Pentecost 11, 24 August 2014
Matthew 16:13-20 INI
What are they saying about you? Wouldn’t you like to know? Have you ever overheard a couple people talking about you? Even if you overhear good stuff it’s a little creepy. It’s worse if they are saying things about you that seem false, like it’s not really you they’re talking about. You feel like shouting, Hey, that’s not me!
Jesus wants to know what the crowds are making of him. Is he having any impact at all? After all the teaching and signs of power and wrangling, what do they make of me? So his friends tell him: they think you’re one of those prophet guys who used to come around. Or maybe you’re a new John the Baptisty kind of guy. Not terrible, but it’s limiting. They are just fitting him into what they already know.
You know, these days I suspect it’d be much the same. Who is Jesus? Oh, he’s a nice guy. You know, friendly, helpful, respectable…nice. Teaches the kids how to be polite. Wrong. Jesus, who’s Jesus? Well, he’s one of those spiritual leaders like Buddha. You can get some tips and pointers from people like that as you discover my own path. Wrong. Jesus? He’s kind of a hippy, man. Cool dude. Wrong. He is a prophet, second only to Mohammed. When his enemies tried to kill him God took him up to heaven first. Wrong.
There are lots of ways to say ever so many nice things about Jesus without letting him be who he really is. The way to avoid Jesus is to say nice things about him. In the words of the old phrase, you can damn him with faint praise. But Peter gets it right: You’re the leader God promised us long ago. You are the ruler of the universe. You are my leader.
One way to put it is that he is the Saviour. Not just the one who punches our ticket so we can get to heaven when we die, although obviously we expect that he will do that. But he is not that for us unless we look to him also right now to get us out of whatever hole we have fallen into this time. The one who will do it the way he knows best, not the one who puts a little oomph behind whatever we have already decided to do.
So I am worried about money and bills, and he says, Look – let me show you the kingdom of God and how he puts things right, put first things first, and the other stuff will fall into place. So we are worried about enemies who are so distasteful and dangerous, and he says, Stop trying to show how right you are, quit demonizing them. Let me show you those enemies through a lens of love and understanding, and then you will see what to do about them. You are fighting over an inheritance and he says, Let my love and generosity wash the greed out of your heart and then you will see your way clearly.
So we feel bad about something we’ve done and we’re looking for someone to blame it on because they made us do it, and he says, But I have already forgiven you. Drop your grudge against someone else and you will be able to enjoy my forgiveness too.
Because he is our leader he tells us what reality is, what the world is like, and he shows us how to live in the world when God is in command of it – and us. He is our leader – not our consultant, not our life coach, not the one who supports us in some decision we already made for reasons of our own, not the one who agrees with us about something we already thought was important or worthwhile; but the one we trusted enough that we decided to do something his way because he wanted us to regardless of what we thought or wanted. The one who was in control
enough that he changed our minds, changed our lives. So let’s ask, What have we done differently just because Jesus wanted it that way? That’s what a leader does: he says, Let’s go and we go.
And it doesn’t end with us. If Jesus really is the leader God promised, his authority extends over all things and we are part of getting the world the way God wants it. No one who looks at the world as it is today can imagine that this is what God had in mind. His goal is not simply to make sure that his special friends will somehow get a free pass on life’s hardships while the devil takes the hindmost. Remember that scene a few weeks back where Jesus is confronted with this huge crowd of hungry people? He does not tell his friends, Look, guys, let’s get away from this mob. I’ve got a secret stash of food back at the boat. No. He says, You give them something to eat. I have called you into existence to be a redemptive movement. To be my partners in setting it straight.
The world knows that this is supposed to be why we are here. This is the standard to which they hold us. If we want to know what they are saying about us, it’s simple: they are comparing what we do to what we say. I will leave it for you to say what they are saying.
But there is an edge to this. If Jesus is our leader, then he comes into direct conflict with everyone else who wants to tell us what to do. In his day it was the evil spirits and the Roman emperor and the religious leaders, and the mothers and fathers who wanted their children to obey them. It was the sense of hopelessness and unworthiness that tied people in knots. It was those who pitted people against each other so they could divide and conquer. It was the economic powers that wanted it all for themselves, it was the cultural leaders who wanted to trap us in a living death of cheap thrills through sex, games and violence. This is why
Jesus was constantly battling, battling. It is why he is still battling to free the world from powers that want the world to be so much less than it was made to be. These powers are well aware of him and what he is doing, more so sometimes than we. When Christians in our land are trying to decide between going to church and watering the lawn, tyrants in other countries are persecuting the church because they know how dangerous it really is to their pretensions. They don’t want Jesus to lead!
The reason we can trust him to be our leader is that at tremendous cost to himself he continues to battle these scourges to help us. There is not a selfish bone in his body. And he continues to defeat them, no matter how long it takes. This is why we may follow him with trust and confidence.
So I leave you with three questions: What has your leader done to save you? How is your life different because he is your leader? What battle are you willing to follow him into?