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Sunday, August 24, 2014

But, who do you say that I am?


St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Laurel, DE
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton
Proper 16 A – Track 2
Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

So, did you hear the story about the time Jesus decided to give St. Peter a day off from welcoming everyone at the Pearly Gates?

Peter was really glad to have some time for himself. He called together a few of his old buddies– Andrew, James and John (AKA the "Sons of Thunder"), Mark, that wild man, John the Baptist and even Judas (after all, to err is human, to forgive is divine). 

They made some sandwiches, packed a few cold brewskies, and they all went fishing out on the boat, just like the old days. They got up real early and tiptoed past St. Paul’s room so as not to awaken him. It wasn’t that he wasn’t one of the original twelve. He was just way too serious to enjoy a fishing trip with the boys. Always spouting theology. He could be such a downer!

 As for Jesus, he was really excited to have a change in duties for the day.  His mother said she’d cover the baptisms and salvation by faith for the day, and a few extra angels were placed on prayer duty. Jesus was just excited to be practicing hospitality again.

Just as the Pearly Gates opened, Jesus saw three clergy making their way up the streets lined in gold: A Roman Catholic priest, a Lutheran pastor, and an Episcopal priest. (Stop me if you've heard this before.)

Jesus greeted the Roman Catholic priest and said, “Welcome! Yes, it’s me! Jesus. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” And, the RC priest smiled broadly and was well pleased. 

“Tell me,” said Jesus, “who do you say that I am?”

The RC priest looked startled and said, “Well, the Pope says . . ..  . .”

And, Jesus said, “Yes, yes, I know what the Pope says about me. I know what ALL the Popes have said about me. Never mind. Come in, come in. Welcome!”

Then, the Lutheran pastor came forward. “Welcome,” said Jesus. Then, putting his arm around the pastor, he asked, “Tell me, who do you say that I am?”

The Lutheran pastor looked a bit bewildered and said, “Well, the Bible says . . .. “

And Jesus, a bit disappointed said, “Yes, yes, I know what the Bible says. Never mind. Come in, come in. Welcome!”

Then, the Episcopal priest came forward. Again, Jesus greeted him warmly, put his arm around him and asked, “Tell me, who do you say that I am?”

The Episcopal priest smiled broadly and said, “Why, you are the Christ! The living Son of the eternal Triune God! You are the Prince of Peace and The Messiah! You are the King of King and Lord of Lords!”

Jesus smiled a dazzling smile, blushed a bit, and said, “Yes, you are absolutely correct.”

The Episcopal priest looked a bit troubled and said, “Then again, others say . . . . .”.

There’s a lot of truth in that self-effacing humor, and here’s the thing: I don’t think it’s necessarily bad. It’s important to know what you think about Jesus.  It’s also very important to be mindful of and respect what others believe about Jesus.

A few years ago, I did some post-doctoral work as a Proctor Scholar at The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. I took a course with Dr. Patrick Cheng entitled “Christology” which covered what different people have thought and think about Jesus. 

We spent the entire semester examining the question, “Who do YOU say that I am?”.

We discovered that the understanding of Jesus changes a bit when He is seen through various cultural and ethnic and racial lenses. For the sake of brevity, I’ll give you three examples. 

For many in the variety of the Hispanic communities, Jesus is Liberator, which lays the foundation for Liberation Theology and the necessity of praxis, putting one’s faith into action – including political action – and always reflecting on thought and action in base communities. 

For many in the varieties of Asian communities, Christ is universal but Jesus is particular, His cross seen as the lotus. His full humanity and divinity seen in the Yin-Yang. 

For Africans, Jesus is the Healer, but He is also seen as the One who has power over oppression and spiritual dominion.

There’s more to it than that and there are many more examples from other cultures and even variations based on gender, but I’ll leave that to whet your curiosity.

The point of this morning’s Gospel, however, is not what others think about Jesus. The disciples easily recounted to Jesus that others thought of him as "John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

 Jesus did not seem impressed with any of that. 

He wanted to know: What do YOU believe about Jesus?

