Who is Jesus?
The Son of Man, the Son of God, the Son of Mary and Joseph, the Messiah, our brother, the second person of the Trinity, a healer, a teacher, a travelling preacher, an exorcist, a servant, a master, a rabbi, a good man, an obedient son, one who responds to faith, one who trusts God, one who obeys God, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, a man in the type of Moses, a Jew, one who welcomes the marginalized, the poor, women, children, tax collectors, lepers, a historical man, divine, human, a man of compassion, our savior, one who prays, …
Over the past couple years we have been intentionally learning through our Gospel readings who Jesus is and through Jesus who God is. In today’s reading from Matthew Jesus asks his disciples that very question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” It is interesting to note that in Mark Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” Matthew has Jesus calling himself the “Son of Man” interchangeably with “I” which is confirmed when in Matthew Jesus repeats the question to his disciples and asks, “But who do you say that I am?” In calling Jesus “the Son of Man” Matthew is saying that Jesus is a human-being and that he is talking about Jesus’ earthly ministry and probably foreshadowing Jesus’ future role as judge after his resurrection.
People are wondering if Jesus is the return of John the Baptist from the dead or perhaps Elijah who it was believed would return before the Messiah appeared or if Jesus is a prophet, but Simon Peter declares that “[Jesus is] the Messiah, the Son of the living God”, much more than a prophet. Jesus agrees that this is true and asserts that this was revealed to Peter by God and not by a mere human-being. Jesus then tells his disciples not to repeat this to any one because they cannot fully understand what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God until after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
In the following chapter in Matthew we have the story of the transfiguration which we heard about earlier this month. At the transfiguration, God confirms that Jesus is the Son of God when, “from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”” just as the voice from heaven did at Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan. Following Jesus’ baptism the devil challenges Jesus’ belief that he is the Son of God when the devil says “IF you are the Son of God”, but Jesus trusts God and believes in his mission.
When Jesus is crucified and hanging on the cross he is taunted and mocked, how can he save others when he cannot save himself?
“Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’”” MT 27:38-44
Jesus is vindicated with his resurrection. God supports Jesus. Jesus speaks for God. Jesus reveals God. Jesus is following God’s will even if the people do not understand or believe it to be so. By the end of the Gospel according to Matthew Jesus has been given full authority in heaven and on earth by God and identifies himself with God commanding the disciples to go to all the world teaching them all that they have learned and baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” MT 28:18-20
While Jesus’ mission was to the lost sheep of Israel as we learned last week with the story of the Canaanite woman, the disciples’ mission now is to all nations. And so we believe the disciples’ mission is now our mission, to go to all people sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, teaching them all things as we have been taught and baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit as we promise in “The Baptismal Covenant”.
Turning to page 304, let us say together “The Baptismal Covenant”…
In Matthew Chapter 14 Jesus has learned that John the Baptist has been beheaded by King Herod and desires to withdraw from the crowds to a deserted place. When his boat arrives at his destination he finds that the crowds have arrived ahead of him. Jesus is tired. Jesus is grieving the death of John and needs time alone to rest, to grieve, to pray, to consider what this means for him and his ministry, but Jesus postpones his needs and attends to the needs of the people first, healing their sick and feeding the 5,000. When all are fed Jesus sends his disciples away in the boat to the other side of the lake, dismisses the crowd and goes up the mountain by himself to pray.
Taking time to rest and to pray, to spend time with God is important even for Jesus. I am looking forward to spending a quiet week when I return to St. Joseph with no scheduled meetings or activities. I have also scheduled a five day retreat for the first week in November. Are you taking your Sabbath? Are you taking your vacation time? Are you taking time to rest, to be with your family, to be with God? Are you taking time to just be? I am as guilty as anyone of being busy “doing”, but it is important to be “being” as well. This week Albion College and Purdue Northwest professors will return to prepare for classes next week. Students will move into their dorms. I pray you have had a restful summer. As classes begin, take time for Sabbath, take time each day to rest, to pray, to just be.
