Proper 16 Year A: Words And Actions

Isaiah 51:1-6
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

Many people have said many things about Jesus, and usually what is said is true: reformer, critic of the status quo, revolutionary, philosopher, kind man, good example, devout and pious prophet. Jesus is all those things (and many more), but the more we get to know him, the harder he is to describe. Maybe the reason for that is because the reality of who Jesus is is so different from our normal experience of others that we just don’t have the words, concepts, or ideas to describe who he really is. In our gospel story this morning, Peter makes an attempt to define Jesus, and he could so only in thoughts with which he was familiar. A “messiah” or “christ” or “anointed one” would have been familiar to Peter as someone who was chosen by God for a special task or kinglike position. “Son of God” would have been a slightly more bizarre concept, but there are hints of the term in the Psalms as someone (once again a royal person) who will carry out justice in God’s name.

We are still trying to say who Jesus is. Maybe one way to express the reality of Jesus is to say that he is the bringer of God’s own life to us – real life – and that all the prophets and teachers in the world can tell us what they think about God, but only in Jesus do we actually experience God. Jesus is God as a human. That description might make some people uncomfortable. Unfortunately, almost every attempt at defining the ultimate reality of Jesus throughout history has made someone uncomfortable, and that leads to refutations and anathemas and councils and more anathemas and sometimes executions and wars. Maybe we should just stop putting so much effort into talking about Jesus, and start living in Jesus, as Paul urges us in our second reading this morning. Theology and Christology are not bad, they can be helpful and good, but they are not the complete story.

Isaiah reminds us in our first reading this morning that God is the one who brings things to fruition, and God is the only stability in the universe. Its all about God. Maybe we can define Jesus only by living in such a way that we show our complete dependance on him rather than on ourselves as the source and sustainer of our lives. Jesus makes it clear in his response to Peter that Jesus builds his church – it is not our construct. Only the church that Jesus builds will stand against the gates of hell. Any facsimile that we try to produce will crumble in that situation. Our desires and wills must be transformed into the desire and will of Jesus in order for us to carry out his work of bringing God’s own life into the world around us. Any time we try to follow our own desire the result is only wheel-spinning.

But maybe we are back now to the beginning of the sermon; in order to know the will and desire of Jesus, we must know who Jesus is. Fortunately, we have the scriptures left to us from the people who saw him closest – we can read and ponder them and compare our findings with others. We also have God’s Holy Spirit in each of us – the Holy Spirit will pray through us and show us more about Jesus if we only give the Spirit room in our lives. We have others in the church around us whom we can observe from their attempts to live in the will of Jesus. We also have the table up here where we gather to be fed by Jesus from his own self. All of these things will teach us more about Jesus and transform our own lives into his, but we must take advantage of the opportunities we have been given – it is our choice. If we do so, then slowly but surely we will know more of and more about Jesus. We may never be able to put what we know into words, but maybe we can put it into actions, and that is what really matters. We don’t have to give up the attempt to theologize (our words can be of great help to others trying to know Jesus), but we do need to make sure that our actions reflect our words. They won’t always, but with God’s help, they will slowly start to match up more and more.
Who do we say that Jesus is? Will we ever fully know, and can we ever fully know? All we can do is our humble best, and allow others to do the same. No one will be completely correct, and we can all learn from each other.   AMEN