Who Do You Say That I AM?: PArt 1

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 

 I. Beginnings

Who do you say that I am?  The question of the hour – as it falls from the lips of Jesus and travels through the air in soundwaves to the ears of the disciples.  A question that holds such weight, and yet brings up many questions as well for the disciples.  Who are you Lord, if not the one we have dedicated our lives to, the one we have left our families to follow?  Who do I say that you are, well you must be the messiah? Who else would I have uprooted my life for?  These are likely the unspoken feelings of the disciples as they feel questioned about their faith and their faithfulness to Jesus.
Let’s take a step into the scene as we sit on the outside looking in.  The disciples have entered into Caesarea Philippi, a place that is north of the Sea of Galilee, known for its grotto, forests, and trees.  Jesus has pulled the disciples away from the rest of the world so that Jesus could have the opportunity to teach the disciples uninterrupted.  If we were to sit on the outside of this situation, we might be able to envision a pastoral scene near a spring in a field filled with wild flowers, the disciples hear the voice of Jesus over the calming sounds of the flowing water of a spring nearby.  As we too are people that seek to be disciples of Jesus Christ, we can imagine that we are sitting right there alongside of the disciples, listening to the teachings of Jesus because, as his disciples, we too could learn a lesson from Jesus.

 II. Who Do People Say The Son Of Man Is?

“Who do people say the Son of Man is?” – Who does the world say that I am, what does the world think of me and who I am? So the disciples responded with the gossip they had heard around town, the words whispered from ear to ear, the information that was passed from person to person, the words that were hushed throughout the town.  Who do people say the Son of Man is?  Well some say John the Baptist – or maybe he is one of the prophets that we have heard from, the ones who changed our lives, maybe Elijah or even Jeremiah.  Maybe he has brought us some of the same prophetic word from the Lord, that can change and shape the trajectory of our lives.  Maybe this is the Son of Man. But as people conveyed their perspective of the Son of Man who could have known how wrong the gossip around town was, who could have known that the concept of the Son of Man was yet to be realized, who would have known that the true identity of the Son of Man could bring redemption, liberation, and new life.

If Jesus were standing before us today asking the same question, what would be our response? Who does the world say that I am?  What does the world have to say about our Lord and savior Jesus Christ?  The world might say that Jesus is just a prophet from the past, the world might say he is a blonde hair and blue-eyed figure that can be seen in quite a few stained glass windows in churches across our nation ; the world might say that Jesus is was an insignificant criminal of the Roman Empire, nailed to a tree, that is over-glorified by religious people; the world might say that Jesus is a distant deity; and the world might say that Jesus is a historical personality of the past.  And if we wrestle with some of the most difficult opinions of our society – the world might say that Jesus is not concerned with the human condition as we struggle with the difficulties of racial injustice and a global pandemic; the world might say that Jesus has ignored the pain of the people as the oppressed still experience racism, sexism, and classism; the world might say that Jesus is a homophobic, bigot that does not accept our LGBTQ brothers and sisters because of their lifestyles; and the world might say that Jesus is a make-believe deity that does not exist.  Who does the world say that Jesus is?  Or maybe since we are so removed from the historical life of Jesus, and the world can only see the character of Jesus in us, the people of God,  maybe the question is, Who do people say Jesus is based upon the actions of the church at large? Who have we shaped Jesus to be for the world, who is the Jesus that we have introduced to the world? And the reality is that the church might have failed Jesus. Through the actions of some of our brothers and sisters in the church, the world has received a misperception of who Jesus is, from some of the actions of the church the world says that Jesus is a bigot because Jesus does include or love those with varying opinions, it says that Jesus is a racist because he has allowed racist organizations that claim to be Christian to represent him, it says that Jesus is apathetic because the church is not concerned with the injustice of the world, it says that Jesus is a misogynist because he does not support women in ministry, or maybe they say that Jesus is homophobic because he doesn’t love our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.  Is this who the world sees Jesus as?  But none of this is who we know Jesus to be – none of this defines the Son of Man.  If these are the words going around through town about Jesus, if these are the perceptions of our Lord then people just don’t know how wrong they are. And it is part of our mission of ministry to show the Jesus that offsets these misperceptions.  I don’t know who that man they describe is, but that is not the Jesus that I have come to know.  And the reality is that this definition that the world has constructed is more indicative of the beliefs, feelings, and personalities of the flawed human beings that make up the church rather than the description of Jesus himself.  These descriptions explain the church and not Jesus. But in the midst of misperceived notions it is okay for these things for now, because we as human beings have fallen from God’s grace, and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  But as we are aware of this situation it is not okay for us to continue to let it exist, because the Christ we know is centered in love and bring light and life into the world – and our fall from grace should not affect the way that Jesus is seen within the world.  This means the church must begin to center ourselves in Christ that we might be able to fix the parts of our established church that don’t reflect the actions and love of Jesus Christ.

 III. Who Do The People Of God Say Jesus Is?

As we look at our scripture this morning, we begin to see the key.  Jesus then shifts from the world to his faithful disciples.  The question is no longer focused on the what the world sees because as the disciples are expected to spread the gospel, who they say Jesus is, has the ability to transform these misperceived notions of Jesus, and send out the true gospel that Jesus is teaching. You see, they must be centered in who Jesus is, therefore we must be centered in who Jesus is. Who do you say I am? Because the reality is that if those who follow Jesus can’t say who he is, then, how will the gospel be accurately portrayed to correct the falsehood, the gossip, that has been spread around town?  So he asks the question, “Yes, I hear what others say, but who do YOU say that I am? – What do YOU see, when you see me?”  Again the disciples may have questioned, “Why are you asking this of us Lord, have you not seen that we have chosen to follow you, who else would we have done this for, but the messiah?  Do we need to focus on someone else? Have we not proven ourselves?”  – Yet the question still remains and echoes in their ears, hanging in the air – Who do you say that I am?

