Sermon for Trinity II – Proper 7B
June 21, 2009 - Preached at St. John’s – Moultrie
One of the most critical dialogues between Jesus and His disciples occurs when Jesus asks them two unbelievable questions. In all three Gospel accounts, it appears that Jesus is alone with the 12, and he asks them the first question, “Who do men say that I am?” Depending on which Gospel record we are following, the disciples either say John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets risen from the dead. The answers that the disciples give at least conveys that the people are realizing that something strange, something different is taking place. They are beginning to put some of the pieces together – Jesus is starting to look like what we have been waiting for, longing for, yearning for.
Back in the time of Moses, the people were looking for someone extraordinary to come. As recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses declares, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen….And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”
Jesus then follows up this first question with perhaps the most important question ever asked, “But who do you say that I am?”
Ultimately that is the question that each of us has to answer personally for ourselves. St. Peter gives the answer that summarizes all of Christology, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The Kalendar of the ’79 BCP has a Principal Feast Day Church Year designated to commemorate what is known as the “Confession of St. Peter” in January. Jesus comments on the remarkable nature of Peter’s answer when he says that flesh and blood had not revealed this to him, but rather the Father had done this remarkable thing. All of the Bishop’s of Rome have followed in St. Peter’s footsteps with the intention that they would boldly proclaim that statement regarding Jesus’ identity as well.
The Rev. Don Armstrong who is an Anglican priest in Colorado wrote a book which is a compilation of several talks revolving around the topic, “Who do you say that I am?” He chose this as the title of his book because he wanted to play that question off of what many in society and in the church would rather the question to have been. He says that too often we lose track of the question, “Who do you say that I am?” and re-work the language a bit. He says that we have reached a point where the question has been changed to Jesus asking “Who do you want me to be?” There is a fundamental flaw with this wording because in this instance we are no longer starting with God, but with our selves. We become the “master of our own universe” so to speak, and everything begins to spiral out of control from that point forward.
In St. Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians, he stresses this exact same point. Fr. Armstrong’s book could have used our Epistle lesson this morning as his jump-off point because it works in a similar vein. Paul writes that in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself. As we observe many of the battles within the Church today, it sounds to me like we think that God was in Christ reconciling himself to the world. This is a completely backward notion because if that were the case, there would have ultimately been no need for the cross. If God’s intention was to simply make Himself compatible to the world, then the atonement makes absolutely no sense at all. H. Richard Niebuhr summarizes this scenario best when he speaks in the following light as a rebuttal to the liberal gospel which creates, “A God without wrath brought to men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” Former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once said that he has always wondered why there was any need to crucify the Jesus of liberal Christianity.
Far too often we hear stories that are complete reversals. Our desire for absolute autonomy and unabated individualism has led to a complete contradiction to Paul’s words when he says that One – Jesus Christ has died for all, and therefore all have died. We no longer live for ourselves, but rather we live for him who died and rose again from the dead.
As followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to live for others. This is the true definition of Christian Charity – the agape love that concerns itself most with the needs of others. For those of you who are married, that is the type of love you promised to exhibit in the vows you made to your spouse. For those of you who are parents, that’s the kind of love we show to our children. For those of us who has a neighbor who is in need, or suffering, or despondent, that is the kind of love we are called to show to them.
Paul goes on to admonish the Corinthian Church to be Christ’s ambassadors to the outside world. Today, some are called to be ambassadors of Christ to those on the inside as well. We have an immense responsibility to communicate the love of Christ to everyone we come in contact with.
One of the greatest obstacles for many to believe the message of the Gospel is very nature of sin, and evil, and suffering in the world. How could an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful, all-merciful God permit the things we see on television every day to go on? What are we to make of the rampant sin that confronts us each day? Someone made the assertion that sin should be the one doctrine of the church that absolutely everyone must believe in because they need only open their eyes to the world in which we live. The last sentence from our Epistle this morning bears some incredible light on those very pertinent questions.
Paul says that, “for our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Right off the bat, we hear why the cross had to happen. It was for our sake. God was not going to let us, his creatures who had marred and completely stained his glorious and good creation wallow in the mess we had made for ourselves. Jesus didn’t just save us from our sin, He became sin. Do we really comprehend the magnitude of that statement? Jesus actually became sin. No he didn’t succumb to sin, or engage in sin, but rather, what he did for our sake and on our behalf was become the complete antithesis of God’s goodness, mercy, and righteousness. He bore the image of what God was not on the hard wood of the cross, and He did it for you and for me.
One of Jesus’ last words from the cross were the first few of Psalm 22. Jesus proclaims, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Dr. Ravi Zacharias once said that Jesus uttered those words from the cross so that we would never have to! I think he’s spot on in that regard. I believe at that moment, God was unable to bear to gaze upon and see what his creation looked like that had so completely turned in upon itself. The Son was bearing upon his shoulders the weight of a world which basically was saying, God, we have no need of you.
That’s the story of the Tower of Babel from Genesis. The people had a common language and had determined that they were going to make a name for themselves apart from God based upon their works and deeds. They were attempting to create a world for themselves devoid of a need for God. In many respects, with our common language of the interconnectedness and the Internet, we might just be doing the exact same thing all over again.
This passage from II Corinthians speaks about a concept that we are called to engage every day of our lives. We are to seek reconciliation with our fellow man. Our exhortation before the Confession of Sin is a statement of that desire. We are to be in love and charity with our neighbor in order that we might make a holy confession and present ourselves in an acceptable manner in order that we might worthily receive the Blessed Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. This phrase is repeated every week so that our being reconciled to God and our admonition to be reconciled to one another might be constantly before us.
Reconciliation is not a compromise – especially in matters of the Truth of the Christian Faith.
Reconciliation is not simply a consensus of all options
Reconciliation is not a “why can’t we all just get along” mentality
Reconciliation only happens in Christ. Reconciliation only happens when we all believe that we share a common bond with all of mankind that we are sinners in need of redemption, change of heart, and amendment of life. Reconciliation only happens through a person – Jesus Christ. Through the person who bore all of the sins I have ever committed or ever will commit on the cross in order that I might become the righteousness of God.
He doesn’t say that we already are the righteousness of God, but rather that we might someday become that righteousness. In theological terms, that is what we refer to as sanctification. As God’s creatures that have a part of our Creator in us, we are to bear the image of our Holy Father to all the world. There is only one time where an adjective is used three times in succession to refer to its noun modifier, and it happens right here. We worship a God who is Holy, Holy, Holy. That threefold repetition is there as a hyper-descriptor. If that is the image of the God we worship and serve should we not strive to look more like that each and every day of our lives? We have seen the source of that holiness – we come to meet him again in the Blessed Sacrament. Our lives as Christ’s ambassadors is to live in that light, so that others might see it and come to live in it as well.