Who Do You Say I Am? : Matthew 16:13-20

A sermon delivered by the Rev. Laura Bechervaise on Jesus the Messiah on 27th August 2023

Have you ever recognised a celebrity in the wild? Did you say anything to acknowledge them and their fame? If so, were they kind? Or did you get a kind of ‘do you know who I am’ kind of vibe from them? I’d love to hear your stories over coffee at the end of the service.

I have very minimal examples, but one of my favourite encounters was at a literary and music event called Curious Arts festival a few years ago. 

Let me set the scene for you- I was there with my friend Tina who was performing in the tiddliest little venue, but because she was technically a performer she got access to the Green Room for her and her ‘crew’ – I counted in that as I drove her there. We learn that there was some free food on offer, so we go to explore, and we end up in a queue of people.

Now, even though I love reading, I couldn’t say that I would know what many authors actually looked like. So I don’t recognise anyone in the room, and feeling quite at ease we get chatting in the queue to the person behind us. “What are you doing here?” I asked. “Oh, I’ve just brought a group of singers”. 

It transpired it was Gareth Malone!! (presented The Choir) who was headlining later that evening. He is reasonably well know, but there wasn’t even a whiff of “do you know who I am” about him.

Being recognised is at the heart of today’s Gospel reading. Most prominent is Simon Peter’s recognition of Jesus, in response to his own version of the question “do you know who I am”, but in his own words “who do you say I am”. You are the Messiah- the Son of the living God. Bingo!  He’s got the answer right.

He recognises who Jesus really is, not just some nice guy, some eccentric teacher, wandering nomad. He is the son of the living God!! A saviour. The promised Messiah. Because, having followed him around for a while, it had to come to a decision point. Simon Peter’s decision in that moment was to recognise him as God.

It’s such a simple foundation to faith in some ways. When push comes to shove, when the chips are down and we’re forced to give an answer to the question “who do you say I am”… I wonder what our answer is?

A couple of months ago my husband Tim was here speaking about the work of Open Doors, who support Christians who are persecuted for their faith. Through their work, they share about some of some of the most extreme examples of people being put on the spot at being asked the question: who do you say Jesus is? And many of our brothers and sisters across the world it’s a life or death question. Life, in the sense that confessing Jesus as Lord leads us to eternal life, but in some contexts the price they pay for confessing Jesus as the Son of God is death.

I’d guess it’s unlikely that any of us will face anything quite so extreme, but the question of who we say Jesus is is an important one for us to face. It’s sometimes been categorised into three ways- either he is a liar, or a lunatic, or he is Lord. What is our own answer to that question?

In return to Simon Peter’s answer, Jesus recognises and affirms his identity- “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”. Peter’s recognition and declaration that Jesus is God was the only qualification he needed in order to be used by God. No ethical basis, no educational basis, no ethnic basis. It’s so easy to overcomplicate our faith, add in extra qualifications. But recognising Jesus as our Lord and Saviour is the only foundation that we need.

So then when we declare Jesus as our Lord, there’s an invitation to hear Jesus’ affirmation back to us as his precious child and someone that is part of a family, the body of Christ- which is the church. Many different members, all with different characteristics and callings, but part of one body with the same foundation of faith- recognising Jesus as Lord.

And so whilst we’ve looked at this declaration of Jesus as Lord as a specific moment, there is also journey of transformation which follows.  

This is reflected in the beginning of the Romans reading. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed. So that we might discern the will of God. We are to be a living sacrifice. The only qualification to being used by God is to acknowledge him as Lord… but then we go on a journey of being more and more transformed into the likeness of Christ as we discern the will of God. It should make a difference to have confessed that God is God, not us.

And so one way that I’ve found helpful to do that is to ask myself that question “who do you say I am” in any given situation- it’s an opportunity to remember that I am not God, HE is! In a stressful situation, remembering that, if we have acknowledged that Jesus is Lord, he is therefore all powerful and so we give the situation over to him and ask for his peace. 

When presented with an opportunity to demonstrate generosity towards another, when I remember that everything I have belongs to God, it is easy to give more freely. When I mess up and feel like a total failure, I remember that Jesus is my saviour, he died for my sins so that all I have to do is confess and receive his forgiveness. I don’t always get it right, that’s why it’s an ongoing process, day by day.

Let me finish off by going back to the story I started with- meeting Gareth Malone in the food queue. He was a very kind man, gracious and unassuming. He didn’t abuse his celebrity status, ‘don’t you know who I am’. 

How much kinder is Jesus than anyone else, who didn’t go round asserting himself “don’t you know who I am”, but instead posing the question “who do you say that I am”. 

If you’ve never actually taken the time to consider that question for yourself today is a great day to do that. 

And if you have, then perhaps it’s a moment to ask the question- does that make a difference to the way I live my life

Is that a question that challenges me to be transformed more into Christ’s likeness?

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