In our baptismal covenant, we promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons", loving our neighbor as ourselves, and to “respect the dignity of every human being”. St. Paul reminds us “do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

I’ve been thinking about all these things as I’ve considered finding the face of Jesus in all of the images that have been coming to us out of Ferguson, MO. Are we able to see the face of Jesus in Michael Brown, the unarmed, 17 year old Black man whose last words have become part of a chant of those who protest his death, “Hands up. Don’t shoot.”

Some of us are able to see the face of Jesus in the protesters who demand answers to their questions and the speedy administration of justice.   

But, can we also see the face of Jesus in those who take their anger about the daily injustices they live with and protest by looting stores – taking things they can’t afford because, if they make minimum wage it is not a living wage?

Can we see in their faces the angry face of Jesus turning over tables?

Can we see the face of Jesus in the police and national guardsmen who carry their rifles not on their shoulders to use if necessary but pointed at the unarmed crowds, ready to shoot at any infraction? 

Can we see the face of Jesus in the fear those whose job it is to "protect and serve” and “keep the peace”, but dressed for warfare and undermined by a military posture? 

The prophet Isaiah calls us to “look to the rocks from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug,” as well as to “lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath.”

That was good advice for the people to whom Isaiah first spoke these words as they are for us today.  Some of us have an idea of what it means to be Christian, but I wonder if we are able to say who Jesus is, for us, in our day and our time.

Yes, Jesus is as St. Peter says, “The Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” but who is he for YOU? Look to the rock from which you were hewn. How does who you are, and where you come from - your culture and ethnicity - influence your understanding of Jesus?   

When you lift up your eyes to the heavens and look at the earth beneath, where do you see Jesus today? How is Jesus manifested in your life, in your neighborhood, in the work that you do, in the world in which you live? 

As you move through these difficult and dark days: Wars and rumors of wars in Gaza, Ukraine, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Ferguson, MO; the rise of ISIS in the Middle East; the barbaric beheading of an American journalist; the plague of Ebola in West Africa; where do you see the hand of God?   

Where do you see the unconditional love of Jesus?

I believe that we will all, one day and in God’s good time, get to heaven. All. Not some. All. 

Maybe you’ll arrive on St. Peter’s day off, and Jesus will be there, waiting to greet you warmly as you pass through the Pearly Gates to receive your eternal reward.

If Jesus asks you, “Who do you say that I am?” How will you answer? What will you say? 

Not that it will make a real difference, because I believe with all my heart that you’ll be welcomed into heaven, no matter what.   

As actress Elaine Stritch says, “So much of life is so unfair. I believe someone’s got to play fair at the end.” As a Hospice Chaplain, I believe that, too.

It’s not for heaven’s sake that we need to answer the question. It’s for Christ’s sake – the Christ that lives in me, and the Christ that lives in you.  

Because, as Jesus reminds us in this morning’s Gospel, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

So, with that thought in mind, who do you say Jesus is? 

Amen.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Not that it will make a real difference, because I believe with all my heart that you’ll be welcomed into heaven, no matter what."

Contrary to the preaching of Christ and the unbroken teaching of the Church, from beginning to recently. Any evidence besides your self-assertion that this is true?

xyMichael

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, Hi, Michael.

Here's the thing: Belief is a choice. You choose to believe what you believe. You don't have to believe what I believe. I don't have to believe what you believe. It's your choice. My choice.

That's because God gave us (1) intellect (2) free will. And, Jesus gave us (3) grace when we fail and (4) The Holy Spirit gives us guidance and hope.

No gift of humility. That's something you have to work for. I recommend it highly.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MarkBrunson said...

Well answered to Michael, Elizabeth. So many conservatives want to be "special," "better," "greater." They posit a loving God, then go on to do everything they can to deny it.

Like you, I believe all will be welcomed - but many will make their own Hell in Heaven. Especially when they find the wrong sort there.

Who is Jesus to me? The First. The Guide. The Model. The True Awakened One. Otherwise, why would He have told us that we would do as He had and even greater?

Anonymous said...

