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

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, chapel.duke.edu.

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.

(Look at congregation) “who do you, say I am?”

Jesus is walking … a large crowd follows, a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, a woman who had been under extensive medial care but never cured reaches out and touches his clothes… she believes that if she can just touch His clothes she will be healed… and immediately the bleeding stops. Jesus, realizing that “power” had gone out from him turns and asks who has touched my clothes? The woman falls at His feet and, trembling with fear, tells Jesus the truth…..Jesus tells her “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Jesus can end your suffering. (Mark 5: 24-34)

(Look at congregation) “who do you, say I am?”

A group of religious leaders bring an adulterous woman before Jesus proclaiming she must be stoned. Jesus bends down, begins to write on the ground and when the questioning continues, He challenges them “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then He bends down and writes on the ground again. What did He write…. Could it be the sins of those who were the accusers? When Jesus challenged the first without sin to be the first to throw the stone…… one by one they leave… the oldest first. Did the words of Jesus pierce their souls? He didn’t accuse, He only invited the first…… but they all left. Then Jesus straightens up, looks around and asks the woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? No one sir she replies. “Then neither do I condemn you, says Jesus, go now and leave you life of sin.” Jesus offers forgiveness, and a new way of life. (John 8: 1-11)

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