Who do you say that I am?
Sunday, August 27, Year A, Proper 16, RCL Track 1
Exodus 1:8-2:10, Psalm 124, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20
The disciples are put on the spot. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is,” Jesus asks. We hear the disciples falter and fumble around as they attempt to answer. Some say you are like John the Baptist, a kind of crazy religious persons. Others say Elijah, a great prophet who is to return from years past. While others say you are an important prophet like Jeremiah. But like a good southerner, this wasn’t the question Jesus was really asking. So, he clarifies his question. “Who do you say that I am?” Almost predictably Simon Peter is the first to give it a go. I wonder if Simon thought he was just going to make a fool of himself again. But we know this time his answer impresses Jesus to the extent that he changes Simon’s name.
When someone changes their name or is given a new name, especially in the Bible, the action often demarcates a turning point in the person’s life. Much like a rebirth, the person is no longer the same person they were before; they are realized as a new creation. In the Old Testament, we find that Jacob’s name, meaning to follow, is changed to Israel; meaning triumphant with God. This happens after Jacob wrestles with an angel, and God makes Jacob the first of the Hebrews in the Hebrew nation. In today’s story, Simon, meaning someone who hears, is changed to Peter or rock. Based on Simon’s old name he does seem to listen well. He just doesn’t always know what to do with the information he gained. By the time we get to today’s story, Simon Peter seems to have grown into the person who God made him to be and Jesus recognizes his faithfulness as being one of his key gifts. Jesus names him Peter, or rock, as in the rock which the Church will be built upon.
Now, the foundation of our church is a metaphoric rock. It has no geographical location. It is imperfect. Jesus builds the church upon this transient rock called Peter, a human being. We know Simon Peter as the man who leaps into the water before he understands what is fully required to walk on it. He often speaks before he thinks. He is also the person who denies Jesus three times, just as Jesus predicts.
Peter is an example of the Church; the Church, being all of us, with our many gifts, and our many problems. Even though Peter doesn’t often seem to know what he is doing, he is deeply faithful and he replies to the question, “Who do you say I am?” by answering “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
We see that Peter has faith, both now and in the past. His faithfulness isn’t a new attribute.Jesus is just now recognizing Simon for a gift that has now developed to a new level; a gift that has developed through his relationship with Christ. This new name doesn’t mean that Peter has reached completion either. This gift is a gift in which Peter still needs to fully grow into by continuing to develop a faithful relationship with Christ and his neighbors.
Peter is one of my favorite disciples because he is so human. So many of his personal attributes I can clearly see in myself, my friends, and, yes, even you. Some of us, at times, can be over confident, or we may speak without listening. Others of us even jump into situations with without thinking. We can often look at these attributes as if they are bad or something that we wish we could change. I bet even Peter at times wished he could change some of his.
Our personal attributes are really blessings when we think about them. They have both a good side and bad. Depending on the circumstance, having extra confidence is not bad nor is the willingness to try something first. These attributes are gifts that God has given us. When we don’t like one of our attributes we usually do not think of it as a gift, but it is. We just haven’t grown into the gift or maybe we haven’t learned how to use it in the most appropriate ways. It is even possible that we haven’t fully embraced this attribute as a gift. When we haven’t fully embraced a gift we cannot fully learn how to best use it in the world or in God’s kingdom.
When we look at Paul’s letter to the Romans, we hear Paul listing spiritual gifts or attributes. Even though humans are genetically very similar our gifts are very different and diverse. On the outside, we may look very different, from the color of our skin to the size of our waist. In some ways, we are very different but, as we talked about last week, genetically we are all but identical. Paul says, “In one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function. We, who are many, are one body in Christ.” Paul is clearly showing us that we as humans are very similar and that we should work together as one unit. Paul continues, “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” He then lists some of these gifts.
All of these gifts are represented in this congregation and throughout the world. Paul says there are teachers. We have many teachers in this congregation and not all of them are school teachers. We have people who are great public speakers. This is what Paul calls exhortation. Others yet are good at ministering to one another. Paul only describes to us a very limited list of gifts. It is limited because God’s grace is so abundant and the gifts we have are so numerous that he couldn’t possibly list them all.
As we take time to learn and discover our gifts, we also have to learn how to use them for God’s will. It is in using these gifts for God that we see how they bless our lives. We eventually realize that even the attributes we don’t like can be used to glorify God in the world. When this happens it is a transformative moment in our lives.
This is the growth that we find by having Christ in our lives. Much like Simon Peter who changes and grows with Christ is his life. If we look back on our lives, especially when we were children, and we try to answer Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” we can clearly see our own growth. I remember when I thought God was an old white guy who was peering at us over the edge of a cloud, or Christ being more like a wimpy superhero. As I contemplate who Christ is, through my growth over the years, I realize how my ideas have changed many times. How fascinating is it that my original simple ideas grew in complexity and became multidimensional and harder to explain? This is similar to how my faith has changed with my maturity and become much more multifaceted and complex.
As we grow into our faith, into our gifts, we see God and the world in more complex ways. We go from seeing God in very simplistic terms into a God who is overly abundant and intricate. In all the complexities of the world and your faith, where have you seen your faith grow and who do you say Christ is?