... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

PENTECOST 10 Year A, Message Aug 21st, 2011

God's Mercy and the Consequences of Faith

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Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi. It was pagan territory – many shrines like the shrine to Pan, the nature God of the Greeks and Romans was located there. The map shows Caesarea Philippi away up north towards today’s Lebanese border. I wonder why Jesus chose this place and made this long journey? Who knows? Jesus may quite naturally have wanted to see this part of the country. He may have wanted to get far enough away from the daily concerns of his life to be able to focus on his relationship with his disciples. He may have just wanted some time apart to assess his ministry.

Here, far away from their normal haunts, he asks his disciples the question? Who do people say that the Son of Man is? I wonder if it was a natural curiosity on his part as he had been involved in his public role for some time. After all it is human nature to want to ask, “How am I doing? What are they saying?” This for me is a most reassuringly and interesting thought that Jesus might show himself to be like us, dare we say, a little insecure, wondering about self-performance, self-image.

On the other hand, he may have gone apart with his disciples to assess what they thought of his ministry so far and to test them. Whatever the reasons for the long trip, we have Matthews recording of the event many years later. He writes that Jesus asks the question of the disciples “Who do people say the son of man is? They give their answers. Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets. All famous men and role models.

Following this question and the disciples’ responses, I imagine there is … a pause. Perhaps Jesus is gauging whether this is time to ask the other question. To drop the other sandal, “Who do you say I am? Dead silence. Obviously something is in the air. This is no ordinary moment, no casual question. Much depends on their reply.

It is Simon Peter who risks it, who blurts out his short explosive words. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. The response from Jesus is immediate. We can hear all sorts of things in his voice, if we are prepared to wonder and imagine the feeling in his words.

Blessed are you. Simon son of Jonah! We can hear affection, comradeship, relief, satisfaction –all there. Maybe even delightful laughter. This Simon is irrepressible. Jesus must have felt that this is the kind of faith on which he can build! This kind of faith is the key to everything! This kind of faith will make the continuation of his work possible. Simon, to become Peter so human but by some miracle of grace it is the human that God uses.

Yet we need to remember that this is the same Peter whose faith wavered and he sank in the water, the same Peter that in next weeks gospel reading will be told by Jesus “Get thee behind me Satan. Stay tuned; next Sunday’s gospel will underline the all-too-frail nature of the disciples' faith. However, in today’s account we have Simon Peter, the impulsive, passionate one, who is still in an early stage of discipleship, making a terrific leap of faith in response to Jesus' question,” But who do you say I am?"

It is interesting that in John’s gospel in the story of the raising of Lazarus we have the record of Martha making the very same declaration as Peter. “You are the Christ – the Anointed one of God” ( Note that ….this declaration not just for men)

The revelation that opened Martha and Peter's eyes to see and to proclaim Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the living God," is our gift as well. Simon sees and proclaims Jesus in a new light in far away pagan territory but Jesus sees and acclaims Simon in a new way too. Jesus names Simon “Peter” the rock on which the new church will be built.

Today as we live in a post Christian era where we face the challenges of the secular world - cynicism in dealing with others; despair as we face large issues of violence and war; cowardice when our faith is challenged; conformity when prophetic witness is called for; and lukewarm religious practice that has stalled through neglect, and so on. How do we cling to the faith that has been given to us passed on by Peter and Martha and generations of Christians that followed?

In reflecting on our story and Peter’s affirmation and returning back to the scene where it all happened. I think that I know why Jesus took them away to Caesarea Philippi to ask this question. He hauled them out of their safe lakeshore world, out of their rural Judaism, their small world of family to grasp the bigger picture – to see from a different perspective (to look outside the box).

Perhaps this is what is happening to us now at this time in history. We are being hauled out of the familiar vaguely Christian culture we were formed by, into a tougher, harsher reality. And here we are being asked again, in all sorts of ways and at all kinds of moments “Who do you say that I am? After the hesitation and the silence, what answer do we give? I wonder if, in the midst of our fears and hesitation, can we step out in faith and be alive and present to ourselves and to others. To tell the story of how God is working in our lives and how we see reconciling love of God through Jesus breaking into our lives and world often in small, seemingly insignificant ways.

And what is Jesus response to each of us? Likely, with affection, comradeship, relief, satisfaction delight and laughter he will say “blessed are You. ” You are the rock on which the church is built and still being built.

Amen