March 3, 2024

Peter Makes a Proclamation

Psalm 19; Matthew 16:13-20

Paula and I only met our first grandchild, Parker Elias, right after he was born last summer. At that time, because he was born prematurely, when we held him, he mostly slept and ate and burped. There was little visual interaction between us and him, except for human touch.

Fast forward eight months, and we have been able to FaceTime video chat with Parker and his parents a few times. Our daughter Abby told us that the last time she showed a picture of us to Parker, he got excited and said, "Ba BAAA!" And when Paula and I video chatted with them about a week ago, we heard that exact phrase from our grandson when he saw us. "BaBAA!" Parker proclaimed who he saw on screen.

 So, from now on, in addition to calling me pastor Dan, you can call me Pastor BaBAA. I may also need to change my and Paula's names in our church directory.

In today's passage, another person also proclaims something about someone. Peter declares Jesus is "The Messiah, Son of the Living God." What led up to Peter's proclamation? Based on the passages we have used for the last few Sundays, some experiences helped Peter proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

Pastor Skip preached on Jesus' call in Luke 5:1-11 a few weeks ago. Peter's first response to Jesus comes as he asks Peter to row out offshore so that Jesus can use the water to amplify his voice to a gathered crowd. Then, after Jesus's teaching to the crowd, Peter is asked to row the fishing boats out further. Peter responds to Jesus, proclaiming the title, "Epistata - epistata" in Greek, meaning "Master teacher." Then, after a miraculous fish catch, Peter responds to Jesus and says, "Go away from me (Lord- kurion - meaning sir/master), for I am sinful."

There has been some pushback on using the term “Lord “for Jesus. It is reminiscent of an era when Lords and Ladies used their power over others. However, looking at the Greek meaning of the word kurion, I see it as a term of respect. It is like using the terms sir or ma'am today. I still call people sir and ma'am at times if their gender identities are clear. I often find it makes them smile. It is a form of respect. That is all "Lord" means to me. I hold Jesus in high esteem and honor his presence in my life. That term may be difficult for you. Don’t worry. There are plenty of other options!

We also looked at the story of the Transfiguration, as Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain to experience a thin space between the temporal and eternal. In seeing Jesus with Moses and Elijah, Peter says, "Rabbi, it is good that we are all here." Peter gives him the formal title of Rabbi rabbi.

Last week, we spent time in the dramatic tale of the disciples caught in a storm and Jesus walking on water to them. As Jesus draws near, Peter is the one disciple who addresses him, saying, "If it is you, "Lord" kurion, command me to walk out to you." In this instance, Peter addresses Jesus in the more formal "Sir" category, back to a respectful title. Then Jesus saved Peter from drowning and calmed the storm. Along with the rest of the disciples, Peter proclaims, "Truly you are the son of God." The phrase “Theos Uios el” means very specifically “Son of God.”

Up to this point in Matthew, Peter has experienced much, and his idea of who Jesus is has changed. He has been called, has seen miraculous healing and teaching, has experienced a thin space, has been nudged to the beginning of faith in stepping out of the boat, has been rescued by Jesus, and has been part of a group proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah.

In this section of today's lesson, Rev. Dr. Terrence Lester writes, "Here we encounter Peter at a crucial juncture in his relationship with Jesus. He has been found, rescued when sinking, and now has experienced a profound revelation. These pivotal moments lead him to declare who Jesus truly is and the purpose behind his coming."

So, let's break down this section of scripture a bit. Jesus and the disciples came to Caesarea Philippi (More on that location in just a bit). Jesus wants to know who others say he is. His ministry has created a buzz. Some think he is John the Baptist, coming back from the dead. Scripture shows that John had quite a following at the time, and after his beheading, there was hope that perhaps he had returned.

Others wonder if it is indeed the prophet Elijah, the only prophet who did not die but was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Perhaps he or another prophet, Jeremiah, may have returned.

Jesus then asks the disciples directly- Who do YOU say I am? Peter answers with a modified version of what the disciples in the boat proclaim. "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Kristos, Theos Uios el. Peter modifies the title given by the group of disciples. Christos means "Messiah” - the one they awaited for centuries.

Why Peter? He was the first disciple called. He has participated in every tutorial by Jesus, heard his sermons on justice, twice seen bread multiplied and shared with huge crowds, seen Jesus shine along with heroes of faith, and been rescued by Jesus as he began to sink in the storm. Who else would have been the first disciple to proclaim him as Messiah? It made sense it was Peter. Theologian Audrey West writes, "Sight, sound, taste, touch…through the flesh and blood of his own experience, Peter has learned much about Jesus. He is an excellent student." However, in next week's reading, we'll hear about Peter failing spectacularly as a disciple of Jesus.

So, Peter places a title upon Jesus. This is significant in several ways. For those of you who've had an opportunity to listen to any of the lectures by John Domonic Crossan, you may remember his discussion last week of the titles given to another person who was around at the same time as Jesus. Caesar Augustus.

I Learned a lot from Dr. Crossan last week about the Roman Civil War, which went on for some 29 years until Augustus defeated Antony and Cleopatra's armies in the battle of Actium in 31 BC. After that victory, Augustus' battle tent was turned into a shrine, and he was given many titles. He was proclaimed to be "Savior of the world." He ended a decades-long civil war in Rome and brought peace back to the nation. He was also called "The Son of God," as his father, by adoption, Julis Caesar, had been proclaimed a God of the Roman Empire after his murder. Augustus was even called "The Redeemer of Sin". This proclamation was given to Augustus as he redeemed the murder of his father by ending the war and uniting the people. Before Jesus was even born, another Savior, another Son of God, existed for the Roman people. His name was Augustus Caesar.

