October 8, 2023

So, What Do You Say?

Joshua 24:1, 13-18 Mark 8:27-38

Rev. Lewis Galloway

In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, author Philip Yancey tells how his understanding of Jesus changed over the years. The one he met as a child, while he sang “Jesus Loves Me” and placed Biblical figures on a flannel graph board, always reminded him of Kool‐Aid, cookies, gold stars, and Mr. Rogers. In Bible college he met another Jesus, who appeared like a “cosmic Christ” suspended over the world in a Salvador Dali painting and yet, paradoxically, with whom he could have a personal relationship. Over the years, Yancy encountered other images: Jesus the troublemaker, the iconoclast, the tough guy, the wonder worker, and the revolutionary. The more he came to know Jesus, the more he encountered the mystery of his being. Yancey writes:

Jesus, I found, bore little resemblance to the Mr. Rogers figure I had met in Sunday School, and was remarkably unlike the person I had studied in Bible college. For one thing, he was far less tame… Other people affected Jesus deeply: obstinacy frustrated him, self‐righteousness infuriated him, simple faith thrilled him… The more I studied Jesus, the more difficult it became to pigeonhole him (p. 23, The Jesus I Never Knew).”

Philip Yancey has spent his life coming to know Jesus.

Who is Jesus and what does it mean to know him? When Jesus asks the disciples what people are saying about him, we find ourselves at a dramatic turning point. Some say a prophet like Elijah; others say John the Baptist and still others, Jeremiah. Then the question becomes quite focused and personal: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responds, “You are the Messiah.”

When bold, impetuous Peter blurts out that Jesus is the Messiah, he sees Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises of God to the Jewish people. The word “Messiah” means anointed. The Hebrew word for Messiah is translated into Greek as Christos. Jesus is the Christ. Christ is not his last name, but his title. The people expected God’s anointed servant to deliver them from their oppressors and establish the throne of David forever. Jesus transformed the expectations of the people. Yes, he is the long‐awaited Messiah, but he comes not to bring political deliverance to a particular people. He comes to bring deliverance from the power of sin and death to all people.

In the first congregation that my wife and I served in rural eastern North Carolina, there was a man who was a part of a large extended family in the church. He was a member, but the only time I ever remembering him coming to church was to vote against the church hosting a refugee family from Cambodia. Dick was a brick mason. He drank a couple of six-packs at night. He never finished high school. He was an angry, unhappy man.

One day as I was driving by the church, I saw his truck parked in the yard. I went in. Dick was on his knees in the sanctuary. He told me that his brother-in-law had insulted Dick’s wife. He had gone to his brother-in-law’s house to “settle” things. When his brother-in-law answered the door, Dick held his shotgun to his brother-in-law’s face. He was ready to pull the trigger when something stopped him. He said, “I realized what an animal I had become.” We prayed together. I went home. Early the next morning Dick was on our doorstep asking me to go with him to the Sherriff’s office to turn himself in. With the best Presbyterian advice I could offer, I said, “Let’s get a lawyer.” We did go to straighten things out.

From that moment on, Dick was a different person. He quit drinking; he had a new attitude toward others; he gave up his racist views. He wanted to read everything he could about Jesus. I gave him books – easy ones at first. He wanted more. He read them all. He persisted. Finally, I gave him Karl Barth’s Commentary on Romans, a dense book which turned the theological world upside down. I had never managed to get through it.

The next morning the phone rang at 7 a.m. It was Dick. He said, “Listen to this: ‘There is no one so villainous for whom God is not Father and Christ is not brother.’” Silence. I asked him, “What do you think?” He replied, “It is the most wonderful thing I have ever read.” He found Jesus. Or perhaps I should say that he was found by Jesus.

