11 Pentecost—Proper 16-A
August 24, 2014
Richard Rohr says that one of his staff members at the Center for Action and Contemplation has a neighbor in south Albuquerque, who is a devout Catholic: this neighbor attends Mass every Sunday, and has a statue of the BVM in his front yard, and yet he is, according to Rohr, by word and deed “racist to the core.”
He doesn’t want Black and Brown people worshipping in his church and living in his neighborhood.
This has led Rohr to say: “Jesus doesn’t say ‘worship me’, he says ‘follow me.’”
Read the gospels and you’ll see this is true.
But here’s the deal: When Jesus calls us to follow him he does not mean that we each go our own way while following a few of his ethical teachings, but rather that we give up our lives to him, making his purpose our purpose too.
New Testament scholar and bishop N. T. Wright says, “if Jesus is the Messiah, then his public career and death, and not some other way, is how Israel’s God is accomplishing and establishing his kingdom on earth as in heaven.”
He goes on to say”, “the gospels are consciously telling the story of how God’s one-time action in Jesus the Messiah ushered in a new world order within which a new way of life was not only possible, but mandatory for Jesus’ followers.’ NTW p 118
Therefore following Jesus is not simply about following a moral code, as good as that is, but rather it is about participating in what the Creator God is doing to heal the world through Israel’s Messiah, here and now.
There is little point in following Jesus’s ethical teachings if he is not worthy of our worship. And there is certainly no point in worshipping Jesus as Lord and Messiah if we make no effort to follow him.
Peter has been following Jesus for some time. He’s left home, work, wife and family to follow Jesus. He’s put it all on the line for this Galilean peasant.
Now Jesus is asking Peter why he would do such a radical thing—who does he imagine Jesus is that could warrant such an all-consuming commitment?
And Peter responds. You are Israel’s Messiah, Son of the Living God, which is another way of saying the same thing: God’s son is the one who completes the Father’s work in the world, which begins with creation and the calling of Abraham, Moses, David and the Prophets.
By naming Jesus as Messiah, Peter is also claiming a new identity for himself. He is saying: “If Jesus is Messiah then I am no longer primarily identified with my roles of commercial fisherman, husband, and son. My chief identity is as follower of the Messiah and as a member of the Messianic community.”
Or as Paul would later say: My life is hid with Christ in God.
Our ego, which we think is a solid entity, is in fact just a constellation of feelings and thoughts that form around our various roles: I’m a southerner, husband, father, grandfather, priest, priest in charge, and during college football season, rabid fan of the Georgia bulldogs.
These roles coalesce into an identity that I am convinced is the real me. This identity feels so real because it gets so angry and afraid when any part of it is threatened. It also seems to answer a question that has been bugging me since I was a boy: the question “who am I?”
I actually remember a day when the question “who am I?” started yelling at me:
I was a rising10th grader working at a day camp on the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta. My older brother was a canoe instructor but my lovely job was shoveling out the horse stables.
One day as I was working I started to ponder some issue in one of my summer reading books and I suddenly became aware that I was thinking about the question, “who am I?”
And I was thinking about this question in a self-reflective way: I was able to watch myself do this thinking. This was a revelation to me—and immensely fascinating. I had achieved self-consciousness right on schedule standing ankle deep in you know what as adolescence erupted.
That question: “who am I?” is endlessly interesting, not only because I’m thinking about “Me”, my favorite subject, but also because it is scary when I can’t come up with an acceptable answer.
As a little shaver I wanted to be a garbage man but I came to find out that didn’t suit my parents as a life goal, though I can’t think of anything that is as necessary as having garbage removed!
So when I became a priest I was answering that question in a socially acceptable way. After all, at my ordination people stood up and applauded, just like we did when Christen Mills was ordained back in June.
But if being priest or nurse or teacher, or lawyer, or doctor, or business person, or scientist, homemaker or you-name-it becomes the center of identity then we’ve anchored ourselves to something that is too transient to sustain us. Sooner or later that identity will come crashing down—through exhaustion, or failure, or retirement, or as we lay dying.
So when Peter correctly identifies Jesus as Israel’s Messiah he is also identifying himself as a member of the Messianic Community. Peter can fish again and reconnect with family but now these roles are oriented around the Cosmic Sun who is Jesus the Messiah.
Therefore, Jesus gives Simon a new name: Now you will be called Petros, the rock, for your true foundation is in me.
1 Peter 2: 4- 5 reads: Come to Christ, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built[a] into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
[Paul writes the same thing to the Church in Ephesus:
Ephesians 2:19-22New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.[a] 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually[b] into a dwelling place for God.”]
Jesus is the chief cornerstone and with the apostles and prophets we are built into a holy temple in the Lord—a dwelling place for God.
When we proclaim Jesus as Messiah and Lord we are giving up our self-constructed identity and joining the identity given to us by God.
You and I worship in a building of stones held together by an enormous wooden cross.
Every Sunday, if we are alert, we can see our true identity staring back at us as we contemplate those stones and that cross.
When we name Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and ours we are locating ourselves in God and God’s purposes on earth—the building of a realm in which every person, whether friend or enemy, is welcomed, included, affirmed, forgiven, healed, and transformed into a vital stone of the Church of God.
And that is an identity that not even death can take away from us.