Now, let's go back to the location of Peter's proclamation: Caesarea Philippi. This city was Situated about 25 to 30 miles north of the Sea of Galilee and was near a trade route that connected Tyre in the West with Damascus in the Northeast. Roman signs of power and authority were also on display in the city. A couple of decades before Jesus' birth, Herod the Great built a temple in honor of Caesar Augustus near the spring that provided water for the city. Here, in a place with a temple dedicated to one Son of God, Peter proclaims that the title truly belongs to someone else.

Thus, Jesus' question, "Who do you say that I am?" hangs in the air at the intersection of economic trade, religion, and the Savior of the Empire. It is a question not simply about Jesus' identity, as if getting the titles right would earn somebody an "A" on a messianic quiz. It is a question about allegiance. In what or in whom will the followers of Jesus place their trust? Will they look to the Pax Romana- the peace Rome offered through assimilation, Or as Dr. Crossan says, "Peace through violent victory?" Or would they follow a different kindom and ruler? Would they follow the Messiah, who taught about loving one another, non-violence, justice, and peace? The contrast between the two choices at that time could not be starker.

Jesus continues the dialogue with Peter: "I say to you Peter -Petros that on this rock -Petra I shall build my ekklesia (assembly; usually translated church) and the gates of Hades shall not overpower her" (Matthew 16:18). What kind of news is this for we modern day disciples? Jesus chooses Peter-imperfect, impulsive, faithful, sinking, proclaiming yet denying. This is good news for us. We can see much of our own faith journeys in Peter's.

And so, Jesus asks us the same question today. Who do YOU say that I am?

I thought of my proclamations about Jesus over the decades: How did my faith in Jesus develop over time?

As a small child, I remember learning and singing "Jesus Loves Me." So, I began to understand that Jesus loved me, but I wasn't sure what it meant. At night, my mother often sang to me. One of the songs she sang was also about Jesus- "I Wonder as I Wander," which mentions Jesus dying. I wondered silently to myself," Why did Jesus die?"

At the age of eleven, I became a church member, accepting Jesus as "Lord." To me, at that time, this proclamation meant Jesus's teachings had sway over my life and had authority.

My relationship with Jesus took on a more personal nature in my teenage years. Especially at camp, I felt close to him and learned more about what it meant to love him.

Then, I began to Pursue a career in ministry. One hoop you have to jump through to become a pastor is to put together a statement of faith, including what I think about several things, and perhaps most of all, who I proclaim Jesus to be. Here are the words I used to declare who Jesus was and still is to this day. "Jesus Christ the Son, "The word who became flesh and lived among us" is the supreme revelation of God, the one who reconciles the creation to the Creator. Jesus is the high priest of heaven, whom we can turn to in time of need. Jesus is my friend and companion for this life and for the life to come. Through the power of the Risen Christ, we can reclaim our identities as children of the Creator. It is Christ who walks alongside us, works through us, preaches and teaches through our words and actions, brings about further reconciliation between the Creator and creation, and goes before us to prepare a place for us in heaven."

At this morning's 10 am service, the slate of new officers will also proclaim Jesus when they answer the question, "Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer?" It is a bit of a "one size fits all" answer and leaves little room for interpretation. However, our congregation has much room for understanding who Jesus is to them, which is a good thing!

So, what about you? Who do you say Jesus is? What does that proclamation mean to you? In your bulletins (OR look at the bottom of this document) to help you along the process, there is an opening statement by Theologian Diana Butler Bass, followed by quotes about Jesus from various theologians. These statements help prime the pump as you consider how you personally proclaim Jesus. So, read through these. Take a deep breath. Turn to your neighbor and share and listen.

In closing, Jesus commanded his disciples to tell no one that he is the Christos (Messiah or anointed one) of the living God. How shall they build an ekklesia on the truth of his identity? Perhaps Jesus wanted them to demonstrate his identity through their actions rather than words? After all, the old phrase, “Actions speak louder than words,” holds a lot of truth. The way we behave and the acts we perform carry more weight than proclamations. I think Jesus' message at the end is to tell others who he is through what we do, not just the words we say. Live out the Gospel. Help work for a kindom that lifts up the immigrant, fights oppression, builds justice in an unjust society, and proclaims peace through non-violent means. On this Rock, let us create a church that demonstrates belief in a living Messiah of freedom, truth, justice, love, and peace, not just by what we say but by what we do. Amen.


To introduce conversation in the pews - Who is Jesus to you?

"My story can never be your story (that is called colonization—something I hope we are leaving behind). But my story might inform yours, or be like yours, or maybe even add depth or another dimension to yours. If nothing else, sharing our stories might lead to greater understanding, tolerance, appreciation, and perhaps even celebration of our differences." Diana Butler Bass

"For me, Jesus is my cleft in the rock. He is my safest friend, my safe totally loving accepting big brother." Anne Lamott- However, also from Anne-

"Sometimes I think that Jesus watches my neurotic struggles, and shakes his head and grips his forehead and starts tossing back mojitos".

"Jesus was short on sermons, long on conversations; short on answers, long on questions; short on abstraction and propositions, long on stories and parables; short on telling you what to think, long on challenging you to think for yourself." Brian Mc Laren

John Dominic Crossan "Jesus is what God looks like in sandals."

So, share with the person next to you, Who is Jesus to you? How would you proclaim him? There is no right answer. Just share you own personal understanding.