Who Do You Say That Jesus Is? | A Sermon Preached on August 27
You may click play above to listen to this sermon (which follows the Gospel reading) or read the text below.
Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?” And, Simon Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus responds, “Blessed are you.”
Who do you say that I am? This is the question. And, it is as relevant today as it ever has been. I invite you to ask yourself, “How would I answer this question?” Or, better yet, “How do I answer this question.” Because, this question is being asked. And, we are answering this question, every day, whether we like it or not. Followers of Christ, we answer this question as we worship and as we work. We answer this question as we parent, as we friend, as we caretake, as we support, as we oppose, as we communicate. We answer this question as we live. Everything we have done or will ever do hangs on how we answer this question. I realize how dramatic that sounds. But, I believe it. And, it bears repeating. Everything we have done or will ever do hangs on how we answer this question.
Who do you say that Jesus is?
When personally confronted with this question, I could go in several directions. I could describe Jesus in a rather academic way full of stilted language and specialized vocabulary. I could choose to respond to a question I don’t want to answer or can’t answer with a reflective return question: “Well, who do you think Jesus is?” I could tell you how I think some of my favorite theologians would answer the question. I could hold up a sign saying that my Jesus isn’t that Jesus - clarifying that I’m not that kind of Christian. I have certainly done all of these at some point or another. But, they all fall short of actually answering the question.
Maybe this is why Jesus started with, “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” Only after this is answered does he ask, “But who do you say that I am?” There is a critical distinction between the two questions. And, Jesus presses his disciples to recognize it. Jesus presses them to consider and to claim for themselves who Jesus is and what Jesus is about.
This challenge to consider and to claim is always relevant, and never complete. It is a continual act of discernment rooted in the heart, professed by the mouth and proclaimed in the deed. In this way, our day to day living remains answerable to our faith just as it proclaims that faith.
The question is being asked. How are we answering it?
My friends, this is not a rhetorical question. The times that we live in don’t allow for that luxury. The violence that is systematic and personal racism, discrimination, fear mongering, police brutality, and other dehumanizing actions is antithetical to God’s intent for creation. As Bishop Susan Goff preached last Sunday,
We’ve got a long, long way to go on this journey against hatred and racism. We’re never going to eliminate them. Hatred, racism, violence against other people are sin, and sin has a way of infecting human hearts on this side of heaven. But we can, we do, we must, say no. Ferociously. Clearly. For the sake of our daughters and sons. For the sake of God’s people everywhere.
Our Old Testament reading for today is striking in its relevance. Midwives to the Hebrews, Shiphrah and Puah are faced with a decision. They find themselves face to face with the unnamed pharaoh of the exodus, who commands them to kill every Israelite baby boy they deliver.
This is an unimaginable order, and, yet, on the back of all that the Israelites have suffered in Egypt, the unimaginable becomes merely the next step. They have been marked as different and less than due to their ethnicity. They have been enslaved. They have been oppressed. They have been ruthlessly imposed upon. And, yet, they persist. Murder is made politically expeditious and socially acceptable on the back of the fear that their persistence is a threat to those in power.
But, Shiphrah and Puah feared God; they did not do as they were commanded. At the risk of their livelihoods, affiliations, freedom, and perhaps even their lives they remained answerable to their faith.
These women were ordinary people, midwives. It was their job to purposefully attend to the bringing forth of new life. To safely deliver babies. This was their job until it wasn’t. Because when the order was given, their job became to kill Israelite baby boys. They had a decision to make: compliance or defiance. Shiphrah and Puah, when faced with violence antithetical to God’s intent for creation, named it and acted against it.
The Reverend Vernon Jones, preaching at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, challenged that “the midwives epitomize how God-fearers
should respond faced with long-standing, systematic and culturally oppressive realities. When faced with having to do the right or righteous thing, they elected righteousness — being in right-alignment with God’s will and way. They were divinely defiant.”
My friends, ask me who I say Jesus is, and I will be at a loss for words. I can point to times when I’ve felt who Jesus is. I can try to put words to the experience that is Jesus. I can tell you that I believe Jesus came so that we might have life and have it abundantly. And, that that abundance is inextricably linked to the unfolding creation in a way that is inexplicable and yet rooted in simplicity - small matters of joy, simple acts of defiance, moments of peace, being authentically present, laughter, courage, a warm breeze, a kind word, the unity felt in the midst of protest, and all other manners of things that exist in opposition to fear.
Ask me who I say Jesus is, and I’ll admit that I’m grateful for the fact that Scripture tells us that Jesus only asked this question of his disciples towards the end. At the beginning, he says only “Follow me.”
Ask me who I say Jesus is, and I will tell you stories of people who have lived or are living the answer. I will tell you the story of Shiphrah and Puah, two ordinary women living in a patriarchal society, called before a king, and given an order. I will tell you that even though they held very little political or social power they persisted in their acts of defiance. They knelt before the enslaved and oppressed Israelites and committed themselves repeatedly to honoring life, no matter the cost. In so doing, they became the first deliverers in the book of deliverance.
The times we live in call us to ask the question and to live the answer, even before we are sure that we have it right. We are called to pray, to speak, to advocate, to stand up, to march, to challenge, and to be challenged. We are called to say enough. Enough injustice. Enough racism. Enough white supremacy. Enough discrimination. Enough greed. Enough silence. Enough. And, then we are called to work, despite what it may cost us.
As the Reverend Jones preached, “Defiance is a spiritual call to being antithetical to the world’s kings.” My friends, let us be courageous and humble, but let us be defiant.
Who do you say that Jesus is? Perhaps the answer can only and should only be, “Come let me show you.”