Matthew 16: 13 – 20
Today we face what is probably the most fundamental question of all scripture and probably every faith journey. Jesus asked his disciples: ‘Just who do you say I am?’ Those disciples would have had a pretty good idea who ‘Jesus’ was. They’d been with him these past 3 years: hearing him preach, teach, watched him heal, perform miracles. They’d eaten with him, slept alongside him, walked many many miles together with him. They’d probably argued with him, laughed and cried with him. Celebrated together, been disappointed together. They knew who the historical Jesus was, but what startled Jesus most was when Simon named him ALSO as being the Christ. TheMessiah. Son of the Living God! This was a whole new designation! Much more than just their beloved Rabbi, Simon was pronouncing Jesus to be something he’d profess again on the Day of Pentecost[i] in his famous sermon on the southern steps of the temple, the day some 3000 people accepted his message and were added to their number.
Richard Rohr speaks of ‘Christ’ being so much more than simply Jesus’ surname. He is THE Christ. Because we put them together, we’ve lost much of the dialectical message that is maintained by distinguishing them…’ There’s something SO profound in the dynamic they represent: both Jesus, and the Christ!
We all know how people are struggling with religion in a world where there is already so much polarity, and where Christianity along with many other religious faith systems is increasingly seen as being even more polarizing, almost sectarian, cultic, unhelpful, as opposed to being the enormously unifying movement that God has always, and still always intends our faith to be.
The problem is how we’ve made following Jesus or Mohammed, or the Buddha, or whatever, into a brand… Something that distinguishes and divides rather than include, unify and unites. Is it any wonder that so many good, open-minded, forward-thinking people are switched off by that kind of exclusive religiosity? Some would push that narrative even further by citing God’s separation of sheep to be welcomed & goats to be rejected[ii] but what they’d be missing is that instead of emphasizing ultimate separation, surely what Jesus was calling us mostly to notice is how ‘whatever we do to the least of those among us we do also to him.…’
That’s how he summed it up! That parable isn’t nearly so much about separation as it is about a call to the unity of faithful action…
For those of us who have been switched off by understanding Christianity to be a closed & exclusive society of Jesus whose main job is simply to get converts, get people to become like us – man! – there is wonderfully liberating good news here. We have the risen Jesus we worship being extolled as ‘The Christ’.
Our faith as Christians is still always going to be deeply biblical, and based on the life and teachings of Jesus. but we must also ‘get’ how our most faithful living has been blown open by the now everywhere presence of the risen Christ! Our trying to make – or to keep – Christ as just ‘ours’, bound to whatever cultural, political, spiritual even religious ideology that we may currently have going on is, well, both repulsive and idolatrous – because what we are called to be doing as Christ followers is always so much more all-embracing/inclusive than that!
We are called to live lives that celebrate the Sacred who, in Christ, is now revealed as being at the very heart of everything within the universe. AND THAT’S IT! What a relief. What a liberation! The movement is from a faith that was once so carefully ordered around the smallness of what we’ve believed following Jesus is, to being disordered by this growing sense of how the risen Christ is surely so much more than for just us – so much wider, more loving, more inclusive, better, deeper…, and then, eventually our faith is re-ordered to a wide-open appreciation of God’s in-Christ holiness, everywhere!
The goal of following the risen Christ is not the making of converts (& growth of our institutions) nearly so much as lives that come to be about our loving embrace of the unity that we have with everyone within all of creation.
As Christians, as followers of the Christ, that matters! Because if that is true, well, then the differences that we thinkare so important – the things that we invariably allow to divide us – aren’t! There is no separation of ‘us’ and ‘them’. It’s all just us – as we are given to begin seeing the Christ we adore in everyone and everywhere.
That is mind-boggling! It’s meant to be, or else we are probably missing something! This is the Good News of the Gospel! All our living needs to be as a consequence of that one beautiful truth: either as we work towards expressing it or as we celebrate it!
