St. Mary Nanoose Bay

August 23, 2020

Matthew 16:13-20  

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Amen. (Psalm 124:8)  

Today’s readings present us with two questions:       

Who do we say Jesus is?       

How do we live our lives with Jesus?

The first question comes to us from the Gospel reading from Matthew. Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And the disciples give him all sorts of answers, naming off prophets. Those of you who grew up in the church learned other names for Jesus:  Son of God, our Lord and Saviour and Redeemer, our friend…… (ask congregation).

Our common agreement about who Jesus was and is forms the one of the creeds in our prayer book.

Now back to the gospel reading - Jesus doesn’t seem to spend any time on the disciples’ answers because he immediately moves to a second question: “But who do you say I am?” Peter doesn’t hesitate, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” We don’t hear what the other disciples answered, if they indeed did.

Now, if you were asked that question, by Jesus himself, what would you answer? Who is Jesus to you? Because your relationship with Jesus is personal, each one of us will have a different answer. Take a moment. See what comes to mind, without over thinking it. Who is Jesus to you?

Just as with any person we come to know, our relationship will change and hopefully deepen over time.  We haven’t been in relationship long enough to form our own opinion. We learn what the church says about him; who he was historically.

For me, as a non-believer, I thought Jesus was a fictious person that people who couldn’t stand on their own two feet created to lean on. In my 40’s I had my first conscious experience of Jesus. I experienced him in my heart, in that deep way of knowing that goes beyond what words can express. I recognized Jesus for the first time during the reading from Scripture known as The Road to Emmaus. Like the two disciples who walked with him for hours but didn’t recognize him, I too had been on a long lonely journey feeling sorry for myself and longing for something or someone to save me. And when I suddenly recognized Jesus, I understood beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I had never been alone, that that was just a story I’d made up about my life. I had had this loving companion with me from the very beginning.

So one way I’d answer the question, “Who is Jesus? is to say that he is my constant, loyal and loving companion who reveals wisdom to me.”            

Now that I am in ministry, my relationship with Jesus has deepened and as each year goes by and I find myself depending on God more and more, discovering that indeed, I cannot stand on my own two feet (as I had correctly determined as a non-believer, but in the wrong way!), that Jesus is my Source for wisdom, guidance, energy, and the Path for my feet. The more I let go and trust, the more grounded and held I seem to become. This isn’t to say I don’t make mistakes, rather it’s that the mistakes I make don’t crush me as they used to. It may take some time but I am willing to learn from my mistakes and hear what I need to know.            

How has your relationship with Jesus changed over the years? (pause)            

One of my favourite stories about people’s relationships with Jesus is the one of the man in Hospice, who asked the nurse to push the visitor’s chair right up beside his bed because Jesus was coming soon to visit him. The nurse, humouring him, did as he requested. A while later, the nurse came back to find that the man had passed on, his body half out of the bed. His head was resting in the chair, as if on someone’s lap.             We all have had our own encounters and/or have heard stories about people’s relationship with Jesus. The ones that shore up our faith, inspire us, and encourage us are the collective stories of our faith in community.            

Speaking of community…. let’s move on to our second question: How do we live our lives with Jesus? It comes to us from our reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul is using the image of the Body of Christ (or I would say, the reality that we are One body in Christ), to remind us that each of us is a crucial part of this one body. Each of us has a gift that the whole body needs. We are all unique. We have unique gifts, passions, needs. And together, all these God-given gifts and needs make the One body function. Each person, each part of the body are essential. Each contributes to and each is nourished by the whole. No one is superfluous. No one is more important than the other.            

Paul lists the kinds of gifts we are given to share: Prophecy, ministry, the ability to teach, to encourage, to give generously, to lead and to be compassionate. And of course there are others. We are stronger in certain areas than others. We can learn from those who are strong in skills and values what we lack; and we can teach and encourage others who do not know what we know.            

And now, in the time of this pandemic, it is especially important that we pay attention to our gifts and find ways to share them because so many people are lonely, stressed, fearful and despairing. We can see, looking back, how much easier it was to share when we could come and go as we pleased; when meeting our own needs was much easier.            

So now, we need to pay special attention to the qualities Paul describes and think about how we are living out these virtues.

How can we counter words of despair with words and an attitude of hope?

How can we counter images of fear with words or behaviours that speak of another way of being in the world?            

What are our gifts? It’s false humility to degrade them. The world is waiting for what we came into this world enabled to offer.            

Simple things like letting your eyes smile at others over your mask when you are out shopping can make a difference. Taking the time to pray and get grounded in your faith and hope before heading out into the community will help you see opportunity to serve in any situation you find yourself in.            

Who is Jesus to you in this time of upheaval and uncertainty?

Claim the relationship you yearn for. God honours your free will. And unless you ask, the answer will not arrive. Unless you knock, the door will not be forced open.            

What can you offer the world, the whole of God’s creation, during these days of confusion and fear? What is your part in the Body of Christ?            

We have the time now to delve into these kinds of questions with some leisure. Take the time. Ask the questions. Pray for answers.            

And be kind, calm, and know, that in the most profound way possible, you are safe.            

Thanks be to God.  Amen.