Peter speaks up without hesitation, you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  This is a profession of faith holds significant weight especially given the location that Jesus is choosing to teach them.  Jesus and the disciples were in Caesarea Philippi, a town specifically connected to the Imperial Power of Rome, and within its borders was a shrine to the Roman god, Pan, which was the god of shepherds and flocks.  So as Peter makes this declaration of faith, he is saying that Jesus is the messiah, the actual being that shepherds us through life’s journey, his power transcends the fictional, non-living god of the area.  Because he is the true Good Shepherd. Others can think what they want about the god who supposedly reigns over shepherds, but he does not lead the flock the way that Jesus can lead the flock of the people of the one true living God.  He also reiterates that Jesus is the Son of the LIVING God, which states claim over not just the reign of Pan – exclaiming that Pan is a non-existent god but also claims the reign over the Roman Empire, who claimed to reign supreme. Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God.  This the central point of our faith.  Jesus even says that upon this, is the foundation of the Church.  This is our central focus, this is what we shape our lives to proclaim.  Who do we say that Jesus is?  The savior, the messiah, the son of the living God.  This is the central focus of the church.

 IV. When We Center Ourselves In Jesus

When the church is focused on its foundation, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, then the things that have sought to divide us become insignificant.  When we center ourselves in the understanding that Jesus is the Messiah, the quarrel between conservative or liberal is of no consequence – because what is of more importance is that Jesus is the Messiah and we follow our Good Shepherd who groups us together as the Body of Christ.  When we center ourselves in the understanding that Jesus is the Messiah the debate over LGBTQ issues will be of no substance – because Christ taught us to love one another and loving requires the acceptance of the full being, so we follow our Good Shepherd.  When we center ourselves in the understanding that Jesus is the Messiah the small conflicts surrounding finances are of little consequence because we seek to continue the work of Jesus and we follow our Good Shepherd.  When we center ourselves in the understanding that Jesus is the Messiah then we won’t look down upon others because of what they have done or where they have been because in Jesus Christ all have been given opportunity for God’s grace – and we look to our Good Shepherd as a guide.  When we know that Jesus is the Messiah, that he is that Son of God, then we are able to transform our very being to make Christ the guiding Shepherd of our lives.

When we live life out in ways where we, the people of God, who shape the trajectory of the church have centered ourselves on the foundation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, people will come to know Christ through the ministry that we do. This means that people will come to know the true Jesus, the Jesus that spent time with those that were categorized as sinners, the Jesus that affirmed those that had been outcast, the Jesus that rebelled against societal norms, the Jesus that healed the sick, the Jesus that fed the hungry, the Jesus that provides solace for deep wounds, the Jesus that suffered death upon a cross that we might be redeemed, the Jesus that was resurrected that we might find new life.  When we center ourselves on the foundation of the church, that Jesus is the messiah, the Son of the Living God, then people will come to know this Jesus, the Jesus we have centered our lives on.

But as we center ourselves in Jesus, we must really know what that means.  I can remember a story that I heard from Rev. Otis Moss, III, and he was telling the story that he heard from Rev. Tony Campolo.  In this story, Rev. Campolo was in a diner very late, around 3am.  And while he was in the diner, two women, who lived as prostitutes for their source of income, strolled in that same diner in the wee hours of the morning.  One of the women said to the other, that her birthday was the next day.  The other woman replied to her, that no one would care that it was her birthday.  After the women left, Rev. Campolo asked the manager of the diner if they frequented the diner every night, and the manager said yes.  Rev. Campolo went through the process of planning this woman a birthday party, because he wanted her to know that Jesus cared that she had a birthday.  That next evening, the woman strolled in and was surprised with a cake and people there to wish her a happy birthday.  After the woman was taken-a-back by the surprise the people in that diner gathered together to pray.  And as they went around the circle, one person said they were thankful for a Jesus who threw birthday parties for prostitutes. This story warmed my heart, because this is exactly the spirit present in Jesus.  Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of our Living God will take what others look at with shame and see a human being deserving of dignity and acknowledgement of worth.

You see, the world sees who Jesus is because of how we portray Jesus to the world.  So we must be centered in knowing who Jesus is, in order to convey it to the world.  Who do we say Jesus is? Jesus is the one who saved our souls.  Who do we say Jesus is? He is the one who brings liberation and redemption.  Who do we say Jesus is?  He is the one that brings light in the midst of darkness.  Who do we say Jesus is? He is the one that demands justice in the face of racism, classism, sexism, and all forms of oppression.  Who do we say Jesus is?  He is the one who fed the hungry and healed the sick.  Who do we say Jesus is? He is the one who gives radical love to those have been cast out by society.  Who do we say Jesus is? Yes, he is even the one that throws birthday parties for prostitutes.

Who do you say that Jesus is? The Messiah, the son of the Living God.  Next week we will dive into Part two where we explore what claiming Jesus as the Son of the Living God may mean for our lives.