Every time we confess Jesus to be the Christ, we know the one who fulfills our hopes by correcting, transforming, and enlarging them. He shatters us and puts us together again. Jesus challenges our expectations, transforms our dreams, and invites us to see God’s future, which is always something bigger than we could have imagined. He comes to forgive us, heal us, and restore our relationships. He comes to invite us into something larger than ourselves. He comes to enlist us as a transformed people to be citizens of God’s kingdom. Like Jesus, we are anointed by the Spirit of God to share our faith, work for justice, overcome our addictions, heal the sick, and restore peace among all people. When we say that we believe in Jesus Christ, we are saying we believe in all that he stands for and all that he is doing in the world today. No other name in heaven or on earth can grasp, hold, and sustain our lives than the name of Jesus, God’s only Son, our Lord.

Francis of Assisi walked away from his family’s wealth to live a simple life as a monk; John Newton gave up the slave trade to become a preacher and wrote “Amazing Grace”. The Quaker, Susan B. Anthony, became an abolitionist and a fierce advocate for the rights of women; Pastor André Trocmé’s protestant church in occupied France sheltered Jews during the Second World War. Today, followers of Jesus Christ build houses, counsel troubled souls, open clothing banks, feed the hungry, care for the earth, visit the lonely, stand up for neglected children, evangelize, and coach ball teams. To know Jesus is to follow his way in the world.

There is a lot to be said for the well‐focused question that cuts to the heart of the matter. When the children of Israel were on the verge of entering the Promised Land, Joshua put the essential question to them: “Choose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).” Jesus and the disciples spend a lot of time traveling the roads of Galilee. He teaches them about God’s way in the world. In Caesarea Philippi, he asks the essential question, “Who do you say that I am?” How we answer that question will determine how we live our lives: the faith that holds us, the choices we make, the things we do. When we answer, Jesus cannot remain a subject to be discussed in a classroom or an object to be dissected in a laboratory, but a person to be encountered.

The gospels were written not so that we might have a word about Jesus, but that through the gospels we might meet Jesus – the Living Lord – rising luminous from the page. The gospels make Jesus known to us in all the beauty and dimensions of his life. So, we come face to face with the essential question, “Who do you say that I am?” What answer will we give? What we say today will unfold over the whole course of our lives. It will disclose its beauty in our experiences, reveal itself in our suffering, take us in unexpected directions, overturn our fixed ideas, and give us new vision.

For a moment, I want to lift up three dimensions of what it means to say yes to Jesus. First, to say yes to Jesus means that our lives have a new center of operation. We are no longer on autopilot. He will direct and guide our lives. We will keep our eyes on him. When we know Jesus as living Christ, the Son of God, we join in worship to praise him, follow his word, listen for him, and experience his presence with us through the Holy Spirit. The more we keep him at the center of our lives, the more he will reshape and reform our character. To say yes to Jesus means, as the Catechism says, “to live our lives to the glory of God.”

To say yes to Jesus is to treat others in a new way. As Paul says, we no longer see others from a human point of view. We see them through the eyes of Christ; we see Christ in them. It means we can no longer see people as objects to use for our own advantage or put our needs before the needs of others. We pray for our enemies to build bridges of understanding; we seek to be reconciled with those we have hurt and with those who have hurt us. We become servants of Christ and therefore servants of one another.

To say yes to Jesus is to use our time, our talents, and our resources in the service of the kingdom. It is to build up the body of Christ, the church. We have been blessed with so many gifts. I look at this congregation and I see astonishing gifts for teaching, organizing, serving, leading, inspiring, creating, and managing. All of these are gifts needed in the church of Christ as we serve one another and serve Jesus in the world. We pledge our financial resources to the church to help us be good managers not only of what we give away, but also of how we use all of our resources. Pledging helps us get our priorities straight. Pledging to the ministry of the church is a spiritual discipline that reminds us, week in and week out, to keep Christ at the center of our lives. I pray that over the weeks to come, you will give prayerful thought about how you can use your talents and resources in new and fresh ways (not just the same ol’ same ol’ way) to be a witness to Christ both within and beyond the church.

Jesus asks the essential question, “Who do you say that I am?” We answer in how we live our lives to the glory of God, in how we treat others, and in how we use our gifts in God’s service. So then, what do you say?


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