Sermon for Sunday, 23 August 2020
By Revd George Mwaura
Isaiah 51: 1–6 & Matthew 16: 13–20
Mysterious God, speak to us your words of wisdom and help us to fully grasp
who you are and how we fit into your purpose of this creation, through Jesus our Lord
Now, the story is told of a rich man who wanted to do something good for someone in his community.
And so he spent a few days walking around his neighbourhood,
and he noted that the village carpenter lived in an old slanting shack that was threatening to collapse.
So, he hired him to build a house.
He said to him, ‘I want you to build a house for an incredibly special person.
I want you to use only the finest building materials, hire the best workers and spare no expense at all.
I am going away on a business trip for a month and I would like to see the house finished when I return.’
The carpenter saw this as a great opportunity to make some extra money.
So, he bought substandard building materials and hired unqualified workers to help with the work,
paying them as little as he could.
He covered their mistakes with paint and plaster and cut corners at every opportunity.
When the rich man returned from his trip,
the carpenter brought him the keys to the house and said,
‘I followed your instructions and built the house just as you told me to.’
‘Oh, I am so glad you did that,’ the rich man said, ‘because the special person I wanted the house for is you.
It is my gift to you, and your family.’
Perhaps one of the most difficult factors of Christian living is that we never know how, where or when God will act.
We do not know exactly how God might help us, regardless of the time we spend in prayer.
The God we worship and serve is a God who constantly surprises us.
And this inability to predict God’s movements can be very frustrating at times.
Our Gospel reading this morning looks at one aspect of this issue.
It deals with the problem of getting what we want, only to discover that it is not exactly what we thought it would be.
Let me summarize the story:
For many months Jesus had been traveling through the countryside,
healing the sick, feeding the hungry, teaching in parables,
and proclaiming the good news of the love of God for all God’s children.
Multitudes followed him everywhere.
But in spite of his apparent popularity, we get a sense that Jesus was troubled about something.
He knew that he was not exactly the kind of Messiah the people wanted and expected him to be.
The very people he had come to save totally misunderstood his purpose in coming.
That is not surprising, it is not uncommon even today. People see things differently all the time.
For example, three people – a minister, an geologist, and a farmer –
were visiting the Grand Canyon in America for the first time.
The minister exclaimed, ‘Truly this is one of the glories of God!’
The geologist commented, ‘What a wonder of nature this is!’
And the farmer said, ‘Can you imagine trying to find a lost sheep in there, it’s so vast?’
People see things differently.
The Messianic hope of those in the Jewish community was that the Chosen One
would re-establish the supremacy of Israel among the great nations
in a violent and vengeful manner by overthrowing the Romans.
But before this happened, the prophet Elijah would return to announce the coming of the Chosen One.
So, now, Jesus had to communicate to his disciples and others
that what he was offering was something completely different from what they expected.
Jesus’ followers did not and could not understand that to be the Messiah
he would have to suffer and ultimately die.
And so, one day, Jesus invited his disciples to sit and rest awhile on a quiet hillside in Philippi Caesarea.
Maybe around a campfire in the evening, Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’
Now most likely the disciples were careful in giving their answer.
They did not want to mention any of the bad things they must have heard folks say about Jesus.
Instead they responded positively.
Well, Lord, some people say you are the ghost of John the Baptist,
and some even say that you are the reincarnation of Elijah himself, the greatest prophet in our history.
But Jesus pressed them further: ‘OK, OK, I get that, that’s what people say; but tell me, who do you say I am?
Who do you say I am, yourself?’
An awkward silence must have followed as the disciples exchanged nervous glances,
looked down at their feet or off into the distance, as if searching for an answer.
They had no problem at all reporting what other people were saying about who Jesus was,
but when it came to expressing their own innermost understanding of who he was, they were silent.
Step in good old Peter, breaking the silence: ‘Rabbi, you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.’
’Bravo, Peter!’ I wonder if Peter really knew what he was going to say before he said it.
He was awfully impetuous, you know.
And I wonder if he understood the full meaning of the statement: ‘Messiah, Son of the Living God’.
Now, if I stopped here for a bit and asked you, who do you say that Jesus is, how would you respond?
Who do you say that Jesus is?
Some of you might agree with Peter: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
Others might echo the words of Thomas: Jesus is my Lord and my God.
Still, some of you might say, Jesus is the best friend they ever had.
Who do you say Jesus is?
Yes, Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, the second person of the Trinity, our Lord and Saviour,
but what do these titles mean to us today?
You see, quite often, adults like to complicate things.
But children, unlike us, have a wonderful ability for deeply religious concepts in very simple language.
Listen to some of their questions about God, Jesus, and religion in general:
‘Will my dog go to heaven when she dies?’
‘If Jesus is up in heaven, how can he be here with us at the same time?’
‘My Grandpa never went to church with us before he died. Is he in heaven now?’
‘If heaven is up in the sky, how come the astronauts have not seen it?’
I wonder, how would you answer such questions of these children?
But we grownups , too, have questions of faith too.
Many of us talk about the questions we want to ask God if and when we get to heaven.
Example: If you really love the world, God, how would you allow Covid-19
to create such a mess in our world, including shutting down your churches?
What was the point of the explosion in Beirut?
Why are there accidents that kill thousands of people and injure thousands more?
Why do innocent Children die?
Why did I lose my job?
I have no doubt you have your own set of questions.
A young woman lost her husband in a car accident,
her teenage son was arrested for drug abuse
and she was diagnosed with cancer in the same month.
Now, driving home from the hospital, she saw a car in front of her with a sticker that read: ‘Jesus is the answer.’
And she could not stop asking herself: answer to what? –
My loneliness, my inadequacy as a parent, or my fear of dying from cancer?
Exactly what is Jesus the answer to?
And if Jesus is the answer, then why are all these bad things happening to me?
I am a good practising Christian. ‘Why, why God?’ she asked.
You see, sometimes in our zeal to be messengers of the good news, we answer a little too quickly.
We do not want anyone to know that we are not sure what we mean when we say that
Jesus is the Son of the Living God, or that Jesus is the answer.
We would not want anyone to think that our faith is anything less than strong and secure.
As people of God, we feel that we need to know all the answers to questions of faith,
when in reality we have trouble answering the one question that Jesus asks his disciples of every age:
‘Who do you say that I am?’
And so, when questions of faith come up, we are tempted to give a short reply
like Jesus is the answer, then change the subject as quickly as we can.
If we say more than that, someone might realise that we do not have all the answers.
Who do you say that Jesus is?
The gift of faith places the confession on our lips. I’ll repeat that again:
The gift of faith places the confession on our lips, Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
But every day we must struggle to understand exactly what that means
when we are faced with the difficult questions of life and faith.
When these questions arise in your life – and take my word they will – God does not expect you to have all the answers.
We can confess our faith, and I certainly encourage you to do that.
But sometimes it is also okay to admit and say, ‘I just don’t know the answer to that.’
‘I do not completely understand how God works.‘
’I am searching for answers, just like you.’
Be honest and remember what the apostle Paul tell us:
For now, we see through a glass, dimly, but one day, one day we will understand fully what it means
to confess that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
Until that day, we must continue our daily journey of faith, taking one shaky step at a time.
And we must not be afraid to ask questions or to admit that we do not have all the answers.
You know what? We do not even know all the questions, and I praise God for that.