Joseph P. Mathews
21 août 2011 11:00 a.m.
Proper 16, Pentecost +10, A
Matthew 16.13-20; Romans 12.1-8
“Jesus said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ ”
Have you ever been lost? Or maybe better, have you known exactly where you were but not where the thing you’re looking for – like a cheap, cold, bottle of Orangina – is? Wandering around the City or wandering around anywhere looking for a place, a place that can be your oasis?
Where our Gospel text takes place – Caesarea Phillipi - is located at the bottom of Mt. Hermon, a place that would’ve been known at least in the cultural memory of the crowds following Jesus. You see, at the bottom of Mt. Hermon was a cave from which waters gushed, starting a tributary to the Jordan River, in which Jesus was baptized. In a dry, desert land with scarce access to water, the people would’ve been very familiar with this source-and-sustainer of life. Caesarea Phillipi was a physical oasis for people. But as the crowds follow Jesus they are looking and searching nonetheless. Can you hear their longing in who they say Jesus is?
Some say John the Baptist, the one who called the people to repentance, wore camel’s hair, and ate locusts. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel Matthew has said that John the Baptizer is the forerunner about whom Isaiah prophesied. The crowds following Jesus around would likely remember his calling their religious leaders, the Pharisees, a brood of vipers. He is dead now, but some people say that maybe he is back as Jesus.
But others say Elijah: the prophet of old who stood up for worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob over the Canaanite god Baal, whose worship came into Israel during an attempt to achieve domestic security. Elijah raised the dead. He called down fire from heaven that destroyed water-soaked altars to Baal. Elijah didn’t die; after crossing the River Jordan with his protégée, he is caught up in a chariot of fire. The prophet Malachi prophesied that Elijah would return before the Messiah’s approach. Some people say that Jesus is Elijah having returned.
Yet still others say that he is Jeremiah, the prophet who forewarned the people of their impending Babylonian captivity as punishment for generations of idolatry. And yet others say that maybe Jesus is just one of the prophets who’s decided to come back for a bit. Standing there among the living waters at Caesarea Phillipi, an oasis in a dry and barren region, among a group of people longing for new life and freedom from centuries of political and religious oppression, the crowds following Jesus are clearly looking for good news, for hope, for a word from God.
Jesus asks his closest friends who they say he is. Peter, never scared to speak his mind, says, “You are the Messiah! The son of the living God!” and certainly implying, “You have come to change the world and make things better for us!” Also suggesting, “You are what we and the crowds are searching for in our barrenness.” Peter was the first of many to stand at living water and profess his faith that Jesus is the son of the Living God. This pattern of standing at an oasis and making a profession based on hope for renewal has continued through centuries as new believers come to the baptismal font and make their own declarations.
Baptismal candidates stand near the water of life and are asked, “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your savior?” Later in the service they’re invited to answer Jesus’s question of “Who do you say that I am?” when asked “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” Day by day we answer Jesus’ question with our thoughts, words, and actions. Who do we say Jesus is when we anonymously post a hateful YouTube comment, offer to take a picture for tourists, or partition what we do on Sunday mornings from the rest of how we live our lives? If we believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Chosen One, the Son of the Living God who has saved the world, how do we proclaim that with our words and examples?
When Peter said that Jesus was the Messiah, he risked his life. Remember, one of the charges the Pharisees bring against Jesus is that he and his followers claim that he is the Son of God – a blasphemous statement in their ears. But in Jesus he had seen a vision of God with us showing us a better way to live. At our baptisms we’ve already risked and given our lives. The baptismal liturgy is very clear: we are baptized into Christ’s death. We give up that which was before, and we die to sin and our old lives. Baptism isn’t just death, though: we come through it. We’re joined to Christ not just in death, but also resurrection. We die to our old lives but are raised to new life in Christ. In this new life we’re strengthened to keep the promises that we’ve made. We’re born from the womb of the font and made one with Christ and the Church.
At our baptisms we make a profession of faith like Peter’s. Daily we’re given opportunities to, as Paul writes in our Romans reading today, not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Every time someone is baptized, the Church calls itself to a corporate renewing of the promises made at our baptisms.
In a few moments we’ll all be given the opportunity together to renew our professions of faith. At baptismal services we use the Apostle’s Creed, not the Nicene Creed. We speak in the first person and individually proclaim our belief in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. Then we’ll renew other promises we’ve made: not just striving for justice and peace and respecting the dignity of every human being, but repenting when we fall into sin and proclaiming by word and example by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. After the baptism the newly baptized are welcomed and given a charge to profess the faith of Christ crucified and proclaim his resurrection. Those who have been charged in turn charge others and promise to help the newly baptized live their promises. They’ve been made one in Christ, which Paul reminds us in Romans today, as well. But in our oneness we are still individuals with different tasks.
Each time someone new comes to the Living Water, we are all invited to remember when we went wading ourselves, to remember the promises that we made, and the new life we’ve been given. We were charged to proclaim the New Life of Christ, which we do bring good news to the downtrodden and oppressed and work for peace in places of violence. We come together regularly for nourishment and help in those endeavors. We don’t always do it well, so we confess that and are forgiven. Having been baptized into Christ’s death, resurrection, and body the Church we share a meal together and strengthen our relationship with him and with one another.
At the living waters of the font, like the gushing waters at Caesarea Phillipi Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter said that he was the Christ, the Chosen One. Who do you say that he is? Remember your baptisms, and be thankful. Amen.