Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Confessing Christ in the midst of everything

In the Gospel (Matthew 16.13-20)  Jesus is on the move , going to Caesarea Philippi, on the South slopes of Mount Herman. It is important to know this bit of geography because it is on the edge of the old Davidic Kingdom. Caesarea was not unlike many of the cosmopolitan cities of the ancient world. It was full of different kinds of people, languages, faiths and beliefs. The Gospel recounts the first time that the disciples, and specifically Peter, call Jesus, Kyrios or Lord. There are moments when the Gospel has called him such but this is the first time the words come from the mouth of one of the Twelve.

For being willing to confess this insight, Jesus blesses Simon and calls him “Peter” or in modern English parlance, “Rocky”. Jesus gave him a nickname. I don’t know about you but I have carried many different nicknames in my life. Some of them I would only allow certain people to use while others, like my high school nickname “Haggy”, were widely used to the point where people did not know my given name. One of my favourite nicknames was ‘giihii-inzi’. I was given to me by a elderly priest from Old Crow. It means, “kindly one who speaks the Truth”. I was given that nickname because this elderly priest liked the fact that I would take her places in town when she needed to get around during diocesan events. I felt both honoured and blessed by the experience.

Simon Peter or “Rocky” was blessed for being willing to proclaim Jesus as Lord (Christos est kyrios) in the midst of all of the choices and temptations to make some one else, something else more important in your life. Peter chooses to stand out, from the culture, from the city and maybe even amongst those who are closest to Jesus and that is a risky thing. It is easier to keep one’s mouth shut and have people think you a fool than to open one’s mouth and confirm it. 

Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah starts with the question, “Who do others say that I am?”  the answer comes back, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, more say Jeremiah or one of the other Prophets of old.” After a pause, Jesus asks the Twelve, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter in his usual, brassy manner blurts out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus points out that Peter has been listening to the Father and that the Father has revealed that Jesus is the Anointed One – the Messiah. But there is a problem, and that we will cover next week. For now, let us remember that the Twelve have a general understanding of what they think Jesus is all about, in terms of who and what the Messiah is. Jesus is going to have to help them unlearn this thinking. Peter and the other disciples have accepted who Jesus and this has not been thought up by flesh and blood. The Twelve know that Jesus is the Messiah is a revelation from God and the Father himself has made this known. This confession is the beginning of a revolution and a transformation that will make this world a different place.

And more than this, Jesus is declared to be the Son of the living God. Caesarea was home to many monuments, temples and statues devoted to different gods. The God that is declared in this confession is not a god made of stone or wood. This God is a living spirit. Having faith in this God, means that you have considered who he is and completely given yourself over to him; you have completely turned your life over and have entrusted it to God. This is what it means to have Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.

So how do we live this out on a day to day basis? Our Epistle Lesson (Romans 12.1-8) can help with that. Because Jesus has died for us, we are called to live in him. We are to make our lives living sacrifices to God. If our lives are sustained by God, they become more and more like his – sustained by his presence and will. We offer to him, as believers, lives that have been redeemed by Christ. We live in Christ to give praise to God and witness to the world that Christ is Lord. We are to learn to live a faithful, fruitful life not to perfection – that is God’s work in us. We are called to allow God to transform our lives in the midst of the fact that world is going to try to do its best to shove you into its mold. We are encourage to live our lives in such away as to have them become liturgy or acts of worship to God.

True worship is offered when you hold nothing back. You give yourself totally and utterly to God, warts and all. The spiritually dead and the physically dead cannot do what we can – live and worship as living sacrifices.

Who do we say that Jesus is? Through our worship and the witness of our lives who are we saying that Jesus is? We exist as a community, as the People of God in this place, to proclaim Christ crucified and risen from the dead. We exist solely for the purpose, as Archbishop Cosmo de Lang (Archbishop of Canterbury) once put it, to draw in all those who do not yet belong to the fellowship of the Church into our membership. Are we doing that and how are we doing that? How are we proclaiming Jesus as Lord in our worship and in our witness of our everyday life? How does our liturgy leave the building and become worship outside the walls?

God is calling us to move with him in to the world to make Christ known as Lord. Will we confess to this town who he is?


Friday, August 18, 2017

Crumbs for Mercy and Grace

The Gospel this week Matthew 15.10-28 is a tale about traditions and what should be kept and not kept. For example, The Pharisees come to Jesus  in the “near North” of Israel from Jerusalem to confront him about the kind of community that he is building and in particular,, to confront him about his allowing his disciples to be ritually impure because they did not wash their hands at meal times.

The Pharisees were for the most part, zealous for the traditions of Moses in ways that others were not. They spent much time studying the Torah (the Law) and provide rules for Levitical purity and holiness and thereby build a truly Jewish nation that was devoted to God and unstained by the world. Much of this was rejected by the ruling class, the Sadducees as an unnecessary innovation. And not every Pharisee followed this either. It is though by scholars that there was a group within Pharisaic Judaism that practiced this but it was not universal.

Jesus confronts his accusers of being hypocritical or of play acting at things because the words of their lips do not match what they believe in their hearts. It reminds us if the fact that as we think in our hearts, so are we. On hearing this, as the Pharisees are walking away, the Twelve question Jesus about his response by asking, “Do you know that you made them mad?” and are not reassured by the response – “Yup”.

Out of this moment Jesus and the Twelve move North and West to the area around Tyre and Sidon – Lebanon. Jesus moves to areas where such people would be loathed to go to have more time with his disciples, to teach, to test and to encourage them in their faith. This is when they are interrupted by a local woman – a Canaanite woman with whom no self respecting Jew would associate with. All this woman had to go with was her faith in what Jesus could do and her persistence for the sake of her daughter at home.

Jesus first ignores the woman and her pesky request for help for her daughter. Seeing that Jesus is ignoring her, the Twelve insist that Jesus chase her off. So Jesus, following that attitude, challenges and draws out the woman’s faith. He is a harsh way confronts the unnamed woman with what people would expect from a self respecting Jew would say: I am looking for God’s people and I am to minister to them, not for people like you.

The woman responds with the fact that even the house dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. The dogs live on what little they can find. She is willing to do the same, with whatever Jesus will offer and will do. Because of her trust and faith in Jesus, she not only receives mercy for herself but at the same time has her daughter rescued from evil and that also happens immediately. There is not only healing and mercy there is also peace and grace for them and the family and for the wider community.

It might be important also to consider the fact that the mother made her request from a position of abasement and worship – on her knees. She humbled herself and persisted in her request. In that moment things changed for her and her community. Real change – transformation – happens as we learn to enter into God’s presence and are shaped by his power and glory for ministry in this world.

Remember that faith, where the Bible is concerned, is about being persuaded that you know the Truth. Faith of all kinds in our modern world has become about whether or not you can have the strength to believe that you believe. Faith becomes a psychological condition rather than a trust in the God of the Scriptures, who has and is acting to bring healing and wholeness to this world in and through Christ. Many are struggling as they watch the structures of the Church crumbling, wondering about what to do. We need to be like the woman in the Gospel and pursue the needs of those around us and the welfare of the cities and towns which we inhabit. We lack confidence in our God and because of that we are afraid to boldly proclaim what God has done.

May God grant us the grace to recover our faith and that in that faith we would boldly proclaim Christ and the coming kingdom of heaven.