"Belief is a choice." Yes, but you preached this from a presumably Christian pulpit. If you were some poorly catechized blogger typing away in obscurity, that's one thing. But here it is a message delivered as part of worship in a Christian community.

While you speak of intellect, your intellect is fully aware that universal salvation has been condemned by Christians everywhere for the vast majority of our history. And yet you freely choose to reject that datum and preach a gospel of your own invention.

"The Holy Spirit gave us guidance and hope." True, but He did not give each and every one of us infused knowledge of the Last Things. For those, we are primarily reliant on Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Lord Jesus Himself. And the Gospels are far from universalist, as you well know.

"No gift of humility." That's rich coming from someone who apparently considers herself a superior source of divine revelation than the Holy Bible and preaches accordingly.

xyMichael

Anonymous said...

"No gift of humility." That's rich coming from someone who has apparently decided that her subjective guesses about the afterlife trump the authority of Sacred Scripture and the recorded preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

It's one thing if you were some obscure New Agey blogger nobody reads. But this heretical universalism being expressed at a pulpit in the context of Christian worship: just wow.

xyMichael

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Mark,

He's at it again. See below. Not a shred of humility in that man. His way or the highway.

Le sigh. Jesus loves him, anyway. They'll have a good laugh together when they get to heaven. Yes, even Michael will get into heaven. He's not surprised about that. He WILL be surprised to see the rest of us there. And then, we'll ALL join Jesus in a hearty laugh.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael, Michael, Michael,

Take a breath, honey.

It's going to be all right. Really. Just because you choose to believe a certain interpretation of scripture doesn't make it right. I mean, for thousands of years, people believed what the bible says: that the world is flat, that left handed people are sinister, that people with seizure disorder are possessed by demons, and women with their menses were unclean, and men who masturbate would go to hell for "wasting seed" and God would punish anyone who ate shellfish or pork or got a tattoo or collected interest from the bank or ate the grain that came from the outer edges of the field.

That's not all of the things people once believed that are in the bible, but some people still choose to believe that stuff, contrary to evidence right in front of their noses.

And, you know what? Jesus loves them, anyway. They are absolutely entitled to believe whatever they want to believe. To use their intellect or not.

But, if you choose to elevate the beliefs you have chosen over the beliefs I have chosen, you have absolutely no evidence to prove your claim except to say that lots of people have believed what you've believed, even though most of those people are no longer living.

And, well, that just makes you arrogant. It also doesn't do much to prove that you are using the intellect God gave you. And, you know, I really do think that pisses God off.

I can't prove that, of course. But, the next time there's a "natural disaster" like a flood or a hurricane, you go ahead and choose to believe that God is punishing us for homosexuality or abortion or whatever it is you believe. And, and I'll giggle thinking that God is pissed off b/c you believe that. And, when we both get to heaven, we'll all have a good laugh with Jesus about all this stuff.

Yes, Michael, I'll see you in heaven. I choose to believe that Jesus loves me and, for some reason absolutely unknown to me, Jesus loves you, too.

Have a GREAT day!

MarkBrunson said...

Oh, I knew he would. Pity him. It must be terrible to believe the entire world is in some vast conspiracy against you, personally, because you are God's ONE! TRUE! Voice (pat.pend. all rights reserved).

If Hell is aloneness, then Michael is in a particularly cold one. No Living God, a world against him, his only companions paper wrapped in dead animal skin, and his own hate and fear.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark,

I know. As insufferable as he is when he visits my blog, imagine being related to him and having to live with him! Or being a member in his church! It's such a tedious responsibility to be right ALL the time and know ALL the answers.

But, I guess, someone has to do it. In that way, Michael is doing us a service, I suppose. See? That way, neither you nor I don't have to do it. He's doing it for us.


Le sigh.

Bex said...

I hope you guys never encounter "Atheist Max" who hogs the comments at Religion News Service. He makes Michael look like the soul of reason.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Why on earth would someone named "Atheist Mark" make any comment on a Religious New Service site?

Never mind. Probably for the same reason Michael comes here, reads what I have to say and then leaves a comment.

Arrogance. Sheer arrogance.

