August 27, 2023 - 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16)
[Jesus] said to [his disciples], “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!”
Today’s gospel reading offers us one of the most profound questions in all of scripture, asked by Jesus to his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” I think that all followers of Jesus must answer this question – and the way we answer depends on where we are in our lives. Who do we say that Jesus is? For us, and for our world?
When you think about it, every person on this planet believes SOMETHING about God. But what they believe can vary a great deal. Even we here can believe different things about the one God whom we all worship. And our understanding of God – our theology – will change over our lifetime as we grow in our faith. But this question is so very important, because how we answer this question affects how we live out our faith and our lives.
If you believe that God is like a divine scorekeeper, keeping track of all of your good deeds and all of your sins, then you will probably live your lives very carefully and rather fearfully – trying to do good deeds when you can, and trying to avoid sins, and hoping that you come out ahead at the end. On the other hand, if you believe that God is all-accepting and welcoming, but rather distant, you may not really worry about your good deeds and your sins, and whether you are pleasing God with your life.
But what we believe about God affects all sorts of other things, like how we pray. If we believe that God is distant, and simply watching events unfold in our world, then we won’t spend a lot of time asking God to change the circumstances in which we find ourselves. If we think of God as a stern judge, we might also avoid prayer, because we won’t dare to ask God for favors. If we think of God as a loving parent, we will turn to God when we need help or advice. If we think of God as a friend, we will spend time in conversation with God just talking about our day.
Prayer and our belief about God are intertwined. But what we believe about God also affects how we face trials in our life. What we believe about God definitely affects how we navigated our way through the pandemic. Do we believe that God created the pandemic? Do we blame God for it? Do we believe that God has sent it here to test our faith? Or do we believe that God is allowing it to help us grow in our faith? Do we believe that God is with us in this pandemic? Do we believe that God can bring good out of it?
So, what we believe about God matters, more than anything else in life. And that’s probably why Jesus initiated the conversation in today’s Gospel reading. Because Jesus knew what the disciples thought of him would affect how they would live their lives going forward. Their theology – their understanding of God – mattered. It mattered then. And it matters now. So Jesus sat the disciples down and had a theological conversation with them.
Who do you say that Jesus is? If Jesus himself were to ask you that question, how would you answer it? And is your life reflecting that answer? What do you believe about God, really? What do you believe about Jesus? The answer will set the course of your life. It matters, more than anything else in this world.
But there is one more piece of this question that I think is very important to think about today. Just as important as what our answer to Jesus’ question is, is when and where we ask it and answer it.
What do I mean by that? This question demands an answer not just in our homes, but in funeral homes. Not just in a classroom, but in a hospital. Not just on Sunday morning, but during the nights that we struggle to sleep. Not just when life is going well, but when things are falling apart. Not just when we love our spouse and neighbor, but when they’re on our last nerve. THOSE times are when it really matters. That’s when what we truly believe about God matters. That’s when our faith is tested. And when the answer is not just words, but life.
And, my friends we need the community of faith that Jesus founded. Among other things, it is why we have a Bible. But more generally, Jesus knows that we won’t be able to confess our faith in him, correctly and consistently, if we are not active in a church. Believing all of this is simply too difficult to do alone, especially when the storms hit. We need each other. We need our fellow believers. And Jesus knows it. Which is why he spends so much of his ministry building community. And why he founded the church.
The church may not be perfect. No congregation is. But it is Jesus’ plan for the world. He began the church, to share the gospel with all the world. And to bring healing and hope and peace and justice and love, in his name, to the ends of the earth. And he promises that as we do this, nothing will prevail against his church. Nothing will separate us from the love of God in Jesus, and nothing will prevail against the church that Jesus founded. That is a theology that offers us a sure foundation. One that we can build a life of hope and meaning upon. One that can survive the storms and trials that this life inevitably throws at us.
So, summarizing… What we believe about God matters. More than anything else in this world. And there is no more important time to wrestle with this than right now. In the midst of all that we are going through in our world today, we confess once again our faith and trust in Jesus, believing, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, that he is the Savior of our world, the son of the living God. Who promises to calm our every storm, who offers us a peace that surpasses understanding, who is eager to hear our every prayer, and who assures us that he will be with us always, even to the end of the age. That is who Jesus is. Thanks be to God. Amen.