August 23, 2020 /12th Sunday after Pentecost / Richard Holmer
1st Reading Isaiah 51:1-6/ 2nd Reading Romans 12:1-8 / Gospel Matthew 16:13-20
Who Is Jesus?
Who is Jesus? His name is as familiar as any name in human history – yet many would be hard-pressed to come up with a satisfactory answer. Some might say he is the founder of a major religion: Christianity. Some might point to him as a wise and great teacher. Others would suggest that he’s simply a myth, like Santa Claus. A few might be able to repeat the words from the creeds: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God . . .” “ The only Son of God” (and so forth). Many might ask: “Can I get back to you on that?”
The contemporaries of Jesus, people in Israel who met him, saw him, heard him – were not of one mind about who Jesus really was.
For 2,000 years, scholars, historians, theologians and Christians of various denominations have speculated, debated and pondered the identity of the Man from Nazareth. Lifelong, faithful believers may have never made the effort to articulate their personal answer to the question: Who Is Jesus?
One woman shared some things said by her uncle, who served his whole career as a wise and faithful pastor. Her uncle battled colon cancer, survived a quadruple coronary bypass and then was diagnosed with ALS. He said, “I never really knew Jesus until Jesus was all I had left.”
How well do you know Jesus? At a turning point in his ministry, Jesus came to his disciples with a question: What are people saying about me? What’s the scuttlebutt? Who do they say that I am? It seems most people thought Jesus was some kind of prophet, like John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah. Then Jesus asked a more personal question: “But who do you say that I am?” It’s one thing to report what others are saying. It’s much more daunting to be asked: “What do you think of me?” Apparently 11 out of 12 were silent. They weren’t sure what to say. Peter spoke up with a Spirit inspired answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
As a final assignment in preparation for their confirmation, we ask our students to write an essay on the theme: “What It Means to Me To Be A Christian”. This past Monday they read their essays at our monthly Zoom council meeting. Here are some things they had to say about Jesus.
Jesus is my leader and my guide in how I live my life; Jesus teaches me what to do and how to do it. He guides me through good times and bad times.
Being a Christian is learning from Jesus and trying to act like Him, even when it is difficult. I have learned how to live as a Christian because of his patience, forgiveness, kindness, humility and acceptance. He loves unconditionally and is accepting of all.”
Being a Christian means living like Jesus wants me to, even if it’s hard.
When I asked the adults in our weekly Zoom Bible Study how they would answer the question, Who Is Jesus? – a number of them chose a one-word answer: SAVIOR.
What would you say? What would you want to share in a 60 second elevator speech on who Jesus is for you? I put the question to myself: Jesus is the one who makes God real, believable, knowable – and trustworthy. Jesus presents all the glorious fullness of God in a vulnerable human like you or me. Jesus demonstrates the transforming, irreplaceable power of compassionate, gracious love. (That’s far from everything – but it’s enough.)
Actually, answering the question, Who Is Jesus? takes more than words. Ultimately, you and I say who Jesus is by how we live our everyday lives. Jesus didn’t come to stimulate theological speculation and debate. He came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. We say who Jesus is by how we actually follow his lead.
It took some time for the first disciples to answer the question Jesus put to them. But eventually they all did. They answered by leading lives that were shaped by his teaching and by his example: lives devoted to humble service, to sharing the good news of God’s love – lives committed to building up the community of believers.
Today in our reading from Romans, Paul makes an appeal: to say who Jesus is by leading lives that are transformed by Christ’s grace and mercy. H writes: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” That’s the daily struggle, isn’t it? We struggle against the world’s relentless pressure to be molded into self-serving, materialistic consumers. There is a constant temptation “to go along to get along” – to go along with worldly values and priorities that have little to do with compassion and mercy – values that maintain an attitude which regards humility and service and sacrifice as things for losers. You and I say who Jesus is when we freely choose to live by his values instead of embracing this world’s values.
Christ sets us free to live with a different agenda – to dare to deviate from the status quo, to go against the flow of mindless conformity. If there is no discernible difference between how you and I live and the lives of those who don’t know or believe in Jesus – what does that say about who Jesus is for us? We need to be more than Christians in name only. Our actions speak louder than our words. Jesus criticized the religious leaders of his time, saying: “These people honor me with their lives, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8)
When we recognize who Jesus truly is, it can give us the strength and courage to lead a transformed life. Jesus is more than a good friend, more than a wise teacher, more than a prophetic voice. Some paraphrased verses from Colossians remind us of Christ’s surpassing significance:
We look at Jesus and see the God who cannot be seen . . . He was there before the world came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment . . . So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him . . . All the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms – get properly fixed and fitted together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death and resurrection. (Colossians 1, The Message)
Knowing and trusting this Jesus makes me want to climb out of my familiar, well worn rut, and try to lead a life that looks more like his: A life that is more devoted to kindness, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, generosity, humble service. A life less focused on me and more focused on loving others.
You and I aren’t called to save the world. That’s a job for Jesus. We are capable of daily acts of ordinary kindness and grace. Being loved by Jesus empowers us to be loving. Any act of generous love is a clear statement of who Jesus is – more compelling than any creed.
Who is Jesus?
May our transformed lives be the answer.