Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sermon: Peter's Confession and Ours

Luke 9.18-27 The Great confession                                                                                     
20 Jan 2013

            In the 2006 movie, “Talladega Nights,” NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby gathers with his family for a dinner of every fast food that a teenager could crave: Domino’s Pizza, KFC, Taco Bell, and PowerAide. When it is time for the blessing, Ricky Bobby begins this way: “Dear Lord Baby Jesus, I want to thank you for this wonderful meal, my two beautiful sons, Walker and Texas Ranger, and my Red-Hot Smokin' Wife, Carley.” As he continues, he refers repeatedly to “Dear Lord Baby Jesus.”
            Carley interrupts him and says, “You know, Sweetie, Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him Baby.”
            Ricky Bobby relies, “I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m saying grace. When you say grace, you can say it to grown-up Jesus or teenage Jesus, or bearded Jesus, or whoever you want.”
            Ricky Bobby continues his prayer, “Dear tiny Jesus, in your golden fleece diapers, with your tiny balled-up fists.”
            His father-in-law interrupts, “He was a man. He had a beard!”
            Ricky Bobby snaps back, “Listen, I’m saying grace, and I like the Christmas version best.”
            Ignoring the conflict between the two men, Ricky Bobby’s best friend Cal says, “I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-shirt. It says like I want to be formal, but I’m here to party too.”
            One of Ricky Bobby’s sons says, “I like to picture Jesus a Ninja, fightin' off the evil samurai.”
            Cal then adds, “I like to think of Jesus with giant eagle wings and singing lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd with an angel band.”
            Ricky Bobby returns to this prayer, saying, “Dear eight-pound, six-ounce, new born infant Jesus, who doesn’t even know a word yet – little infant, so cuddly but still omnipotent.” He then thanks Jesus for all his NASCAR victories and the millions in prize money he has won. He concludes the blessing by saying, “Thank you for all your power and grace, dear Baby God. Amen.”

Whew! After a theology lesson like that, the Bible seems pretty tame. Still, the movie raises a great question: Who is Jesus?
+Do we pray to the Baby Jesus of Christmas morning?
+Do we pray to the Jesus who commanded the storm to be still?
+Do we pray to the Easter morning Jesus who rose from the grave?
More to the point that Ricky Bobby raised: Do we get to pick the Jesus we will honor with our prayers? If we like the Baby Jesus of Christmas more than we like Grown-up Jesus walking the dusty roads of Galilee, do we get to choose?
            Well, you will not be surprised that I consider the Bible to be “the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine and teaching. The Bible bears authentic testimony to God’s self-disclosure in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (2). As a result, I want us to turn this morning to the scriptures to find our picture of Jesus. Let the scripture provide be the definitive picture of Jesus for us.

            “Who do you say that I am?” No question has more power to change the direction of our lives than this one. It is a question that demands to be answered.
            The fact is that people throughout Jesus’ life wondered who he could be.
·       In John 7, Jesus went to a religious festival in Jerusalem. People were asking each other who Jesus might be. Some at the festival said, “He is a good man.” Others were saying, “No, he is deceiving the crowd.” And they began to argue among themselves who Jesus might be.
·       Just one chapter before the passage we have read this morning, Jesus was crossing the Sea of Galilee with his disciples in a boat.
23 While they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water…. 24  They went to him and woke him up, shouting, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, "Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?"
·       Mark 1 tells of a day when Jesus was in the synagogue. 23 There was a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." Oddly, the unclean spirit was more certain of Jesus’ identity and power than the *people* gathered around listening.
Who is this Jesus? You might say that the Four Gospels of the Bible were written in large part to answer that question.

II. Let’s look more closely at the scripture we have read together.
A. As usual, the scripture we read does not stand by itself. Things were happening in the story leading up to our passage; things will happen following our passage.
            1. In the beginning of the chapter, Jesus sent out the twelve disciples with the power and authority over demons, to cure diseases, to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal (Luke 9.1f). Jesus has the power of God. And he has the power to bestow God’s power on those who follow him.
            2. While they are gone, Luke tells us that King Herod began to hear about Jesus and to ask who Jesus might be. Luke says that he was *perplexed*. . .
“Because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. Herod said, ‘John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?’”

Curiously, Herod tried to see Jesus himself.
            3. When the disciples return, they are elated at the power they have enjoyed. The crowds hear about all of this and they begin to follow Jesus wherever he goes. Then, at the close of the day, the disciples would have sent the people away, but Jesus insists that they feed the people before they go. With a few loaves and a couple of fish, Jesus feeds the multitude. Jesus has the power to multiply the loaves.
            It is only after all this that we come to the central passage of our morning. Jesus has demonstrated his power to do what only God can do. He has demonstrated the authority to delegate his followers to act with this same power. He has fed the multitudes a miraculous meal of bread and fish. And he has left King Herod wondering who Jesus might be.
            Now, Jesus turns to his disciples with the question: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” The answers are similar to those given in other gospels:
·       John the Baptist (long ago beheaded by King Herod);
·       Elijah (expected to return to announce the arrival of the Messiah)
·       “Or one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” This last one is interesting because Luke has changed the words from the other gospel writers a little bit. Instead of repeating the words from Mark or Matthew, Luke quotes from the earlier story about King Herod’s curiosity about Jesus. These were the words of Herod. The point is that the question Herod could not answer will be answered by Simon Peter in the Great Confession.
People were wondering, “Who is Jesus?” and Jesus himself asked, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”

III. But, Jesus will not stop with the objective answer to the question. He turns to the disciples one day to ask, “And who do you say that I am?” This additional question goes beyond the objective answer; it asks further for their answer. This is the additional answer that makes Jesus’ question life-changing.
            Like the disciples, we must not stop with the merely objective answer. We also have to give our own answer. This answer of ours carries commitment, loyalty and trust. Answering Jesus’ question will have a life-changing impact.

