SERMON 8/24/14 Church of the Nativity Sarasota, FL
Jesus asked his disciples, “but who do you say that I am?” What an interesting question Our Lord asked. Here are the folks that followed Jesus around, witnessed the miracles, heard the sermons, and listened in on his sparring with Pharisees and scribes. Now, in a city filled with Greco-Roman idols, with images of other gods all around, these fishermen are being asked to proclaim who their rabbi, their travel companion, their whomever, really is to them. Peter did not hesitate, and with over zealous glee, chimed in immediately, like he did on several other occasions, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Sometimes I wish I could have been there to whisper in Peter’s ear, “Don’t speak too quickly Peter, you know that your exuberance will get you in trouble a little later in the story.” When it became difficult for Peter to follow Jesus, when the waves started to toss around him on the sea, when the soldiers were carrying the Master away to his trial and crucifixion, when three times asked if he was a disciple and denied it, Peter really was not ready to back up his exuberant words with actions.
Good old Peter; because of him I too believe that I can be a faithful Jesus follower. He was always the first to proclaim, but first to hesitate and first to fail. That was Peter’s story, and that is probably the story of discipleship for a lot of us. Quick words and clumsy actions; great intentions and run-of-the-mill responses, that all seems to be the plight of the discipleship challenge for many of us; falling short/missing the mark.
Do you every fall short/miss the mark? For me, I can honestly admit that I fail as a disciple more times than I like, but I am so glad that God’s grace is abundant and overflowing. I am so glad that when we fall down along this walk of discipleship, God is quick to forgive, and ready to receive. So, how do we respond to that kind of grace? Well, in loving response to that unmerited, amazing grace, we are called to offer to God a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Unfortunately sometimes , our response, like our brother Peter, can be mere words or alternatively, we might offer up divinely purposeful adoration, or as Paul calls it, “our spiritual worship.”
Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Ask most folks what the word worship means and they may say, “Well that’s what we do down at old St. Swithins on Sunday mornings.” We say the prayers, we sing, we stand, we sit, we kneel; that is worship, or some may call it liturgical calethstenics right?
Webster’s dictionary defines worship as, “extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem.” Let me ask you something, “in your everyday life, what or who is number one; to whom do you offer respect, admiration, or devotion?” Is it a family member, or maybe a hobby, your portfolio, or could it be an addiction, or alternatively, is it truly God?
I wrestle with this Spiritual reflection quite often, “If someone peered into my heart, what does my life of worship show about who Jesus is to me?” “Who do you say that I am,” Jesus asked. Peter responded, “your are the Son of God.” Listen closely to the words. The answer Peter gives sounds a little scientific , somewhat non-committal, and slightly impersonal. What if Peter’s response would have been different? What if his words were more like Thomas’ post-resurrection proclamation, in which Thomas called Jesus, “My Lord and My God,” but that was not Peter. Thomas, on the other hand, with clarity and purpose, declared his intimate connection to the Master, and did not just identify Jesus’ persona.
Let me give you an example. A woman was asked by a friend, “who is that man standing over there near your car?” She responded, ”that is the man with whom I share domicile.” If you listen closely, all you hear is a legalistic statement of fact. There is no emotional connection or relational references made between the woman and the man. Let’s try again. Another friend was asked the same question and her response was a bit different, “That is my dear beloved husband, whom I love and for whom, I would risk my life!” Can you see the difference? The second response is personal, committed, and you know there is deep intimacy shared between these two people.
I wonder if each of us were asked, “Who do you say that Jesus is,” how would our responses compare with Peter’s and Thomas’s? Think about this statistic for a moment , in our culture today, nearly 20% of the American population is irreligious. One fifth of Americans have no affiliation with a religious group at all. When this growing group looks at we Christians, I wonder if they ask, “Who do they say this Jesus they follow, really is in their lives?” Maybe they ask, “How does Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection have any impact on their lives at all ?” Maybe these folks question whether our actions, our witness, and our lives, show that we are committed followers, or we are mere sideline fans of the Master. Maybe by our ministry, our work in the local community, our love for the outcast and downtrodden, or our stand on social justice issues, the religiously unaffiliated will understand that we have a deep, intimate, loving, connection to the Master of our lives, Jesus Christ.
Every day, every moment, and every nuance of our life is an expression of worship to God. More than our liturgical rituals on Sunday, our lives of worship, extends to how we treat the other, and how we show our esteem to God. Worship is not an act of persuasion by which, we try to sway God’s favor towards us. Remember, God’s grace flows abundantly, and not because we deserve it or we have earned it, but because grace is a free gift. Worship is a response to grace. Our lives are a response to grace.
Consider your loving response to God. Try this little exercise sometime in a quiet moment this afternoon. Imagine Jesus walking beside you, and as he is pointing out to you, folks around you for whom, you are the only gospel they will ever see, he stops for a moment, places his arm around you and with loving kindness and mercy asks, “Who is it, that you will say, that I am today?”