Summary: A sermon challenging each member of the congregation to answer Jesus’ question... "But what about you? Who do you say I am?"

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A Close Encounter of the Jesus Kind

Matthew 16: 13-16

—William Willimon, “Who do you say that I am?” August 22, 1999, Duke Chapel Web Site,

A student came to me and asked me to explain to her the difference between Christianity and Judaism. She is in love with a student who is Jewish. They are both law students, thinking about marriage. How will they deal with the difficult differences?

I told her that I had known people who marry lawyers and go on to have happy marriages, despite the difficulties!

Just kidding. The differences that trouble her are between two related but disparate faiths. Well, we discussed rituals, festivals, beliefs. Then she asked a fundamental question.

“When it comes down to it, what is the one thing that makes Christians, Christian?”

The answer is not pot luck-dinners, WWJD bracelets or pushy preachers. The thing that makes us who we are is Jesus. Jesus Christ is Christianity.

Names for Jesus assembled by Alice Camille in U.S. Catholic (August 2002):

Saint Thomas Aquinas called Jesus the perfect mediator between God and humanity.

Protestant theologian Horace Bushnell named Jesus the “poor man’s philosopher, the first and only one that has appeared.”

Fidel Castro said Jesus is “a great revolutionary.”

George Bernard Shaw called him “a first-rate political economist.”

Johnny Cash said he was “the foundation of my life and my strength.”

Author and storyteller John Shea describes Jesus as “God’s challenge and invitation.”

For Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Our Lord Jesus Christ ... is our hero, a hero all the world wants.”

So, who is Jesus Christ?

This morning, we are invited by God to answer Jesus question… “But what about you, who do you, say I am?”

(Briefly challenge the congregation….)

How do we think about Jesus? When we look at the cross, do we see an object and say yes, because Jesus died on that cross, I am saved. Do we look at it as an object that is separate from us? Something we view from a distance and acknowledge as something special? Oh yes, acknowledging its power and grace and significance, but somehow still, something apart from us.

Or, when we look at the cross, do we see our hope. Do we see who we are in Christ? Do we see ourselves as a reflection of Christ? Are we a part of the Savior who sacrificed all for us. Do we look at the cross and see ourselves as having Christ living within us, loving us, guiding us and giving us a Holy peace within.

Jesus asks us this morning…. “who do you, say I am?” Am I real for you? Are you and I one?

Jesus has an encounter with a woman at a well. She is a Samaritan woman and Samaritan’s and Jews don’t particularly like each other… and surely a male Jew wouldn’t think of speaking to a Samaritan WOMAN! Yet Jesus engages the woman in conversation. This woman He has never met, yet knows everything about her. Her past husbands, her present situation, living with a man who is not her husband… He knows… during the conversation, Jesus promises her “living water”…a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Who could make such an offer? The woman says “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us. Jesus declares, “I who speak to you am He.”(John 4: 40- 39-42) Jesus offers eternal life.

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