“Who do YOU say that I am?” by Pastor Noel

August 27, 2017    Proper 16A,    12th Pentecost


      “Rock solid” “Bed rock” “Rock of Gibraltar”

      In imagery rocks are permanent, forever.

      There’s a large rock on the road where I used to live in NH—it even has a light pole tethered to it. Permanent.

      But part of the rock has cracked and fallen off, like a calving ice berg. No longer so permanent.

      The shore in Narragansett is very rocky. I used to go there twice a year for clergy gatherings and spend hours on the rocks watching the sea.

      One year there was a cave—a 3 sided niche where I could sit out of the wind. I called it my Elijah cave.

      But the next spring the ocean had carved new landscapes, the cave was gone. Not so permanent.

      And, again in NH, the Old Man of the Mountain….

      Sometimes rocks, and people! are not what they seem.

      Isaiah implies that Abraham and Sarah were rocks—but we know that they did not always trust God in a rock-like manner.

      Even so, tradition says that God gave Abram a new name, and promised that this Abraham would be the father of many nations.

      Simon was given a new name, too. He was impetuous and unfaithful, but he became Peter, the rock, “petra.” 

      I think all churches should be called St. Peter’s because we all fail Jesus, just as Peter did.

      You probably know that Paul was once called Saul—but that’s a story for another day.

      And God promises that salvation will be forever, and deliverance will never end.  God with us.

      Jesus and the disciples are in Caesarea Philippi, a very un-Jewish part of the world. It was here that Herod built his seaside palace, and was a stronghold for pagan and Roman culture.

      And it is here that Jesus asks his disciples what is being said about him. Surely Jesus must have been “grounded” in who he was, focused on his mission, but it never hurts to find out what others think.

      This is not unlike the polls we constantly hear of today—telling us what we think of candidates or issues—as if we didn’t know!

      It does help to know what others think of us—and I wonder what others would say about Ascension or St. John’s, were we to ask.

      Having a firm sense of self in God is the best foundation.

      Jesus’ sense of self is strong enough that he won’t accept flattery, or let the disciples have the wrong idea of him.

      When he asks, “Who do YOU say that I am?” Peter, the impetuous one, jumps in with good news and bad news.

      The good news is that he recognizes Jesus as the Son of the living God.

      Jesus is part of God’s eternal plan of creation and salvation that is still unfolding today.

      The bad news is that Peter calls Jesus Messiah.

      Now, we call him that, too, but we have seen what kind of messiah he is.

      Peter, and those other disciples, wanted Jesus to be a military leader, a powerful king, like David, to vanquish Roman rule and restore Israel.

      If that’s the kind of messiah we want, we need to look elsewhere. Jesus is not like that.

      So he rebukes Peter (we hear that next week) and goes on with his ministry of healing, peace, and reconciliation with God that shows the kind of messiah he is, shows just how he is God’s anointed one.

      In our Collect today we prayed that we might show forth God’s power everywhere, to the glory of God’s name.

      God’s power is what Jesus was living—being peace and compassion, mercy, love, hope, joy—all the “powers” of God that are not power as we think of it, but are powerful ways to be in this life. These are what God’s kingdom is all about. Right here, now.

      Jesus gives us, the church, the power to “bind and loose.” This is a rabbinic term for having the authority, and responsibility, to teach—to share what God gives us.

      Isaiah helps us see what that teaching is about: “(God’s) justice for a light to the peoples.” God’s justice is not the justice of our court system. God’s justice says that there is enough for everyone and as we share and make that happen, we are showing the glory of God’s name.

      This, of course, is not how the world invites us to live, but comes from being transformed by God to know God’s will.

      God’s will, God’s yearning for us, is for us to love God and each other as God loves us. That is what we pray each time we say the Lord’s Prayer, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

      God’s will is not legalism or judgment, God’s will is love—that we show in being compassionate and merciful and generous as God is.

      The hymn I asked Susan to play for us today, “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.” This is the transformation that Paul writes of.

      Each of us find transformation personally, as we learn to trust God, and let God’s Spirit lead us.

      This hymn has been called “the orange juice song.” Do you remember hearing that? Do you remember frozen, concentrated, orange juice? Kids sang this and heard “concentrated Lord, to thee” and called it the OJ song.

      It’s may be a silly childish mistake, but it also makes good sense.

      If we want to follow Jesus, we DO need lives that are concentrated to him. We can’t really concentrate ON Jesus until we are concentrated TO him and to God.

      This happens when we allow ourselves (with God’s help) to loosen our focus on things that are cultural, material. These things are not bad, but they can direct our lives away from the values of God’s kingdom. The need for human power, and all that goes with it, blinds us to what God is offering us.

      With God’s help we can be concentrated on Jesus. Transformed. 

      This transformation is an individual gift, and it can happen to groups or families, too. But it is not a gift for our personal use alone, it is only ours as we learn to listen to God and to share God in our world.

      The second question Jesus asks the disciples is plural—asked of all of them and all of us. It is in an on-going tense—”who are you continuing to say that I am.” How are you continuing to show God’s power and glory?

      There are three ideas given to us in the readings today—transformation, living sacrifice, rock.

      Transformation— as we open ourselves to the living God who is always there inviting us.

      Living sacrifice— as we become joined to the Body of Christ and use our gifts and talents for the building up of that Body—in church and out.

      Rock—as we realize that our strength comes from God. As we and the world around us may be crumbling, God is the solid rock of our faith, our trust. God’s strength, which is love, holds us up and gives us hope.

      Brian Stoffregen has said that the strength of the church is not us, but the trust we have in God, and a true understanding of Jesus: messiah, God’s messenger of love.

      I call on us to be rocks (with God’s help, as the only way we can do or be anything.) We can be rocks, trusting in God, knowing that like Abraham and Peter we will crumble and falter. God’s love can polish us and help us to stay whole and faithful.

      Rocks end up as sand or dust—reminding me of Ash Wednesday. So I’ll end with a quote from an EDS colleague (in her obituary) “Remember we are love, and to love we shall return.”

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details