Meanwhile back in this morning’s gospel story, the disciples are contending with a headwind which is making their progress across the lake slow and difficult. Perhaps they are proceeding by tacking, following a zigzag path across the lake. Several of them are fishermen so they know how to handle the boat and cross the lake. As they work they see Jesus walking towards them on the water and they are terrified! What can this mean? Is it a ghost? Imagine what you would think if you were out in the middle of a lake and looking up you saw someone walking towards you on the water. Jesus perceiving their fear, calls out saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” I don’t know about you, but I would not feel any less afraid after being told this. Glen is a pretty amazing guy, but if I was out in the middle of Lake Michigan in choppy water and I saw Glen walking across the water towards me I would also be terrified. If Glen waved and said, “don’t worry, it’s just me, I will join you shortly”, I would not feel better. I would not believe it was Glen. I can just hear Peter saying, “Yeah, right, if it is Jesus then command me to get out of the boat and join you!” And Jesus does. Bless his heart, Peter climbs out of the boat and walks on the water towards Jesus. Believe you me; I would NEVER have gotten out of that boat. I have to admit though that if I had, I would have found it pretty exciting to be able to walk on the water, to feel the wind at my back and the water between my toes, the waves hitting my knees, my backside and then reality would break through. What do I think I am doing, I cannot walk on water and I would sink into the lake. Peter calls out and Jesus grabs him by the arm and pulls Peter out of the water and into the boat and the winds die down and the Sea of Galilee becomes calm. And Jesus says to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Why does Matthew tell this story? Why does he have Jesus walk on the water? Why does he have Peter walk on the water? The other gospel stories do not have Peter climb out of the boat and walk on the water so why does Matthew? Verse 33 gives us the answer, “And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
I don’t know if Peter really climbed out of the boat and walked on water. I don’t even know if Jesus walked on water, but IF Jesus walked on water he can be no ordinary man. Ducks and geese float on water and paddle across the surface. Some people have great fun windsurfing, standing on a floating board and moving swiftly along the water’s surface, but even they would not step off the board and expect to continue standing on the water. Matthew is telling us that Jesus is divine, that Jesus is the Son of God. Furthermore, Matthew is saying that if we have faith, that if we trust in Jesus and God then we too will be able to do amazing things.
I am proud of St. James’ and all that we are doing in Albion. You have grasped Presiding Bishop Michael Curries’ request for us to step out of the church and into our community of Albion and run with it. We cannot be sure of how we will be taken. There will be those who question our motives, who doubt that this is what God asks of us, but I say trust that God is with us. The Albion Recreation Department came to us and asked if we would work with them to provide a literacy program for the Peapods and we were successful. We put out a feeler inquiring if there was any interest in working together for Albion Community Gardens and the response was immediate and continuous. The Bishop is very pleased with what we have been able to accomplish in such a short time. Someone from the Eastern Diocese of Michigan congratulated us yesterday for receiving the UTO grant for our tractor.
I believe that God is with us in all that we do. This does not mean that we won’t have troubles and storms in our lives. We will. Some of us will still have diagnoses of cancer, of congestive heart failure, of COPD, cataracts and Alzheimer Dementia. Some of us will have difficult times in our jobs, with unemployment, with financial difficulties. Some of us will have troubles in our families and our marriages, with alcohol and drugs, with bullying and abuse, but we can trust that God is with us in the midst of our troubles. If we call out for help, we can trust that God is already there walking with us in the midst of our sorrows, perhaps even reaching out his arms to carry us through the worst of the storm.
Have faith; trust God to be with us as we jump out of the safety of this ship and into the stormy seas of life. The winds will blow, the waters may be rough but we can trust that God is with us. That is why we plant the seeds of love, the seeds of the Kingdom of God. We are growing relationships, community, and friendships so that in the storms of life our neighbors will also know that they are not alone, that their neighbors walk with them, that God walks with them. Amen.
The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ August 6, 2017
Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36
The Transformation that Occurs with an Encounter with God
This is Transfiguration Day when we are shown Jesus’ divinity, Jesus is approved by God. This morning’s story is similar to the theophany or manifestation of God that we read about at Jesus’ Baptism.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” (LK 3:21-22)
Again we have the voice from heaven, but the message is for Jesus, “with you I am well pleased.” Jesus baptism is at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and it will be reassuring and comforting for Jesus to be reminded, to be told that he is God’s beloved son in whom God is well pleased. We want to please our own parents. We wanted to know that they love us and are proud of us, that they approve of us and accept us as we are.
In this morning’s gospel story, Jesus is nearing the end of his ministry, he is on his way to Jerusalem where he knows that he will be arrested and crucified. We are told, “a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”” (LK 9:34-35) Again we have the voice from heaven, but this time it is for the benefit of Peter, John and James. They are told that Jesus is God’s beloved Son, God’s chosen one and that they are to listen to him. It would be comforting for the disciples to remember hearing God’s voice in the days and weeks ahead, that Jesus is the Chosen one of God.
