Sermon 23 August

Here is the liturgy for the sermon on Sunday, 23 August

How many people watch Who do you think you are?

For those who don’t watch this programme it helps various sporting, entertainment and other notables to trace their family trees. For some it is a confronting time.

The writer of Matthew seems to have caught the genealogy bug as he starts his Gospel with a rather fanciful genealogy of Jesus down the male line, descending from Abraham and David. Jesus with his disciples, tests the waters of genealogy with the question to the disciples ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ This is rather interesting as it shows that the ordinary people seemed to have a view of the Hebrew scriptures’ greats popping in and out of time. More telling though is Jesus’ next question ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Peter wins first prize as Jesus says to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.’ (Petros – Peter means “rock”)

Now after this revelation by Peter and praise by Jesus, we need to leave Caesarea Philippi and travel back in time to Egypt in the 1300s BCE. At this time a number of semitic people had settled in the Nile delta, perhaps because of famine or warfare. Rameses II came to be concerned at their presence in such numbers and decided all Hebrew male babies should be killed at birth. In a delightful little story, one woman from the tribe of Levi kept her male baby and to preserve his life, built and waterproofed a cradle of rushes. We all know this story and those of my vintage, and older, have sat through flannel board presentations of the event, at Sunday School. The baby falls into the hands of Pharaoh’s daughter who eventually takes the boy as her son and names him Moses.

Now how does this little tale relate to Peter’s recognition of Jesus as the Messiah? To the followers of Jesus, Jesus was the new Moses. As Moses led the Hebrew people out of slavery and into the Promised land, he became the agent of great change. Jesus as the longed-for Messiah was hoped by many Jews to bring great change also. In many minds he was to be a great deliverer from the hated Romans and to lead the Jews into a new era.
Jesus, however had other ideas! He was going to show his followers the way to live under god’s rule.

Having seen how many Hebrews saw Jesus, what does Jesus mean to contemporary society?

There are those who believe that Jesus never existed. Like all conspiracy theories that one is not based on fact as Jesus is mentioned in hostile Jewish and Roman literature. Unfortunately to many people the name Jesus is associated with oaths and swearwords. Be that as it all may be, most people have heard of Jesus

Now What does Jesus mean to you?

The answer you give to the question ‘Who is Jesus?’ will impact every other aspect of your life. The call to follow and submit to Jesus is individual. It doesn’t matter who your parents say Jesus is, or the tradition you grew up in, who your spouse says Jesus is, or who the newspaper says Jesus is. Yes all those people matter to God, but in terms of your specific relationship with God it is your answer that matters most.

The question of who Jesus is demands a response. We all have to do something with Jesus, he is a real person in history. You can speculate, guess, investigate, but at a certain point you have to land on a position of who Jesus is. We all have to choose something to believe about Jesus. Regardless of what we choose to believe, Jesus is who he is. He will not be defined by us, we are defined by Him. Meaning what we choose to say about Jesus says way more about ourselves than it does about Jesus. If your answer is Jesus is just a good teacher, a man, or one voice in a chorus of prophets all singing different tunes about the same God, then his words and actions will have a proportionally small value and have very little impact on your life. However, acknowledging/confessing Jesus is the Messiah ‘Christ, the Savour-King of God’s people, and the Son of the Living God,’ has a comprehensive impact on how you see everything else. It demonstrates you know there is a Creator, you see the world (including you) in a broken state actually in need of saving, it acknowledges you (and the world) is incapable of ‘saving‘ yourself from destruction. It says something about God’s character and power. He is LIVING, good and gracious, because he is active in sending His Son, to save His people. It says God is exclusive because Jesus is THE Christ, and THE Son.

To remove any ambiguity about who he is, Jesus affirms Peter’s confession of the disciple’s belief Jesus is the Messiah. However, Jesus goes on to tell the disciples how they have come to the revelation that Jesus is the Son of God and saviour-king of God’s people. They should confess and respond to Jesus the Saviour but they shouldn’t mistakenly give themselves any credit. Responding to Jesus as the messiah is not a human rational act we can work towards and look down on those who do not. Jesus’ exclusivity should still lead us to humility, before God, and when engaging with others.
To those who accept Jesus as the Messiah, the son of god, Paul in his letter to the Romans offers some exhortations. Under God’s rule known as the Kingdom of God (Matthew as a Jewish Christian won’t use the name of the deity, but uses the confusing name the Kingdom of heaven), he says for by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. In the kingdom there is no room for big religious egos. Paul also points out that we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, ministry, teaching; exhorting, giving, leading, compassion and cheerfulness.
Finally, the COVID-19 epidemic has been a great trial to humanity. It is an epidemic unlike any in living memory, unless you were around in 1918 and 1919 and remember the Spanish flu. The response to the pandemic has brought out the best and the worst in our societies. We owe a great deal to our front-line health workers and to federal and state government who have succeeded in working together. On the other hand the COVID precautions in some aged care facilities have left a lot to be desired. The enquiry into aged care shows that in some institutions profit comes before people. This is not how god’s rule works. The mark of a civilised society Christian or otherwise, is how it cares for its aged, its children and the disabled.

Selfishness and lack of care for others is shown by those willing to flout border restrictions either by using trickery or the legal process to get their way. There is considerable community anger over these breaches but we must remember that the sun shines on the good and the bad and that stupidity cuts across all age and ethnic groups.

A Jewish title for God is Emmanuel which means God with us. God is with us all the time, even in these trying times, rejoicing in our happy moments and in sharing in our sadness. He never leaves us.