Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 2007 (Proper 7C)

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on June 24, 2007. 
Based on Luke 9:18-24 (Proper 7, Year C).

“You da man!” This is the contemporary answer to the question posed by Jesus to Peter in this morning’s gospel reading. “But who do you say that I am?” “You da man!” Peter actually responds to the question of Jesus’ identity by saying “You are the Messiah of God.” And he’s absolutely right. He’s nailed it. Jesus is the messiah, literally “the anointed one,” of God.

When aimed at us, Jesus’ question is at the very heart of the Christian faith. It directly impacts our relationship with Jesus Christ. Because the answer we give is critical to our understanding of faith. We can dance around the question for much of our lives but at a certain point we can no longer hide from it. Each one of us comes face-to-face with Jesus and we are confronted by the question.

So, who do you say that Jesus is? There are all sorts of possibilities floating around out there. Do you say that he’s a good moral teacher offering helpful sayings about how to live your life? A kind of Biblical life coach. Do you say that he’s a divine companion along your earthly journey? Like a travel buddy. Do you say that he’s someone in whom you can confide? What a friend we have in Jesus. He’s all of these things, in a sense, but to be in full and fruitful relationship with Jesus we, too, must acknowledge him for who he really is: “He da man!” Or in more theological terms, Jesus is indeed “The Messiah of God.”

But the real truth isn’t in who we say Jesus is. Because we can and do project all sorts of things onto Jesus. Our needs and desires and hopes all get foisted onto him. So the ultimate truth resides not in what we say about Jesus but in who Jesus simply is. He is “The Messiah of God.” While we run around trying to stick labels on him, Jesus patiently waits for us to know him and to come to the realization about his true identity.

I read this week that Paris Hilton has found religion. Evidently a few nights in the slammer have brought her closer to God. She told Barbara Walters over the phone that she’s “become much more spiritual.” And God bless Paris Hilton. I wish her luck on her journey of faith and if you believe what you read in the tabloids, there’s plenty for God to work on. But I hope she realizes that a life of faith is hard work. It’s not a switch you can turn on and off whenever it’s convenient. It’s a constant struggle, an ongoing work in progress; a few steps ahead, a couple of steps back. And then there’s that cross thing. Jesus says to the disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Chipping a nail is not a cross to bear. And I can’t get the image out of my head of Paris lugging a large wooden cross around while out clubbing in LA. I don’t mean to unduly disparage Paris Hilton. The fact is we all, at times, trivialize the cross. Either through our apathy or indifference.

The cross we’re asked to bear on a daily basis is following Christ in word and action. It’s living as a witness to the gospel by putting love of God and love of neighbor above our own desires. And the cross always brings us back to that question. The question that is posed to Paris just as it is to you and me: “But who do you say that I am?” I sincerely hope she doesn’t say that Jesus is a useful publicity tool. But walking back into prison past the paparazzi holding a Bible, with the cover turned out for all to see, doesn’t inspire much confidence. And it’s hard not to think about all those celebrities who suddenly got religion when they thought it might help their public persona or reduce their jail time. Like the boxer Mike Tyson who found religion in prison only to be released before trying to bite off Evander Holyfield’s ear in the ring. God can certainly turn someone’s heart – look at the apostle Paul, the feared persecutor of the early church who turned and become the church’s greatest evangelist. But in order for true conversion to take place, the individual must open his or her heart and acknowledge Jesus as the “Messiah of God.”

We are charged to pick up the cross “daily.” And so we can’t just pick it up occasionally or only on Sundays or when it’s convenient. We need to take up our cross every single day. To witness to Jesus Christ by living lives that exemplify the gospel through compassion and prayer and love. And that’s hard work. It takes commitment and intentionality. It takes effort and selflessness. It means thinking about others and not focusing exclusively upon our own needs. Sometimes we stumble under the weight of the cross; at other times the burden is light. Being a Christian is not without its trials. But to enter into that state of peace and harmony that comes only through true relationship with the risen Christ, we must first confront that question from the depths of our souls: “But who do you say that I am?”

 © The Rev. Tim Schenck 2007

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