Summary: Jesus asked the disciples, "who do people say I am?" - Is he the one who liberates us from egocentrism in order to love God and the world?
“How love liberates and transforms the world.”
Proper 16 Year A
Have you ever fantasized about what the world would be like without social media? Imagine a world where you actually have to wonder what people are thinking and eating… a world where… people gossip about you behind your back instead of publicly online.
But it a facebook-less world does present challenges. You cannot know precisely what the critics think of you within minutes of your sermon in a world without a twitter feed.
Jesus had it rough in the first century. He doesn’t even know how the public perceives him.
Jesus wants the pulse of public opinion, so he asks his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” they say, “Well, Jesus, opinions differ, but the consensus is that you’re a dead guy who has come back to life. Some people say that you’re John the Baptist. Some people say that you’re one of the prophets: We’ve heard Jeremiah, Elijah, and some less popular ones too.”
=Then Jesus makes the question personal, “Who do you say that I am?” Did you notice what he doesn’t say? He doesn’t say, “Who do you think I am.” He wants to know who they say he is.
In the original language, the word "say" means to give a speech, to proclaim, to tell a story. In essence, it is to speak in front of people.
Peter answers the question, “I’m telling people that you’re the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Title: How love liberates and changes the world.
If we answer the question like Peter, then two things happen:
First, we are liberated to love.
People have fought over a question for centuries. What is God like? If we believe that Jesus shows us God, then God is universal love, mercy, compassion, and kindness. Not everyone has that view, though, because they Can't answer Jesus' question as they should.
Last year I read about the Masai tribe in Africa. They are monotheists, meaning they only believe in one god, Engai. They believe Engai is involved in his people's lives. But… they believe that he loves the healthy more than the sick (because they are healthy), the rich more than the poor (because they are wealthy), the holy more than the sinful (because they are wise).
Engai favors the Masai over every other tribe. His nature is one of exclusion; you're in the tribe, or you do not matter.
In essence, he's the anthesis of the God Jesus shows us. Jesus loved the poor, the sick, the ostracized, and the foreigner.
If Peter is right, and Jesus is the Son of God as our liturgy proclaims, then God must be loving, merciful, and compassionate. God even loves us enough to allow us to be vulnerable with our struggles and shortcomings—instead of playing the "actor" and pretending like everything is perfect.
As I look at our church, I can see how so many of you answer that question. We believe God is loving and compassionate because we're following the example of Jesus.
• Tuesday, people will be here feeding the hungry.
• Thursday, people will gather over Zoom to learn about racial reconciliation and how mercy brings justice.
• People participate at supper at grace.
• You go to the borders to feed children…
Who is Jesus? If he’s God’s Son, then our opportunity is to act on the world in love.
Who is Jesus? He’s the one who shows us the true nature of God, love. He’s the one who empowers us to act on the world in love.
If Jesus is who the liturgy says he is, then were are liberated to love… but we’re also,
Second, empowered to transform the world.
In his first public sermon, he summarized his mission: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor… freedom to prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, and to set the oppressed free."
That is a ministry that transforms the world!
We can be the healers who treat the wounded souls around us. We can be prophets of hope (instead of fear) who tell people that God loves them.
Love can empower us to tell others that God's not angry, or disappointed in them because they are not perfect.
The No. 1 reason people list for not attending church?... We surrendered our relevancy with hypocrisy. Actually, the answer people give is… "There are too many hypocrites in the church." [I'd add those who possess a degree of epestemic certainty about their interpretations that love is only viewed as a reason to 'correct' instead of smile at God's children]
Those churches are preaching the wrong message! Who is Jesus? The one who shows us love and empowers us to proclaim liberation to the oppressed.