A sermon preached at Grace Episcopal Church, San Antonio, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost are found here.
I remember as a little girl hearing my parents and grandparents tell the story of where they were and just what they were doing when they heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
For my generation, we can all remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard that President Reagan had been shot and when the crew of the Challenger was lost in the explosion just after liftoff.
And for all of us over the age of 25 or thereabouts, we can say exactly where we were and what we were doing when we realized the planes that hit the twin towers twenty years ago wasn’t an accident.
We remember the dramatic and often sudden events that disrupt our collective feeling of security and our sense of normalcy.
Statistics tell us that church attendance after such events is always high. Somehow we know instinctively that with God we will know safety and security. And as the dust begins to settle, we talk about going “back” to normal often without considering if there is anything we’d like to do differently. We tend to equate normal with feeling safe so we look backwards to a time we felt safe and try to recapture what was.
So do you recall from last week when I compared the Syrophoenician woman’s conversation with Jesus about children and dogs and crumbs to that of the Jewish community who brought the deaf man for healing – she focused on who Jesus is and they focused on what he did.
And do you remember before that our five-week conversation on Jesus being the bread of life?
Keep those threads visible as we set up today’s story.
Here’s a brief run down of what happens in between:
Jesus feeds another huge crowd of thousands from seven loaves of bread with baskets and baskets of broken pieces, crumbs, left over.
Then Jesus has another confrontation with the Pharisees, this time they ask for a sign from heaven, as if the feeding and healing aren’t signs enough.
As Jesus and his disciples are traveling back across the Lake, he tells the disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. And the disciples think he’s scolding them because they forgot to pack their lunch for the day.
Jesus looks at them and says, “do you still not understand? Why are your hearts so resistant to God? Do you not have eyes, do you not have ears, do you not remember?”
And then, to emphasize this, Mark tells us the story of Jesus healing a blind man who isn’t completely healed at first but with a second touch from Jesus has his eyes opened wide and sees everything clearly.
All that we are told through the gospel stories weave together to give us God’s story so that we, too, have our eyes opened wide and can understand better and better who God is and who we are in relationship with God. Nothing is insignificant or extraneous and absolutely all of it is relevant to who God is calling us to be in this day and time in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
Just like singular events in our lives, no matter how major, do not completely define who we are, neither can we have a whole and holy understanding of who God is by isolating the stories we have. Jesus calls us to remember all of it because it is in God’s story that we remember who we are.
And so we find ourselves with Jesus and his disciples as they are preaching and teaching and healing in the villages around Caesarea Philippi, a Roman city and site of a temple that Herod the Great (yes, the one who had all the jewish babies killed in his attempt to stop God’s messiah from coming into this world) had built to honor Caesar.
In the shadow of the temple to the self proclaimed deity Caesar, the one who gave himself the title “Son of God,” Jesus asks his disciples “who do people say that I am?”
And their answers are, well, so very human: John the Baptist, Elijah, some other prophet. People could believe that Jesus was a human come back to life but they could not wrap their heads around Jesus being God incarnate.
When Jesus turns the question directly to the disciples, “who do you say that I am,” Peter says, “you are the Christ,” Christos, meaning ‘anointed one’ a title that is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’ meaning a promised deliverer.
And then, curiously, Jesus orders them not to tell anyone. If they know who Jesus is, why can’t they tell anyone? Because they don’t yet fully understand what their answer means.
He begins to tell them what God’s Anointed One, Messiah, Deliverer will have to endure. But this plan of suffering and sacrifice didn’t fit their normal, their idea of safety and security. They wanted a deliverer who would oppress those who had oppressed them, give them power as they understood power. They wanted a messiah that would destroy people and buildings in acts of revenge and retaliation.
Peter attempts to correct Jesus because Jesus was undoing their sense of security and normal. Peter seems to have forgotten all that Jesus had spoken and done.
And Jesus’ response isn’t to make Peter comfortable but to help him remember. “Get behind me, Satan. For you are not setting your mind on things of God but on things of men.”
Peter was trying to lead Jesus and Jesus reminds him of the call “follow me.” Jesus tells Peter to remember just who is to follow who.
C. S. Lewis once said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
Jesus promises to comfort us in our sorrows but never does he say following him will be comfortable.
Jesus calls each of us to find our safety and security in our relationship with God so that when the tragedies of this world happen, we remain in the normalcy of God’s kingdom, following Jesus.
Normal isn’t something behind us but us behind Jesus, following him, walking the Way of Love always.
All that Jesus says and does – the event of God coming to us as one of us, dying and rising again for us – is intended to disrupt the world’s normal and to give us the normal centered in God’s Kingdom, the kingdom in which no one is oppressed and no one oppresses, no one is left out and no one does the leaving out, no one is hated and no one does the hating, a kingdom based on the power of loving relationships rather than the power of retaliation.
Jesus shows us that real power, the true power of God’s kingdom is love and compassion and grace.
Who do we say that Jesus is?
Do we step in behind Jesus and follow each and every day?
Do we give up our own ideas of security and safety and comfort to live life as God intends for us to live?
We remember this weekend the tragedy of 20 years ago even as we are continuing to experience the trauma of the COVID19 pandemic. And Jesus calls us all to remember that he is the bread of life, the living water, our savior and messiah and lord, who comforts us when we are in need and leads us forward into true life every moment of every day.
Remember. Remember whose and who we are. Amen.