Luke is also drawing similarities between Jesus and Moses. Moses was told to come to the mountain with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel. Jesus also goes up the mountain with three men Peter, John and James. When Moses went to the mountain a cloud descended and Moses waited six days before God spoke to him. We are told Jesus waited eight days after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah before Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up the mountain. Peter, John and James are very tired, but unlike the time in Gethsemane they do not fall asleep and they are witnesses to what happens. With three witnesses there should be no doubt as to the truth of their story.
Luke portrays Jesus as praying before significant events and today’s story is no exception. As Jesus prayed his face changed and even his clothes shone brightly. In our reading from Exodus we are told that when Moses descended the mountain his face was glowing from his encounter with God. An encounter with God is transforming we are left changed. Jesus’ transfiguration is like that after Jesus’ resurrection when his appearance is changed and his disciples do not initially recognize him, Jesus can walk through locked doors and can appear and disappear instantly, when Jesus appears in his full glory.
Suddenly two men, Moses and Elijah, appear with Jesus. There is life beyond this life. Moses represents the law and Elijah represents the prophets. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, Jesus is the promised one. The voice from the cloud tells the disciples to listen to Jesus that he is God’s chosen one, so as they would listen to Moses and Elijah, they should also listen to Jesus. Jesus is a peer with Moses and Elijah and perhaps even raised above them.
So who is Jesus? Jesus is the Son of God, God’s chosen one, the beloved one. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophet. Jesus is a great prophet like Elijah. Jesus is divine and the glory of God shines forth from Jesus. God is well pleased with Jesus and Jesus does the will of God. The Pharisees and Scribes ask where Jesus gets his authority and these stories tell us that Jesus gets his authority from God. When Jesus is arrested, crucified and dies on the cross, Jesus is vindicated when God raises him from the dead three days later at his resurrection. Many great minds have struggled with this question of who Jesus is and what his relationship with God is. Is Jesus God? Was Jesus a man adopted by God? Was Jesus God in the disguise of a man? Was Jesus human? Was Jesus divine? The Nicene Creed and the doctrine of the Trinity grew out of this struggle to understand who Jesus was.
So what does the story of the transfiguration mean for us today? It tells us that Jesus was divine and had the full support of God, that we can and should trust Jesus and his teachings. It tells us that an encounter with God will leave us transformed, changed forever.
Last Wednesday Bishop Whayne Hougland came to Albion to bless the Albion Community Gardens and our new tractor. Many people including the Albion City Manager and the County Commissioner came to celebrate with us. We walked around the Jefferson Garden and visited the Albion & Erie and Center & Pearl Gardens. We visited the Food Hub and the Farmers’ Market. This is a big deal! The bishop is very pleased with what we are doing here in Albion. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has asked us to walk out of our churches and into our communities and we are doing it. We are working with the community of Albion. For the Reading Camp we work with the Albion Public Library, Albion College and the Albion Fellows, and the Albion Recreation Department. For the Albion Community Gardens we are working with the Albion City Council, the Albion Community Foundation, the United Thank Offering, the Diocese, Albion College, Dr. Trisha Franzen, Denise Porter, Dr. Sheryl Mitchell, Mayor Garrett Brown, Vision of Life, Mrs. Vera Simpson, Mr. Willie Tabb, Ms. Dorothy Feltner and the AmeriCorps Vista volunteers, Dr. Andrew French, gardeners Randy and Lisa, Caitlyn Bernard and the Albion Food Hub, Reverend David Habicht and the Presbyterian Prison Ministry and oh so many other people. We are not just growing fruits and vegetables; we are growing relationships, friendships, community. This is what it means to be the church in the world, to be transformed by an encounter with God. This is what it means to look beyond race, gender, socio-economic status and be brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God, to know that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God. This is what it means to be welcoming of all people who can all take a role building a fence, pulling weeds, laying mulch, teaching children to plant a garden with vegetables and flowers, obtaining agreements for access to water, painting, making signs, picking ripe tomatoes and eating them and delivering them to our neighbors. This is what it looks like to break down the walls between “us” and “them”. This is what it looks like to love our neighbor. This is what the Kingdom of God looks like, insidiously infiltrating the community so that the old barriers of race, hate, age, town and gown, male and female, “us” and “them” come crashing down. This is the church, the body of Christ, at work in the world. This is the transformation that occurs with an encounter with God. Amen.