocks or stone or brick – but we the living rocks – like Peter – are who Jesus has built the foundation of his church. We, the church, are not a stationary building, but mobile missionaries. We take the church with us wherever we go.
How we answer who Jesus is matters to the world because it determines how we treat one another. Hit pause and show the world who Jesus is – the Savior of the entire world. Hit pause to use our diverse gifts to show others the love, compassion, kindness, mercy, and faithfulness of Jesus. He is our Rock, our Redeemer, our salvation whose deliverance will never end. Hit the pause button – re-focus – and give thanks for Jesus, then let’s live our lives so that his light is seen through us. Amen!