Anonymous said...

"Arrogance. Sheer arrogance."

Let's see. Jesus spoke about Hell how many times? Quite a few.

Jesus spoke about everybody going to Heaven how many times? Zero.

What percentage of Christians have held, or currently hold, to the existence of Hell? Very high.

What percentage of Christians have believed in a human-free Hell? A very small percentage. Those churches foolish enough to believe the balderdash are currently dying, TEC among them. God is not mocked.

XY Michael

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

So, Michael,

The bible says that the world is flat. Jesus said that how many times? None. And yet, the bible still says that the world is flat. Neither Jesus nor any of his disciples said anything to contradict that belief. No, not one. And, how many people for how many centuries believed that? Tons.

Does that mean that the world is flat? Absolutely not. And yet, there are still those in the world who believe that the earth was created in six days and that there were dinosaurs roaming the earth right along side Jesus. Why? Because it says so, right there in the Bible.

Jesus also had some pretty strong things to say about divorce and remarriage. Does YOUR church allow divorce and remarriage? Why yes, yes, as a matter of fact, it does. Even though Jesus was pretty clear about being four-square agin' it.

And, did Jesus ever say a mumblin' word about homosexuality? Nosireebob. No, he absolutely did not. But, we all know what YOU think about homosexuality, Michael.

So, while you pick and choose, cafeteria style, what you choose to believe, you'll excuse me if I return to my original argument: Belief is a choice. Faith is a gift.

Here's where we agree, Michael: God is not mocked.

I'd be real careful, if I were you.

George Waite said...

Religion is pitiful. It's most common in backwards, dysfunctional societies.
You can't prove any of it. The Fundiegelicals and the "Progressives" are mirror images of each other.

Anonymous said...

"The bible says that the world is flat." Book, chapter, and verse please.

"Does YOUR church allow divorce and remarriage? Why yes, yes, as a matter of fact, it does." Hmm, that's strange. I was just speaking with a parishioner this past weekend, dealing with the horrible pastoral case of her husband who left their marriage after 20+ years. Right now, it certainly doesn't seem like she has strong grounds for annulment, so we discussed the difficult future she is now facing. She certainly wasn't planning on living a sexless life or lacking a life partner for the rest of her life and yet, that is the prospect she is facing. Remarrying was not part of our discussion.

"And, did Jesus ever say a mumblin' word about homosexuality? Nosireebob. No, he absolutely did not."

Nor did he need to, the Jews among whom He ministered understanding quite well the sinful nature of sexually active SS activity. He also didn't speak about child slavery and idolatry (in the classic sense). These didn't exist in his pastoral context.

This SS activity certainly existed in St. Paul's context, which is why the Holy Spirit inspired him to write what he does in Romans and elsewhere.


xyMichael

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, George. Trolling again, I see. Believing as you do, why do you even bother? Never mind. Don't answer that. I think I know.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael,

1. Read Genesis. Read the history of the R.C.C. Read how they just recently apologized to Galileo because he said the earth wasn't flat. (Do try to keep up.)

2. If you aren't talking annulment for that woman whose husband of 20 years left her, you are an inordinately cruel man for whom the word "Pastoral" has absolutely no application.

3. Re: The silence of Jesus regarding homosexuality: So you, in your arrogance say. Maybe he said nothing because he knew that what was being condemned was heterosexual men using children (Temple prostitutes) for their own sexual gratification and that it had absolutely nothing to do with two people of the same sex who love one another. I mean, besides the fact that "homosexuality" wasn't a word known in antiquity and didn't show up in biblical translations until the late 1930s.

4. See also: Temple prostitutes. Besides which, if ever there was a sexually conflicted, phobic human being it was St. Paul.

Really, Michael? That's all you got? Just tired, old, worn out, easily disproven assertions? Seriously? Man, it's no fun dealing with amateurs. You make it waaay too easy.

3.

MarkBrunson said...

Ah! I see our sad little Brad is still furiously masturbating to public humiliation. I've never understood getting turned on by appearing to be a clown in public, but . . . there he is, with his relatively new name of George.

