Who Do You Say That I Am?: Part 2

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston

 I. Review

Who do you say that I am?  This question still hangs in the air – resounding and reverberating in our ears as we try to internalize who Jesus is, that we might share it with the world.  We take our question and we pick up where we left off last week.  We can envision that we are sitting right next to the disciples, on the outside looking in, waiting for our direction from Jesus.  We are situated right in Casarea Phillippi, this place known for its grotto, its forest, its trees, and pastoral scenes.  We can imagine that we are sitting in a pastoral field with wildflowers, sitting near a brook, where the words of Jesus can be heard just above the sound of the calming spring nearby.  Again, Jesus has isolated the disciples from the rest of the world that they might be able to focus on his teaching uninterrupted.  We have just witnessed that Jesus gives Peter praise for his revelation, a revelation that could have only been revealed to him through the Spirit.  He says that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the LIVING God – and for that Jesus extols Peter, tells him that he has been given the Keys to the Kingdom, his revelation is the foundation of the church. The church is built upon this concept that Jesus is Messiah, the son of the living God.  But yet, this praise seems to be short lived.  Just as quickly as Peter is praised, he is then rebuked for his later outburst. How could someone be so right and then seconds later be so wrong? Jesus begins to say that he must suffer persecution and death, defining what we now know is part of the role of Jesus, the Son of Man, the messiah, the Son of the Living God.  But Peter had no clue, its easy for us to have a more full understanding because we exist on the other side of the death and resurrection of Jesus, but he was still expecting the proclamation of the messiah to be someone who was a warrior, someone who would come with blades of glory wielding the power of God that the people of Israel might be restored from is second-class level of oppression to its former glory of one nation under the direction of God.  But that was again a misperceived notion of who Jesus is, you see he had to understand who in fact Jesus was in order to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. The messiah is complex, counter-cultural, and beyond the constraints we try to put on him.  

 II. The True Identity of Jesus Christ

Who do you say I Am? Well you are the messiah the Son of the living God, but with that identification came some responsibilities.  You see quite often we fail to see the full significance of that sacred moment on Calvary.  You see crucifixion was an act reserved for the worst of criminals, the treasonous, the ones that posed a threat to the reign and structure of the Roman Empire. Crucifixion was reserved for the worst of criminals because the process allowed for the suffering of the “criminal” to be on display.  To warn others that this will be the outcome if you do what this “criminal” has done.  Who do we say Jesus is? He is the messiah, the Son of the living God. That means we are saying that Jesus is the messiah, the savior of the world, the one who died for the salvation of the world, the one who hung on a cross in a display, that we all could have the opportunity to be redeemed.  And as we say that Jesus is the son of the Living God, we are appointing him as a deity that is equivalent to God, we claim that Jesus is God, part of our triune deity. But yet in the Roman Empire it was Caesar who was supposed to be the savior of the world, it was Caesar that was appointed by the gods to reign over and save the people.  But our faith in Christ is contradictory to that societal belief of the time. Who do we say that Jesus is? He is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, but that also means that he is the one who challenged the Roman Empire in his very being, he is the one that had to die for our transgressions that we might be reconciled back to God, he is the one who died that we might be brought new life.  He is the one who has redeemed us. He is the one who affirmed the humanity of tax collectors and yes, even is the one who will throw a birthday party for a prostitute – which we mentioned last week. Jesus is the one who forgets all social norms and appropriate behavior, because Jesus is more concerned with showing love than playing the respectability politics of following what is culturally appropriate.
But we also must remember that the teachings of Jesus continued to challenge the societal structure of the Roman Empire that sought to socially stratify the public, by only glorifying those on the upper echelon of society.  You see Jesus’s teaching often lifted up those cast to the lowest rungs of society.  In the teachings of Jesus the sinners were made free, in his teachings the socially ostracized were given peace and love, in his teaching those who had been rejected from society because of infirmity were made whole and new, in his teachings the oppressed were empowered, in his teaching there was a love that transcended all things, in his teaching there was an establishment of God’s Kingdom on this earth, again challenging the reign of the Roman Empire.  Who is Jesus? He is the messiah, the son of the living God.  The one who taught us a radical love that might tear down the walls of evil and hate that make up the structure of our societal reality.

III. Take Up Your Cross And Follow Me

But what does this mean for us as Christians? Well Jesus teaches us right here. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  But Jesus says, if you want to be my follower, you must take up your cross and follow me.  As we look on at the disciples, it is likely they were wildly confused.  To suggest crucifixion as a directive and suggest that they must risk their lives, is like saying you must offer themselves up for lethal injection in present day terms. Who would be willing do that?  But also, Jesus is suggesting that the work they do in the name of Jesus, may be coupled with societal shame because the world does not understand the work of the one who sits high and looks low.  And They don’t understand the work of God moving.  I’m sure many of the disciples felt confused and lost – as if they had chosen to follow the wrong person.  But they had to wrestle with the reality that following Christ is not easy, it costs something, and that following Christ might even cost them their lives. And we as people of God also must wrestle with this reality, we must realize that we have seen the length that Jesus went through to do the will of God in the world – and we as followers of Christ, seek to follow in his footsteps.  That means that on this journey of Christian life, we must take up our cross and follow Jesus.  This means that the ministry we do in the name of Jesus is not likely to be popular, its not likely to make us friends, its very likely that it may cost us something, and its possible that it can cause us pain, it is likely to bring us shame because it rebels against societal norms, and it may even, in rare instances, cost us our lives.  But it is also likely that it will challenge the status quo, it is likely to present God’s love and peace, it is likely to shake the foundations of oppressive structures, it will likely be scary to tackle, and it may likely make us cry.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t do it – on the contrary it is part of our faith to do the difficult thing that others might shy away and run from.


