Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
Robert L. Getty, Ph.D.
August 27, 2017
In the letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul offers some practical steps for us to grow as a community of worshipers as brothers and sisters in Christ. We may look at the diverse community of Christians and say, “That person is not like me. We don’t look alike. We don’t have the same interests.” But God says we are one body through our common faith in Jesus Christ – each member belongs to one another. Think of the implications of that statement. We know it’s important, but we often struggle with community.
If we don’t find community in Christ, what do we do? We find community in other places. We may go to the bar, join a community organization, volunteer somewhere hoping to find what we long for. We may get involved in the church, we may even do nothing. We can do what so many other people have done – get involved in cyber-communities. Cyber-communities are communities you find on the internet. There was Cy-World in South Korea. Cy-World was proclaimed to be a “parallel universe unto itself.’ The website said, Cy-world “emphasizes relationships between relatives, neighborhood friends, and co-workers — people who have already met in real life but yearn to also hang out online.” Don’t we have that as well? We had MySpace, anyone remember that? Then we moved on to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and whatever is next.
When you think about it, our world is becoming more and more impersonal. It’s easier to hang out with friends in an online virtual world, than to have face-to-face interaction. We’ve become less interactive with family and friends. We are family because we said yes to Jesus and God adopted us as His children. Now we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We share the blood of Christ, shed for you and me for the forgiveness of our sins. This is what we celebrate in communion.
To learn and grow as a community and as worshipers, it’s time that we earnestly contribute to the work of the body of Christ. Being “living sacrifices” means we get out of the comfortable mode of “feed me” and “serve me.” God equips each person with spiritual gifts. Paul gives a brief list of spiritual gifts. To become a healthy learning and growing community, we need to become a family of God and learn about our gifts and use them as living sacrifices offered to God. The reason we’re here is to worship! We’re here to worship the King of kings and Lord of lords. This should be the highlight of the week. We should be offering our bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord. We come here excited about what’s going to happen. We come here giving 100% of ourselves to God in this wonderful, powerful time of worship.
The call from Paul for you and I is to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The goal is life transformation through Jesus Christ. To be transformed, we need the Holy Spirit to do something amazing within us. We need to be changed – transformed. Our job is to have an openness to listen and learn and love through the Holy Spirit and through one another. We find our way when we embrace Christ, not just with head knowledge, because we need our heart and mind transformed. In view of God’s acts of mercy it is entirely fitting that we commit ourselves without reservation to him. The popular cliché “He is Lord of all or not Lord at all” is absolutely right. The gift each believer has received is the result of the gracious outpouring of God’s blessing on the church. All the gifts of believers alike are viewed as communications of sheer grace.
In our gospel reading, Jesus asks a question that captures the declaration of commitment needed to form a community of Christ – a Christian community. Getting to the very point of commitment, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” It’s a good question – quite revealing about the politics and theology of the masses. This was the first Gallup Poll. Jesus already knew the answer. He wanted his disciples to acknowledge what other people were saying. “Some say John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets.” “Fine,” says Jesus. “Who do you say I am?” The world looks to the followers of Jesus and asks, “Who do you say Jesus is?” And the answers we give are as diverse as we are.
Jesus, alone, finally, with his disciples, asks them an important question. It is perhaps the most important question he ever asks his followers – then or now. He asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” But like any good teacher, he doesn’t just start with the big question; he primes the pump, as it were. He starts with a less-personal line of questioning: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
The question that Jesus proposed to his disciples at first glance is rather simple to answer – who do you say that I am? You are Jesus! But a “name” rarely is adequate enough to sum up “who we are.” A name at best identifies us but falls short to explain – “who we are or what we are about.” Hence the complexity of the question proposed by Jesus to his disciples, “Who do you say I am? Jesus does not ask to obtain information from the disciples, but to build a platform from which to call forth the confession that will be voiced by Peter. The use of ‘I will build’ confirms the foundation imagery intended in ‘on this rock’ and indicates that ‘my church’ is being viewed under the image of a building. The use of ‘I will build’ also reserves for Jesus, the position of prime mover in what is to happen as the church is built. Though the foundational role of Peter is important, it is Jesus who will build the church.
