Proper 16A – Matthew 16:13-20
Do you remember in school when the teacher would come in and say, “Please clear your desks. We’re having a pop quiz today?” That’s how I want to begin this sermon, with a pop quiz.
So what do you think, did Peter get it right in today’s gospel (Matthew 16:13-20) when he said that Jesus is the “Messiah, the Son of the living God?” Let’s have a show of hands. Who agrees that Jesus is the “Messiah, the Son of the living God?” Looks like every one. Anyone disagree? No? Every one agrees with Peter.
Congratulations. You gave the correct answer, but here’s what I wonder: so what?
What does it mean for you today that Jesus is the “Messiah, the Son of the living God?” That question is at the center of a conversation I’ve been having with myself for years but even more so in light of everything that has happened over the last six month. I don’t know about you but I feel an urgency and intensity about everything things days, including this question about who Jesus is. Maybe you feel that too.
So what does it mean for us today to stand with Peter and say that Jesus is the “Messiah, the Son of the living God?” The last six months have held this question before me – before us – like never before. I think we are discovering a larger and more relevant understanding of what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
Here’s what I mean by that. I thought I knew or had some idea of what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah. It used to be mostly a Sunday morning kind of question, but now it’s an every day kind of question. It used to be about the future, but now it’s about the present moment. It’s no longer only or even primarily about saving souls, it’s about changing hearts. And if Jesus is not changing your heart and my heart then he is not the Messiah of our lives. And if he is our Messiah then he necessarily changes how we live.
Division and distancing characterize our lives today and yet I have never been more aware of our interconnectedness and the ways we, for better or worse, impact and affect each other. The boundaries of me and mine – my life, my family, my needs, my community, my people – are being expanded. It’s really not all about me, Uvalde, or the United States.
So when the Messiah says something like “love your neighbor” I’m having to redefine who my neighbor is and what that is asking of me. And if I follow this Messiah as “the way, the truth, and the life” what does that ask of me in my marriage and parenting? How does it shape my friendships and other relationships? Am I discerning between the light and darkness in what I read and post on social media? What happens when his way, truth, and life conflict with the way, the truth, and the life of my friends, my family, my country?
And how many more times must the Messiah say, “Peace be with you,” or “Do not be afraid,” before I take those words to heart? If he really is my Messiah, then I have to look at the values I hold, the priorities I establish, and the truths I claim for myself and see if they align with his. When he says, “Follow me,” or “Come and see,” do I go or do I blaze my own path?
It seems there is not a part of my life over which he does not want to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Sometimes I take comfort in that, other times I take offense.
Those are the kind of things that come up for me when I think of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. What about you? In what ways does it matter or make a difference in your life that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God? Is that just a title we give him or is it asking something of us? Is it changing how we live, and if not, why do we come here Sunday after Sunday?
I ask these questions not just of you but of myself. I ask them because I struggle with that gap between knowing the correct answer, and living that answer. Where does that struggle come up for you? When have you lived in the gap between knowing the correct answer and doing something with it?
I think that’s what Jesus has set before Peter today. I think that’s what Paul is writing about in today’s epistle (Romans 12:1-8) when he warns us about being conformed instead of transformed. And I think Jesus experienced that gap in the Garden of Gethsemane as he struggled with what he knew to be his Father’s will.
It’s not enough to just give the correct answer. I learned that from my math teacher. I don’t remember what grade I was in but I remember how excited I was when I got my first math book that had the answers in the back. Do you remember that? I had always struggled with math and I thought to myself this year is going to be different.
My homework didn’t take long that first night. When the teacher gave it back to me every answer was correct. But there were no stars or smiley faces, and I didn’t get a 100. I got an F and a red ink note that said, “Show me your work.”
I wonder if that’s why Jesus “sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” Maybe he is less interested in our answer and more interested in seeing our work. Maybe Jesus is saying to us, “Show me your work.”
Maybe Jesus is saying to us, “Show me what the kingdom looks like in your life, in your relationships, in your context.”
The kingdom comes locally, temporarily, intermittently, episodically in our particular circumstances through what we bind and what we loose. The kingdom comes, is actually here, is really real, whenever we love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who abuse us, turn the other cheek to those who strike us, welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive our offender, give to the beggar. (John Caputo, Cross and Cosmos: A Theology of Difficult Glory, 138)
“The kingdom is not a reward for these works; the kingdom is these works.” (John Caputo, Hoping Against Hope, Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim, 61-62) Wherever these works are happening, there is the kingdom. The kingdom is about what we do and how we live. The kingdom is what life looks like when we respond to what God is calling for. (Ibid., 119) The kingdom comes every time you and I give existence to the insistence of God.
Have you ever thought of yourself as having the responsibility of giving existence to the kingdom? Have you ever thought that God might need you as much as you need God?
We can stand up every day and declare that Jesus is the “Messiah, the Son of the living God” but what difference does that make if we are not loosing people from injustice, racism, hunger, poverty, guilt, shame, fear, anger? What difference does that make if we are not loosing people to go in peace? What difference does that make if we are not binding ourselves to each other in love, compassion, forgiveness, hospitality, healing, hope, prayer? What difference does that make if we are not binding up the broken hearted?
I don’t want to just give the right answer. I want to be the right answer and to do the right answer, don’t you?
We’ve each been given the keys of the kingdom, the power to bind and the power to loose. What are you doing with that in your life today? What are you unlocking for yourself? And what are you unlocking in the life of another? In what ways are you binding yourself to the life of another for his or her well-being?
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
“Show me your work.”
Mike – loved this sermon and your anecdote about show your work made it impossible to forget the message.. Great job!Debbie
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Thanks Deb. I’m glad you liked it. I hope you are well.
Peace be with you,
Father Mike, again this is thought provoking, and timely. Show me the work!
With your permission, I would like to share your words, again ,with our group at St. John the Evangelist.
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Thank you Maureen. It’s good to hear from you and I hope you are well. Yes, please feel free to share it with your group. Take care.
Peace be with you,
Interesting. I’ve never met another clergy person who has read Caputo, much less quoted him affirmatively in a sermon. It feels like it has been forever since I have had a conversation with another Christian which was beyond the level of basic Catechesis. I miss conversations with folks who read off the beaten path and think theologically.
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Nate, I’ve been reading Caputo the last couple of years. He’s become one of my go to theologians. He’s had a significant impact on me and helped me make sense of a lot of things in a new way. He’s helped me let go of a God I was told about, thought I was supposed to believe in, but never experienced. I’ve used his insights in several sermons and pastoral counseling. I’ve not run into too many who read him and I am glad to know you are.
Peace be with you,