[Story of Morah]
            Back in the late 70's, before our children were born, I was invited to attend a workshop at main hospital and training school for the mentally retarded in the state of Virginia. The purpose was to help us understand who the mentally retarded are and get over some of the fears people seem to have about mental retardation. In the course of the workshop, I met an 8-year old girl named Morah. She was born with hydrocephalus and spina bifida; she was also mildly retarded. My wife also met Morah, and we both fell in love in with her and decided to befriend her.
            When we talked with the training school staff about our plan to befriend Morah, they were supportive, but had a caution for us. They pointed out that Morah is quick to say to people, “I love you.” They warned us: She’ll say that to you a hundred times a day. She wants to get you to say it back to her, but you must not do that. You can be her friends, but you cannot take her into your home; you will have children of your own one day. Don’t set up hopes in Morah that can’t last. So we agreed to their caution.
            Over the coming years, we visited Morah many times--taking her off campus sometimes, visiting in her cottage other times. We often took her to our home and even camping one weekend. And a hundred times each day, Morah would say to us, “I love you; I love you.” Being faithful to the instructions of the training school staff, we carefully responded each time by saying how special she was to us. But we never allowed ourselves to say, “And we love you.” We wondered whether she noticed that we never said those words to her.
            We didn’t have to wonder for long. One day while we were with her, Morah pointed out, “I always say, ‘I love you’ to you, but you never say it to me.” I will never forget how hollow the staff explanation about why we must not say that to her sounded that day. Morah did notice that we did not say those words to her. She understood that the words, “I love you,” are about more than the present. They are also about commitment to a future we will make together. Those six words and the commitment were missing and she knew it.
            This from a girl who is supposed to be mentally handicapped.

            Jesus asked the disciples, “Who does the crowd say I am?” and they were glad to answer; it was an easy question. “John the Baptist or Elijah or another prophet like the prophets of old.” There is no commitment in that; it’s just an answer to an easy question.
A. But then he pressed them with six words which struck them to the heart: “Who do you say I am?” It was Peter who found his voice to answer that day: “You are the Messiah of God.” With this answer Peter responded to Jesus’ question with his conviction that Jesus was the Christ he had been waiting for and with his commitment to whatever future following the Christ would bring. Peter spoke for himself; he also spoke for the other disciples that day.
B. Why was this question so hard to answer? By this time the disciple had traveled long miles with Jesus; they had heard him preach; they had seen the lame walk and the blind blink their eyes with new sight after encountering Jesus. Indeed, the disciples had already risked their lives for Jesus. Why was it so difficult to answer this question?
            We all know how hard it is to be the first to say “I love you” to another, to be the first to break the silence with such a large truth. One does not say anything like that for the first time without sweaty palms and a dry mouth. We may hesitate, not because we doubt that the words are true, but because we know how powerfully true they are, and because having spoken the truth, we cannot ignore its implications for our lives.

C. What Peter said in answer to Jesus’ probing question that day ought to be our answer as well. Jesus was not asking for *a report*; he asked for a *present conviction* and a *commitment to a future*. “Who do you say I am?” The answer Jesus waits to hear will change everything from the moment it is spoken. Now, *What do you say?*

IV. Next, Jesus began to tell them:
"The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised" (9.22).

A. Jesus began to explain to them what a Messiah must be--not what they wanted a Messiah to be. It involves rejection by the most respected leaders in their lives; it means being killed on the Cross. And it means after three days being raised from the dead.
            I keep looking for a catchy way to re-state this part, but there is none. The cross is at the heart of Jesus’ definition of what the Messiah must be. Just that--the cross.
B. The second part about the cross is our commitment to take up the cross as Jesus did. Just as our little friend, Morah understood that love means commitment and an open-ended future together, Jesus understood it, too.
"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it (Lk 9.23).


            Jesus gathered the disciples after their first success as solo evangelists; they were excited. Now, it was time to go further. “Who do the crowds say that I am?” He asked them. And after the easy answers were given, he asked, “But, who do you say that I am?” Peter spoke for them all, “You are the Messiah of God.”
            Peter’s answer was factual. But more than factual, it was an answer which spoke of his commitment to serve Jesus as the Messiah of God. It was Peter’s "I love you."
            And, what about us? What answer do we give? What commitment do we make? I invite you to sit quietly after our time together and make your own answer – and with it to make your own commitment to the Jesus who asks even us: “Who do you say that I am?”

1. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, (movie) Colombia Pictures, 2006.
2. “Scripture,” The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2008, para. 104, p. 78 (2008 edition). 

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