Thursday, September 20, 2018

Who Do You Say That I Am!

One of the things that kept me from wanting to be a pastor was Jesus.
Not the Jesus I knew growing up as a kid.
Not the Jesus my grandparents and  parents taught me about.
Not the Jesus I heard about at Sunday school or in worship.
But the Jesus who I heard about from other Christians.
The Jesus of exclusion.
The Jesus who disliked certain people because of who they were, or the bad choices they had made.
The Jesus who said that it was his way or the highway.
The Jesus of oppression.
The Jesus who said that if you prayed with Muslims you somehow sold out to your belief in Jesus as savior.

You see the Jesus I heard about in Church.
The Jesus my parents taught me about was one of grace and inclusion.
The Jesus I learned about in Sunday school was the Jesus who loved me, and all the children.
The Jesus I learned about forgave sins, and set us free to live and abundant life.
The Jesus I knew loved the world, and allowed us to live within it without being afraid that we would end up in hell if we made bad choices.
The Jesus my grandparents told me about loved gay people, prisoners, people of other faiths, people experiencing poverty, women who had abortions.
The Jesus I learned about loved us so much he was willing to die on the cross in the most humiliating way possible.

The one I learned about is the Jesus I wanted to serve.
But that other Jesus was so strong in our culture, in our world, I didn't know if I would be forced to serve that Jesus.
And this is why the question that Jesus asks of us today is so important, "Who do you say that I am?"
That is the question.
What Jesus do we serve?

We can see that for people of faith who claim to follow Jesus this has always been the question.
For Jesus' first disciples this was the question.
There were lots of competing narratives out there.
Lots of things that Jesus could have been.
He could have been simply a prophet.
Someone who came to point out all the ways we have failed God.
Failed to live up to the standards that God had put before us.
He could have been just like John the Baptist.
Telling us to repent.
Telling us that our personal choices were not good enough.
Telling us we needed to do better.
He could have been like Elijah.
Sent to do miracles and prove that our God is better than other gods.
He could have been what Peter and the disciples think he might have been.
Sent to conquer the evil Roman empire.
Sent to restore Jerusalem to her rightful former glory.
Ruling with Justice.
Maybe these are things that we wish Jesus was for us.
That Jesus could come and get rid of all the bad things in the world.
That Jesus would come and tell us that we are great everyone else is awful.

I wish I could tell you this morning that my answer to Jesus' question is the one that you should believe to.
But faith is not that simple.
You can't have my faith, and I can't have yours.
We all have to struggle with this question in our own way.
We all have to come to understand who Jesus is for us.
And the truth is that Jesus is big enough to be it all.
Jesus can be for us who we need Jesus to be.

This is what surprised me about this sermon.
I thought I was going to get up here and tell you all that you should believe that Jesus is this and that.
But the more I talked to people this week.
The more I thought about it.
The more I realized that I can't harmonize Jesus for you.
Because Jesus is all those things.
Jesus is a prophet, he is a miracle worker, he does call us to repentance, he does ask for justice.
Jesus is our friend, our brother, our savior, our Lord, our Rabbi, Our Messiah.
And at different times in our lives we need Jesus to be different things for us.
Even the Biblical witness does not say that Jesus is only one thing.
There is not easy answer to the question.
Who do you say that I am?

Even though we all have to struggle to find the answer to that question.
What we can know is that Jesus died and was resurrected.
That regardless of what Jesus means to you at any minute you can know that Jesus loves you enough to die.
That Jesus gave us an example of how do we live, how do we see God is in the dying and rising.
I say this because Jesus strongly rebukes Peter.
Jesus is consistent throughout the Gospel in saying that he shows us the way through his death and resurrection.

I lived in Boston for a year with some friends from Camp Calumet.
One night we were on the roof hanging out, and one of my friends wanted to know why we should believe in God.
He was having a faith crisis.
He told me that he had been to worship recently with his family.
While he was at the communion rail kneeling when he realized that he didn't believe in this.
He looked around and just thought to himself, "This is silly."
We talked about for a while that night.
I don't think I convinced him of anything, and I am not sure I was trying to.
I was simply trying to be a friend and hear him out, and maybe share my own faith.
This weekend that friend came to run Reach the Beach with me.
He lives in California now.
We hadn't seen each other in 27 years or so.
He was telling me about the UU church that his family attends.
I am not sure what happened in the intervening years.
But he must have struggled with that question, "who do you say that I am?"
He must have come to some conclusions that made sense to him.
And that is the same journey we are all on together.
Learning what it means to die and be resurrected.
Learning what it means to follow Jesus.

I eventually made peace with going to seminary.
I eventually found a way to hold on to the Jesus my grandparents, parents, and Sunday school teachers taught me about.
My friend eventually found his own way to make peace with God.

What is your story?
Who do you say that Jesus is?
The answer to that question is everything in our life of faith.
I know as your pastor that I can't answer it for you.
But this morning I am hoping to get you to think about that question.
To ponder what does it mean for you to follow Jesus.

Because it is in the pondering.
It is in the searching.
It is in the dying and rising that we find out who Jesus is, and what it means to follow him.
May your journey be one of death and resurrection.
May Jesus be with you as you struggle to answer that essential question.
"Who do you say that I am?"     Amen