This idea of God who, in Christ, is ubiquitously incarnate is not something new, nor something weird, or New Age. Way before even Teilhard de Chardin wrote of it in the early 1900s we have Biblical Paul assuming it in scripture – way before Matthew Mark and Luke even began to write their gospels. In Colossians[iii] he writes of how ‘in him – the Christ – all things hold together.’ We also read of it in the Gospel of John, as well as in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas. For John, Jesus is and always was the Christ, the universal Greek ‘Logos’ who has now become flesh, but who now in Christ is so very much more than what could ever be confined to just one person. Or else what arrogance it would be for him to call himself the ‘way, truth and life’, and that ‘he is the only way to God’[iv] Could any one single person be that? Of course not! It’s only possible as the risen and everywhere present Christ. Jesus’ point is that, as the Christ, he is the holiness of God – wherever we may be blessed to find that – everywhere. Or as in Gospel of Thomas[v]: Lift up the rocks and I am there; split the wood and I am there’. There are many other scriptures[vi] that either explicitly state or imply these same assumptions. How could we miss this?
And so we come back to Jesus’ question of just who do we say he is? Who do you say I am? Its like he is wanting us to look at, but also beyond his historical presence to what he represents universally! Just who does what we say, or how we live our lives say, Jesus Christ actually is – for us? Matthew Fox writes a lot about this – describing the risen Jesus in ‘cosmic’ terms – as what he calls the ‘Cosmic’ Christ – the one whom Richard Rohr later names as the ‘Universal’ Christ. Matthew Fox writes of a time when he was asked ‘who is this Christ, for you? Great question, he writes. Not easily answered. The ‘cosmic’ Christ will never be fully explained… because Christ is not a product of dogma or doctrine; but rather…an experience. Christ is OUR experience of God! (my words). Our experience of Christ is our experience of the light of the divine that we experience in all things, in events, in nature, in people, all kinds, from rocks to animals to oceans, to trees…all our relations.
We bless indigenous communities everywhere for sharing their understanding of all creation as our relatives, based on their understanding of how The Great Spirit – the One whom we call ‘the Christ’ – is and has always been with us all. Thomas Merton writes of Christ as ‘The Blinding one… who speaks to us gently in 10,000 things – who shines not on them but on us from deep within them…’
And Jesus? I love the teaching that reinterprets John 3: 16 ‘For God so loved the world not that God necessarily sent Jesus as God’s only begotten son to be born into the world so much as that God drew God’s only begotten son Jesus to be born out from the world that God had already created, the world where God’s Spirit always already was. And then, in the resurrection of Christ we have God demonstrating by Word and Action what that everywhere presence of holiness is, amongst us.
Jesus is who and what our following Christ must look and sound like! It’s what we are meant to be and to do! In his birthing, living, teaching, dying Jesus revealed the nature of Divine love, and then, in his rising Christ demonstrated how he is now everywhere…
And so, who is Jesus Christ for you? Who do you say I am?
Simon was given to answer this waaaay more fully than even he probably realized, and so came to be called PETER (petros) the rock on which Christ said he would build his church. We are Christ’s church to the extent that we are given to recognize and to respond to Christ’s everywhere risen presence and live lives that demonstrate our faithful response.
What are we to be as we look into this next year and beyond? What is to become of our faith communities? Of this community of Trinity? How we answer the question of who we say Jesus, and who we say the Christ is, is essential to what happens next. Our coming to realize holiness way beyond just what we can see and control in and through this building must still always be what God would use as the very foundation of the confessing community.
Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance… You broke the chains now I can lift my hands…
And now I’m gonna praise you! May our faith lives come truly to be unshackled with Mary Mary in her song. Let’s be freed to experience Christ like never before. May the praises that we bring be in response to what and where we see Christ already busy and leading us to be…
For this would be the air that we breathe…
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[i] Acts 2:36
[ii] Matthew 25
[iii] Colossians 1: 15-20
[iv] John 14
[v] Saying 77: Jesus said, “It is I who am the light (that presides) over all. It is I who am the entirety: it is from me that the entirety has come, and to me that the entirety goes. Split a piece of wood: I am there. Lift a stone, and you (plur.) will find me there.”
[vi] See, for example, Philippians 2:6-11; Romans 8: 14-59; Ephesians 1:13-14; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-18