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?