Sermon for 8/24/14 Matthew 16:13-20

Who do you say I am? Jesus asks us a simple question that couldn’t be more complicated if he tried. I’ve thought about this question all week long. And maybe you would think as someone who basically is paid to tell people about Jesus that the answer would come to me quite easily. Truth be told, sometimes answering the question “who do you say I am” is like answering the question “what does the color blue smell like?” And sure, when I confess that “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth” I believe it! But, what in the world are we saying? And so I thought and thought about what it might mean to try and tell someone about Jesus; someone who maybe had never heard of Jesus (for whatever reason). Who would I tell them Jesus is; what would my personal confession be?

At the same time, I’ll be honest with you friends, I’ve been struggling this week. See, in my preaching class at seminary we were taught that you should write your sermons with your Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Now, with the diminishing life of newspapers, I often write with the Bible in one hand and the internet news outlets or my twitter feed in the other. And many times this week (probably too many) I sat in disbelief as I continued to watch the unraveling of a city that looked, at times, like a war zone. And this city wasn’t in Iraq, Syria, Israel, or Palestine. This city is in Missouri.

If you haven’t been watching the news let me sum it up for you as best I can. Almost 2 weeks ago, an 18 year old African American male named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer (who is white). A lot of conflicting information has come out since. Surveillance showing that Mike stole cigars from a gas station–or did he? Reports that Officer Darren Wilson gave warnings and felt provoked–or did he? What has followed has been daily and nightly protests and conversations surrounding race and race relations in this country. And I wonder, in the midst of all of this, who do we say that Jesus is?

If I say that Jesus is God’s love letter to us (which in a way, I believe he was) what does that mean in the midst of so much pain and suffering? If I say that Jesus is the one who comes to take away the sins of the world, why are we still having conversations surrounding race? If I say that Jesus will make all things and people equal, how can I say that while still reading that 1 in every 15 African American males will end up in prison versus 1 in 106 white males? How can I confess that Jesus is the Lord of justice when almost 46% of black children (under the age of 6) live in poverty versus 14% of white children?

Maybe you can understand why I struggled this week. See, because before Ferguson, I lived in a bubble. I knew that we had issues surrounding race, poverty, and economic injustice, but those were in places like LA, Miami, Detroit, or New York City. My home state of Missouri was best known for…um…well, maybe Branson. (Although lately, I’d like to think we’re known for the amazing winning streak the Royals are on.) And the more and more I read about the situation in Ferguson the more I realize that this could have easily happened in Clinton. Let’s not kid ourselves, brothers and sisters. Issues surrounding race, poverty, and economic injustice are just as alive and well 10 miles down the road. And so I struggle. Who do I say that Jesus is?

And then I thought of Kyrie. This sweet little boy who is so innocent. He, much like many of the other younger members of this congregation hopefully know nothing about Ferguson. He knows nothing about race issues, or poverty, or economic injustice. The only color he is partial too is most likely green (I’m guessing). What he knows of Jesus and who Jesus is will be promised to him in these waters today. Today he will be claimed as God’s beloved, belonging to God for eternal life. I don’t want to speak for Kyrie (because he doesn’t know that many words) but perhaps if he could speak he would just say that Jesus is “papa.” And our desire, so often, is to keep our children shielded and protected from the evil and hate in the world (and rightfully so). But we know that we can’t be with our children at all times and so we teach them right from wrong and pray for the best. However, when our children first learn about the darkness that exists in the world, who will they say that Jesus is? Who will Kyrie say that Jesus is?

Your assignment this week is to ask yourself “who do you say Jesus is?” Then, when you figure out your answer, think about how you see the world through that answer. If I say that Jesus is my savior who died on a cross to forgive my sins then that means I need to be better at forgiving myself. If I was created in God’s image then that means so was Mike Brown and so was Officer Wilson and in the kingdom of heaven we are all seen as equals. My life is no more valuable than Michael Brown’s life. And Michael Brown’s life is no more valuable than mine. If I say that Jesus is love then that means hate will eventually have no say in this world. If I say that Jesus is a God of justice then hate and economic injustice are not gods, no matter how much people attempt to worship them.

If I say that Jesus accompanies those on the margins, then poverty is not god, no matter how hard we attempt to place people in poverty and keep them there. My brothers and sisters, when you start to see the world through the saving and redeeming action of the cross, you start to see that there is no room for inequality, injustice, hate, and fear. Do we need to have conversations surrounding white privilege? Desperately. Do we need to have conversations surrounding poverty, race, and inequality? You betcha. But when we start with the basic working principle that Jesus died on the cross for everyone, with no exceptions; and when we start with the principle that Jesus loves everyone, with no exceptions; and when we start with the principle that we are all made in God’s image and that we are all worthy in God’s eyes, then the conversations seem to get a little easier.

These waters that will splash Kyrie today once splashed you too. Kyrie has been called and claimed by God and so have you. The pain and the hurt in this world are very real. We long for Jesus and we long for a time when he will return to banish all of the sin, pain, and hurt in this world. But for now, we get a brief encounter with Jesus in these waters. Who do I say that Jesus is? Hope, love, forgiveness, welcome, promise, grace. Who do you say Jesus is?

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