The Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20
When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And 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. And 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. I 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.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: This morning I want to begin with the Epistle reading from Romans. This was the verse that I asked Bishop Mark if I could use as the central theme for the service of my Ordination to the Diaconate. Romans 12: 1,2 have been verses I have found challenging and inspiring for a very long time.
I have to admit that is, partially, because of a play that the founder of the ministry of Covenant Players wrote and we performed many times called "Died Oct 20th." The play examines what the idea of presenting yourself as "a living sacrifice" might mean. We found that we couldn't perform that play without being deeply challenged ourselves.
So, when it came time for me to be ordained a deacon, I wanted to remind myself that much of my motivation for the process, and the further and ongoing process of later being ordained a priest, was about my willingness to offer my life and ministry as a sacrifice to God.
Of course, as the second slide, for this morning illustrates it is about much more than that. There is a richness in the life of service that we get to experience that fills us with a sense of fulfillment and gratitude. I am so glad for the experience of being an ordained person and living the life that I do.
Paul emphasizes his point, about sacrifice, about the willingness to be changed, in verse 2. He uses words like "do not be conformed" and "be transformed" to help us understand that we need to make choices about how our lives will reflect who it is we are serving, or making our sacrifice for.
Paul says that the transformation that will take place within us will enable us to comprehend spiritual things in a new way. "by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect."
I hope that we can see that the process, that Paul is talking about in Romans, is a great introduction to the Gospel for this morning. Jesus asks his disciples the preeminent and central question all of us must ask ourselves at some point. "He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' "
He has been up to that point asking, in a general way, about who they have heard other people have said he is. "When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say that the Son of Man is?' "
The disciples answer him in the terms that they have heard the question. "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” You can hear the generalization and noncommital tone of the disciple's response.
One of the commentators I listened to, in preparation, this week said it was very important for us to realize where Jesus was asking these questions.
Remember last week I talked about Paul finding himself in Athens and discovering the plethora of gods which the Athenians were willing to acknowledge in the idols of their city.
The commentator pointed out that Caesarea Philippi was a similar city. It was a place where multitudes of gods were recognized and worshipped. The commentator wanted to be sure that we didn't miss the point of Jesus' question. This was not a casual or a general question. Jesus asks his disciples the preeminent and central question which each one of them must decide at some point. He asks that question surrounded by all the various gods that were calling for recognition and acknowledgment right there in Caesarea Philippi.
Peter steps up and answers Jesus: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Now before anyone can react Jesus identifies what has happened in this moment. He declares it as a moment of divine spiritual intervention: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven."
Somehow, at that moment, Peter has experienced what Paul is talking about in Romans: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect." Peter somehow glimpses Jesus as the one who will bring all these other gods into submission. Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah in the very heart of Caesarea Philippi.
Now, at the risk of seeming to be starting a whole new sermon here, I would like to use the Exodus reading from this morning to, I hope, illustrate what can happen if we don't keep Paul's words from Romans alive and active in our lives.
I have to credit Tom Wells for bringing this thought to my mind. Last week as we were beginning Lessons in the Lessons Tom said to me: "This is the very beginning of the Israelites' captivity story." We were reading the story of Joseph and his brothers. I stopped and said to Tom: "I wonder why the Israelites never left Egypt in the over 400 years before they became so populous that the new Pharaoh felt he had to subjugate them." Which is the story we read this morning.
I have been thinking about that question all week. Thank you, Tom.
The Israelites could have left any time after the famine in Joseph's time was over. But it seems to me that they became comfortable. They settled into their lives in Egypt. They were not aware of the danger that they were placing themselves in by settling - living and enjoying the best that Egypt had to offer them.
Now, you may want to say this was all part of God's plan to develop them into a community, to build a nation, and I am willing to agree that may well have been the plan and purpose of their staying there.
But perhaps, all of that could have been accomplished if they had returned to their homeland. If they had been willing to embark on the journey home any time before they were enslaved.
The shortest path between the capital of ancient Egypt Pi-Ramesses city, built by Ramses II, and the city of Jerusalem is approximately 491 miles. Now they would have had to walk that distance. But it was possible. After all, they came to Egypt on foot in the first place.
So what happened? Why did they stay? There are no indications in Scripture why they decided to stay. But we do know they stayed for a long time. Over 400 years.
Perhaps I might suggest that they like their Egyptian hosts, lost sight of the beginning of the story. Perhaps the answer is in the first section of the Exodus text. "Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph."
They forgot to remember what and who should have been important in their lives. After all, if they forgot Joseph, perhaps they forgot something of the importance of their relationship with the God they served.
Perhaps they became slaves because they didn't move when they had the opportunity to. They settled into the society and the community that they were surrounded by.
Maybe they would have benefited by hearing Paul's words to the Romans: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect."
What would it mean for them to consider that center section of the Romans reading? "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds"
How did their long period of being part of Egyptian culture shape and create the community that they became? How would people have distinguished the Israelite people from those of their neighbors and friends in Egypt?
What would it take to transform those people to be the people of God?
Can we ask ourselves the same question? How have we become content in the lives that we are living? How have settled into our lives in the world we find ourselves in?
Can we ask that question, of ourselves, about our lives as a community here at Christ Church? How are we settled and content with the community we have now? How might we draw others into this community? What might the Lord be asking us to be willing to change?
Perhaps we need to hear Jesus' question to the disciples: “But who do you say that I am?”
Bishops & Father Mike