And if we look at our world today there are many places where the church is needed to affirm the love of Jesus Christ within the world.  Our world has been plagued by racism, and the very foundation of our country has been built on its original sin of American chattel slavery.  And while the history of a long ended institution has allowed us to progress, we are still suffering from the residual effects of racism.  Just this week our nation has been up in arms from another black person Jacob Blake becoming a victim of police brutality by being shot in the back seven times in Kenosha, Wisconsin as his children watched nearby and are likely traumatized for life. He remains in the hospital in a situation where he is fighting for his life, as he was handcuffed to his hospital bed even though he is paralyzed and injured.   And beyond that people are still up in arms that there has been little to no justice for the murder of Breonna Taylor who was killed in her sleep from a mistaken police raid in her home.  These situations have created civil unrest within the streets of our nation. And I know for some it may sound like I am being political or partisan.  But I want you to know that I bring this up because I cannot afford not to, because Christ has lead us to be rocked with righteous indignation in this moment.   I bring this up because the role of the church is to make sure that the love of Christ is spread throughout the world and if people are feeling the pains of racism, that society makes them feel less than valued – then the love of Christ has been suffocated.  As the church we are called to ensure that those that have been continuously torn down by society are restored in Christ, that our work as the church affirms the human worth of all beings as created by God.  And yes that may be an unpopular opinion and yes that may feel like doing ministry feels like you are leaving yourself out to be crucified, but the scripture tells us that as followers of Christ we should take up our cross and follow him. Who do we say Jesus is, we say that he is the messiah, the Son of the living God – and that means we follow his direction.

If you will give me a point of vulnerability, as your pastor, I want to share something with you.  When I was about 8 years old, I witnessed my father being brutalized by police in front of me.  Here we were, my father a prominent pastor in the city of Wilmington, DE with his children and people from the community riding in a car driven by my father on our way to Bible Study.  No one knew how horrific this situation would become that evening, but it was a situation that changed my life forever. That evening, as we were stopping by the church to pick up chairs for a small group Bible Study, meeting as someone’s house, my father was pulled over right in front of our church.  When the police officer came to the window he asked my father what was his hurry and accused him of running two stop lights and a stop sign.  We had not passed through a stop light, but even if he had, this situation should never have escalated to the level of violence that we witness that evening. At some point, the officer told my father to get out of the car. And after that point was a bit of a blur to me because of the horrific scene that ensued, but I remember that I saw my father beaten in front of me, mace sprayed in his face, he was thrown on the ground, a scuffle ensued, thrown onto the car, and taken off into the night while me and my brother were left alone.  Thank God we all are all ok now, but that evening a routine stop became a violent situation that left two children alone.  That evening, I stood in the place of Jacob Blake’s children who saw their father shot. I saw my father traumatically beaten.  I could have easily been the family of a Breonna Taylor, or an Eric Garner, or a Sandra Bland, or a George Floyd who have had to bury their family members from and altercation that should not have escalated to violence and death.  So, as I stand here this morning, I bring up these situations of racism not to be partisan or because I want to bash the police, but because we have a systemic issue present and because I cannot afford not to say something. I am them and they are me.  But more than that I stand in solidarity because Christ taught me how to.   I offer myself, taking up my cross to encourage others to stand in solidarity because through the teachings of Christ we know that we love the outcast, we help the disenfranchised, we empower the downtrodden – this is what Christ did within his ministry.  And for this he was crucified. He befriended the Samaritan – the other of society, he empowered women – the overlooked of society, he healed and sat with the lepers – the cast out of society, he spent time with the tax-collectors the tainted and sinful of society.  Who do we say Jesus is, he is the messiah, the Son of God, and our goal is to spread the teachings of Jesus throughout the land, and yes that may get us crucified – crucified by our friends, crucified by our family, and crucified by the popular opinions of society. But Jesus is the one we follow.

This means that we, as the people of God, the church, come to the present reality of  now, seeking to address issues that stifle the love of Jesus Christ, we seek to grow in our faith and live our lives fully as disciples of Jesus Christ – and in that we must take up our cross and follow Jesus, the one we call the Messiah, the son of the living God.  We seek to Serve the world – affirming that all, including the marginalized, are intricately created by the creator, no matter what society might declare – in this we take up our cross and follow Christ. And we seek to share the love of Jesus – which may often cause us to take up our cross and follow Christ.

So we stand here asking the same question we asked last week.  Who do we say that Jesus is? He is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, but that means that we are to make Jesus Lord over our lives and let him direct our paths as individuals and as a church.  And in his directive, he tells us to take up our cross and follow him.  In the face of racism and all forms of oppression – we take up our cross and follow Jesus – by extending the love of Jesus that tears down these structural walls of repression. In the midst of poverty and shame – we take up our cross and follow Jesus – by acknowledging humanity and giving someone the clothes off our back and the feeding their hunger.  In the midst of societal division – we take up our cross and follow Christ – by establishing the unity of the Body of Christ.  In the midst of civil unrest – we take up our cross and follow Christ – by offering God’s peace, love, and justice. Who do we say that Jesus is? He is the Messiah, the son of the LIVING God, and in that, we must take up our cross and follow him. Amen.