As for Michael. Really, Elizabeth, you should be ashamed. A battle of wits with him is like watching you box a toddler! :D

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, Mark,

George (Brad) is so dishonest, he can't even sign his real name. Pity the fool.

And, speaking of which, what really annoys me about Michael, I mean, in addition to all of his fussing and fuming about who gets into heaven (and, isn't that JUST so silly, seeing as no one has ever been and come back to tell us for certain, so he just points to millions of people over thousands of years who have believed whatever the Bible says, even though there's now evidence that much of it is wrong. Le sigh) is that he didn't even appreciate the joke about the Episcopal priest.

I mean, really! His arrogance clouds his ability to think AND laugh and even robs him of the opportunity to take a pot shot against a group of clergy he DETESTS. (I'm thinking he was turned down in an ordination process in some Episcopal Diocese somewhere, what do you think? Or worse, that a woman - or a gay man (HORRORS!)- made it through and he didn't. )

Le sigh.

George Waite said...

How do you know that Brad and Michael and George aren't all the same man? Or a member of the transgendered female community?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Because I do.

Besides, why in heaven's name would a trans woman, who is trying to be who she is with great honesty and integrity and at great personal, emotional, spiritual (and, in many cases, financial) cost, bother trying to be anonymous for a blog - especially one that is a sermon about the identity of Jesus?

That only makes sense in the mind of someone who obviously, as we say, has "issues".

MarkBrunson said...

What's adorable, Elizabeth, is he actually thinks he's opaque, actually believes he's fooling someone.

That's what makes his comedy act so amusing!

Anonymous said...

Another wow. The Galileo affair had nothing to do with the flat earth theory. I offer you a couple quick reads to demonstrate that no educated European held that position for centuries prior to Galileo.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Earth

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spherical_Earth

The heliocentrism vs. geocentrism debate Galileo was engaged in had nothing to do with a "flat earth."

I'm too tired this evening to rehash the GLBT thing. Same old, same old. I don't post much about it anymore. I think it will taken act of grace to bring repentance regarding the subject for those locked into that lifestyle and their straight enablers. But this new foray into the universalist heresy, especially in a homily-- it's not a good thing.

Let me dissuade you from the speculation that I'm a dissatisfied ex-TECster. On the contrary, I'm a cradle Roman Catholic. Never occurred to me be a member of TEC, much less seek ordination in that church. My interest in TEC is based upon its reputation as "Catholic Lite." To me, TEC is the canary in the mineshaft. I observe the theological and moral faults TEC exhibits as it struggles in contemporary America and then I watch like a hawk to fight those same tendencies whenever they arise in the RCC.

xyMichael

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I dunno, Mark,

I suppose I should find it flattering and think myself pretty special that this bozo atheist who doesn't have the cajones to use his real identity and this decidedly mean spirited, bigoted RC man who actually thinks he's pastoral come to my blog - and return to my blog frequently.

I don't.

It just leaves me wondering what's wrong with them.

I don't spend much time wondering about that, but I do scratch my head every now and again when they leave a comment here, or I see them over at some of the other blogs - especially when I see Michael leave a comment over at the conservative, "orthodox" blogs.

Me thinks they both protest too much.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael -

Here's a nickel's worth of unsolicited advice:

Swim in your own lane.

You're in waaaay over your head, buddy. This ain't "Catholic light".

The Episcopal Church takes scripture too seriously to take it literally.

Marthe said...

Dear EK - About the trollers: among those who think God is constantly testing us, they can be explained as the ones who fail ... and fail and fail ... to love one another, because they're so busy judging and rejecting ... and they lack the imagination to posit that God created all of us in our astonishing diversity to test our commitment to follow the directive to love one another, no matter what.
I don't actually think God is all that interested in the constant test business (seems more like a human construction designed to sort people into categories of worth) ... way too limited and boring an activity for One of limitless potential ... seems to me Christ was here to tell us to drop the nonsense whereas the trollers thrive on divisiveness and exactly the sort of nonsense that destroys the Word by turning it into a weapon.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Amen, Marthe. Amen.

And, thank you.