First Paul asks and now Jesus asks us to declare our commitment. Are we unsure of our role in life? Do you at times feel like you don’t know the real you? If you answer yes to these questions, you may be experiencing what is known as an identity crisis. Theorist Erik Erikson coined the term “identity crisis” and believed that it was one of the most important conflicts people face in development. According to Erikson, an identity crisis is a time of intensive analysis and exploration of diverse ways of looking at oneself. Researchers have found that those who have made a strong commitment to an identity tend to be happier and healthier than those who have not. Those with a status of identity confusion tend to feel out of place in the world and don’t pursue a sense of identity.
The question for today – is the Church suffering from an identity crisis. Do we really know who we are as the people of God? Do we know why we’re here today? Do you know who you are? If I were to ask you, “Are you a Christian?”, I have no doubt that you’d answer, Yes. This would be the expected answer. But then if I ask, “Why are you here?” I’d probably get a variety of answers.
The simplest answer would be “because this is my church,” but let me tell you, this is not the suitable answer. This is not your Church. We have so much dissatisfaction among members of the Church today because we have an Identity Crisis. We have forgotten who we are in Christ. You see, this isn’t your church this isn’t my Church, but each and every one of us is the church. If we are dissatisfied with the church, then in reality, we are truly suffering from an identity crisis, because it reveals that we are the ones with the problem, because we Christians are the church. Not only should we know what the church teaches about Jesus, but we should know Him for ourselves. Peter’s confession was not merely the recitation of a creed: it was an expression of an inner belief and conviction which had taken hold of his whole life. Thus, it should be with us: let us listen to the words of God in the Bible, for they testify of Jesus; but above all, let us embrace these truths and possess them as our own.
Jesus elicits a confession from the disciples; it is Peter who leads the way in articulating the confession. He has come to see that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The work of God lies behind the confession, and Peter as confessor will be privileged to be the foundation rock on which Jesus will build his church, a church that will rescue people from the jaws of Hades. Peter will have from Jesus the keys to open for people the kingdom of heaven, and he will be able to direct people into the way of abundant righteousness to which Jesus calls. Peter was a leading apostle of the early New Testament Church of God for many years, but not its chief cornerstone—that was and is Jesus Christ. Scripture calls Jesus “that Rock” (1 Corinthians 10: 4). It is upon this rock—Jesus Christ—that our faith stands. The church is Jesus’ church because Jesus’ presence effects the presence of God: the church is God’s church through being Jesus’ church.
Peter’s keys must be understood against this background. What we do in the name of Jesus in the world today has implications in the world to come. How we describe our Savior through our words and our actions is how the world sees what Jesus called the “Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus has given us the keys. Jesus has entrusted us with the awesome responsibility of explaining him to the world. All believers possess these wonderful keys, the good news of the gospel. I pray these keys bring about an awareness of the gospel message and everything else that God has given us in Christ Jesus. There is one remaining question: what are we going to do with those keys? How are we going to explain to the world, through our words and our actions, who we say that Jesus is? And may God reveal in us and through us the keys to open for people the kingdom of heaven. May these keys remind us daily of our precious gift and inspire us to use them the way they were meant to be used; with confidence and boldness to glorify God and to spread the Gospel.
Who do you believe Jesus is? Early in my faith walk I used to be under the assumption that this question of Jesus identity is a one time “shot.” I thought by confessing Jesus as Lord and answering this question correctly, I would be free from having to wrestle with the answer of who Jesus is. But that is not the case. Be it the first time you have heard this question or hundredth time – we will continually have to answer in this life. What is your personal confession about the Lord Jesus? Peter said it well, he is the Christ, the son of the Living God. Listen Church, this is who Jesus is to us, no longer do we have to walk around defeated, we serve an all triumphant savior!
As you prepare for the week ahead, and as you prepare for next Sunday, open your heart, open your spirit, open your mind. Use the power of Christ to change your entire being, from the outside in and from the inside out and be transformed by our identity with body of Christ. Show the world who Jesus is by the way you worship Him, the Christ, the Savior, your Savior, my Savior . . . our Savior! Amen.