The Sunday Sermon
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
September 12, 2021
Proverbs 1:20-33. Psalm 19. James 3:1-12. Mark 8:27-38
Opening Prayer: In the name of the One holy and everliving God. Amen
This weekend we are commemorating the 20th Anniversary of “The Assault on America” when two planes were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and a fourth plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Over 3,000 souls perished that day.
I can remember quite clearly where I was that morning of the attack, the emotions, the fear, and the confusion. How could this happen to the United State? Incidents like these happen in other countries NOT HERE!!
I remember how quickly people came together to pray, to help with the search and to offer support. There was also hatred directed towards our Muslim neighbors. I was part of a group from Christ Church that went down to St. Paul’s Chapel in Lower Manhattan to support the workers on the Pile. We worked a 12-hour shift from 8 pm to 8 am. The conversations in the Chapel were few, and work was endless.
The questions from people of faith and those of no faith were many - Where was God? Does God care? How could God allow this to happen? At one point during my shift I was lying on a bench in for a short break and took the opportunity to look around the Chapel at the expressions of love, and support that were sent from ALL over the world. It was overwhelming and difficult to wrap my mind around. The walls, windows, altar, upper deck, backs of benches and outside fencing around the Chapel were covered with pictures of the dead, notes, toys, flowers, and articles of clothing. In the middle of the heartache, the tears and the ashes, St. Paul’s Chapel was untouched. The items seem to cry out:
Ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibi est
Wherever love is true, God is there
God is present here… now; the God who is love
Present, living, dwelling around and in you.
When troubles and trials come who do you call? Our answers will depend on the relationship, the level of trust and availability. Our answer should be Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…. the sweetest name I know!
Our Gospel reading today puts us in a conversation Jesus is having with his disciples as they are walking on the road. They disciples were eyewitnesses to many miracles: Jesus walking on the water, the feeding of the 4000, and the 5000, the healing of a deaf and blind men, the young girl who delivered from demons and of course Jesus’ chastisement of the Pharisees and Scribes. So, I think it was natural for people to be talking and for Jesus to ask his close friends – “Who do people say that I am?” What’s the word on the streets? What are the opinion polls saying about me?
You know, I am glad they were paying attention to what was being said about their teacher and friend and not just caught up in the excitement. Because it is normal for to be caught up in the blessings from the miracles and miss the person behind the gift and what their real message is. Their responses were on point too – “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets”. All these past famous heralds of the Way preached about Jesus’ coming in their time. Revelation 1:8, says “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Even though it seems long ago, the question is still being asked today. Who was Jesus? Who is Jesus? Even now some will say and have said he never existed, others say he was a wonderful teacher, and he was a code for a hallucinogenic drug.
Here is what some famous people in our time have said about Jesus:
Albert Schweitzer the famous liberal theologian and philosopher said; “Jesus means something to our world because a mighty spiritual force streams forth from him and flows through our being also. This fact can neither be shaken nor confirmed by any historical discovery. It is the solid foundation of Christianity.”
Mother Teresa said; “… Jesus is my God. Jesus is my spouse. Jesus is my Life. Jesus is my only Love. Jesus is my All in All. Jesus is my Everything.”
And, a practicing Muslim would say Jesus was simply a great prophet who was given a special message, he is second only to Mohammed and that he was not divine.
At the end of the day, it’s not about what others say, because Jesus’ question is still relevant to us today. He continues to ask you and me, ‘But who do YOU say that I am?” There are long lists of names and title for Jesus. However, it’s really about your personal relationship with Jesus, and about my personal relation with Jesus. The answer will reflect what we believe; how we live out our faith as Christians; and how we conduct ourselves each day as followers of Christ in our ever-changing world.
We could be like the disciples and repeat another person’s description or we can be like Peter when he said, “You are the Messiah.” Then the other question is, who is this Messiah to you? What are your expectations of this Messiah? Back then, the Jews were waiting for the Messiah to use force to deliver and overthrow their oppressors. That was all about physical force nothing spiritual.
Listen to the same encounter from Matthew 16:16; it gives us a longer description. Peter said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
The word Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah – “God’s anointed One.” In Jesus’ time only prophets, priests and kings were anointed. And we know that Jesus embodies all three – prophet, priest and king. Like Peter we can recognize that Jesus as the Messiah, the one sent by God, who is God’s messenger. Jesus is divine and this declaration was a dramatic change for Jews like Peter to call Jesus the Son of God.
As God’s anointed Son and the Divine we need to take Jesus at his word when he says, “I am the Way the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6). This creates a truly dependent relationship like the vine and the branches – the vine cannot survive without the branch. A close relationship like this brings about changes from the inside out and the world will see and know who we are connect to by the way we treat others.
So, who is Jesus Christ? Here’s another person’s summary for your consideration:
He was born in an obscure village, the child of peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He never went to college. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He never did one the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials by himself. He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race, and the leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affect the life of man on earth as has that One Solitary Life. (cited from Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete books of Stores, Illustrations &, Quotes, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000)
Hopefully, our personal responses to this question will not need all these descriptions. It will come from a place deep within that place of love and radiate in our walk and our talk.
Let us pray, Jesus, let us not be quick to limit who you are, rather be bold to proclaim you openly from our hearts, quick to share freely your unending wonders and blessing as they are revealed in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Jesus, you are the God who sees us in our need, and we praise your Holy name. Amen.
--Fr. C. Allan Ford