Sunday, August 24, 2014

Invitation and Response

Fr. Philip Eberhart
Aug 24, 2014
Eleventh Sunday of Pentecost
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Invitation & Response


This morning's scriptures are the kind that make a preacher pinch himself!!  Matthew 16, the encounter between Peter and Jesus around the question, "Who do YOU say that I am?" and Paul's invitation to the Roman believers, in the light of all that he has written in the first 11 chapters of the letter:  Present yourselves as living sacrifices!  A perfect pairing of Invitation and Response.

And as we continue in our Adult Forum this morning with the arguments for the existence of God, I kind of have these questions on the brain!  In fact the readings couldn't have been better had I hand picked them for this morning!  Once again the Lectionary is amazing!!

Do you spend much time thinking about the "first order questions" of life? Actually most people, in my experience, aren't deep thinkers.  There is a kind of discipline of the mind that must be engaged to begin asking questions like "Why is there something, rather than nothing?"  "What is the meaning of my life that goes beyond the two certainties of life:  death and taxes?!!"  It sounds funny, but if your god is money, taxes are a threat to your religion!  If you fear death, then life takes on a different cause.

"What is the meaning of my existence?"  Why am I here?  Who am I?  Interestingly it sounds as though Jesus asked these questions in a different way:  Who do people say that I am?  Who do YOU say that I am?  Some might say that Jesus was having an identity crisis, trying to figure out who He was from the ideas of the surrounding thoughts.  But I think that Jesus was not like us in that way!

Too often we search for identity in the opinions of others about us.  It's not who I know myself to be that counts, but who I believe YOU think I am, that counts in my psyche.  It is a pre-teen reality that many never grow out of.  We constantly careen and ricochet through life, bouncing off of one opinion or another, like the wild bumper car ride at the carnival.

Why was Jesus asking the questions in this way?

Who do people say that I am?  Jesus was seeking an understanding of the people's comprehension of Him and His personhood to that point.  He was doing a test poll with the disciples.  And he heard back from them:  "Some say John the Baptist (back from the dead), some say Elijah (prophecy coming true), some say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets."   In other words, no one knows for sure - lots of guesses!

Who do YOU say that I am?  Jesus turned to his most trusted, inner circle and asked the same question of them?  Still taking a poll?  NO!   Why?   Because this is THE "First Order" Question of our lives!

It is THE First Order Question of every life on the planet.  It is the handle on the doorway to eternity!  The key to the entrance - the narrow gate and way that Jesus Christ claimed that He Himself was!  There is no more important question we may ever ask!  Or Answer.   So...

WHO DO YOU SAY JESUS IS?

The polling today brings back the same mixed reviews as in 1st century Palestine: 

Some say Jesus was a myth, the invention of fertile religious imagination - the perfect man, the great teacher... they hold Jesus in reverence as a great teacher, moralist-par-excellence!  Nothing can compare with his Sermon on the Mount for moral platitude.  

Some say Jesus was just an extraordinary man, endued with the Spirit of God and enabled for a time to work wonders, but dead now.  No longer a force in the universe!

Some say Jesus was a Son of God, among many sons of God - speaking for the God of the ages in his age, but having no relevance in our own. He is "a way," but not THE WAY.  In fact its bad form to even claim that such exclusivism was Jesus intention.

Some say Jesus was a loving presence in the world, who showed acceptance to all, no matter their station in life or pet sin.  This "Jesus" is used by people to justify the acceptance of all kinds of behavior, with no call to change or renewal.

BUT, Jesus asks us:  Who do YOU say that I am?

The question always comes back to us!  We must make our own confession - no one can do it for us!  The invitation is for YOU - "Who do YOU say that I am?"

Let me tell you, if this is not a question you have settled in your mind and heart, then today is an extraordinary day!  As the scripture says, Today is the DAY OF SALVATION.

Yes I said SALVATION.  That is the weight of the answer you are about to give.  This isn't a Sunday School quiz!  This isn't about what you think!  Your opinion of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  This is about what you hold to be true in the innermost sanctuary of your soul!
And the answer you give, shapes the whole of your life.

Jesus turns to you and looks you full in the face and asks you, up close and personal, "Who do YOU say that I am?"  What is your response?  Let's sit with that question for a minute.

(silent time)

Peter said, "YOU ARE THE CHRIST - THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD"

Peter said what we need to say!  You see its not about who we "think" Jesus is - its about who Jesus thought He was!  Who Jesus KNEW he was!  Peter's confession wasn't just a good answer in the moment - a lucky guess?  It didn't come out as a question, "You're the ... Christ? The Son of the Living God?"

It was Peter's confession of who Jesus knew himself to be:  

THE CHRIST = the Messiah, the promised and anointed ONE sent from God to redeem mankind back to God as the sacrifice and atonement for our sins and wickedness.

THE SON = God's One and Only Son, given in love for the world, that all who believe in Him and confess His Name, shall not perish but have eternal life!

OF =  sharing the same BEING with the Living God!  How did the creed writers put it?  Very God of Very God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father.

THE LIVING GOD = The visible image of the invisible God, made alive among us, to touch, to hold, to talk to, to hear from - who continues in life, after the crucifixion and resurrection, eternally present in Spirit and in intercession for each of us!

That is WHO we must say that HE IS!  And if we say that then the invitation is given to come higher up and further in.  Turn to Romans 12.

Paul writes his "gospel" in these chapters of his letter to the gentile church in Rome.  He establishes our need for God and God's solution in Jesus Christ.  He establishes the work of God through Christ to the gentiles and then back round to the Jews.  He has just scaled the mountains of God's grace for the Gentiles and His never-failing love for the Jews.  And now he turns to our response.  Let me paraphrase a bit, adding pieces from different translations:

I beg you, brothers and sisters, urgently appealing that, with your eyes wide open to all the mercies of God, you make a decisive dedication of your bodies and present your whole selves [both soul and body] as a living sacrifice, holy and fully acceptable to God, well pleasing to Him in fact, as this is the most reasonable, rational and intelligent service you can render in thankful worship for all that He has done for us.

Any questions?  

Again ... from The Message:
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you:  Take your everyday, ordinary life -- your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life -- and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him.  

Friends, this is our most reasonable response to the question, "Who do YOU say that I am?"

Just a few chapters earlier Paul tells us that it is with the mouth that we confess, "Jesus is Lord" and it is with the heart that we believe, "God raised Him from the dead!"

Sso have you made YOUR GREAT CONFESSION - as Peter did in our reading?  Have you settled the question of who Jesus is, once and for all?  If not, now is the time!  NO better time!

I want everyone to bow your heads.  If you have never made this confession then pray with me:

Jesus.  I believe you are the Christ, The Son of the Living God.
I believe you lived and you died for me.  I believe that you were raised by God on the third day
and that you give me New Life.  I offer you myself - all of me, Lord, for all of you.  Thank you, Jesus, for loving me so much. Amen.

Now if you prayed that prayer, I want you to share that with me.  Raise your hand or stand or let me know at communion by holding your hands together like you are praying when you come to receive the bread at communion.  Do something to say, "I made a decision today."

You have answered the most important question you can ever answer.  and Today is the day of Salvation.  Hallelujah.  

Amen and amen!


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