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August 27, 2023

13th Sunday After Pentecost

Isaiah 51:1-6

Psalm 138

Romans 12:1-8

Matthew 16:13-20

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

grace and peace to you from the one who gives us identity and purpose. Amen

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks the disciples,

Simon Peter says, “you are the messiah, the Son of the living God”

and in return Jesus gives Peter a new identity and purpose,

he is the rock on whom Jesus will build the church,

Peter’s new identity and purpose

are a direct result of who he says that Jesus is,

Jesus’ and Peter’s identities are intertwined.

The question of identity is all over our readings for today

Actually it’s all over our world today,

as changes in how people communicate,

how they work and live and relate

are upending old patterns of life,

even the climate and weather patterns are changing,

leaving people wondering ‘if all this is different, then who am I now?’

Of course the Church (with a capital C) is no exception,

we’ve gotten used to working within the old systems,

we became reliant on society placing a certain value on Church,

and now that value is going away we too wonder:

‘well what is our purpose? How do we fit in? Who are we’?

We wonder this as individual congregations as well,

as we had our book discussion during Lent,

the strongest theme that emerged from the conversation

was a longing for clarity about the identity and purpose of Grace.

Now of course the heart of our identity and purpose has never changed,

That is Christ.

We gather in the name of Christ,

Christ meets us in worship and the sacraments,

Jesus sends us out to serve him.

Like Peter our identity and purpose are intertwined with Jesus,

and so the question Jesus poses to the disciples this morning

is one we must consider as well.

because who we claim Jesus to be

directly impacts who we understand ourselves to be

and how we live in the world.

These days a lot of people

have a lot to say about who Jesus is,

And frankly some of what they say

makes me scratch my head and wonder what Bible they’ve been reading,

particularly when they use Jesus to justify hate and exclusion.

Hearing all the things people say about Jesus can get overwhelming and confusing

Causing us to question our own understanding of who Jesus is.

But then Jesus has us pause and asks us: “but who do you say that I am?”

Who do you say Jesus is?

Who do we say Jesus is?

Traditionally we confess with Peter

that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the Living God.

Or we use the words of the creeds,

“I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord…”

we confess this even as we ask the good Lutheran question: “what does this mean?”

What does it mean to say this about Jesus?

Who is God that Jesus is the Son of?”

Our readings for today

model how God suggests that we might begin to approach these questions.

In our reading from Isaiah

God is speaking to people who are seeking the Lord,

they have experienced the tragedy of exile from their homeland

and it has caused them to ask who is God?

In response

God points them back to the past actions of God.

Saying “Look to the rock from which you were hewn…

look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you;

for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.”

God recalls to the people

their collective experience with God,

in a way saying ‘if I acted this way in the past I’ll act this way again’

In many ways who we say God is

depends on our experience of God,

both as a community and as individuals.

Which is why it is important that we gather

and tell the stories of how we have experienced God,

each story adding a piece to our understanding

when we tell the story of the exodus

we are proclaiming that God is a God of liberation,

when we tell the story of Jesus

we are saying that God is one who walks with us,

when we hear of the work of Jesus through the disciples

we are confessing that God works through us.

When we tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection

we are saying that God is not stopped by death.

And we each as individuals and congregations

have our own stories of God in our lives

that shape and define who we confess God to be.

What we say about God

based on the scriptures, the community and our own lives

paints a picture of a God who is

one who is intimately involved in our lives

and this realization causes us to ask, ‘if this is so, who am I and what am I to do?’

“You are a member of the body of Christ,” says Paul

speaking to a group of people asking that very question,

‘and members of the body of Christ are unique,

with various gifts and talents that all come together

to help communicate to others who God is’

and Paul urges them to take the time to figure out just what their gifts are

and what God want them to do with those gifts.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect”

Paul realizes that it is possible to get caught up in the world around us,

that unless we take time to read scripture, pray and think about it

we might confuse what the world wants with what God wants.

In the same way Jesus had the disciples pause,

away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds

and everything that they were saying about Jesus

before he asked them: “But who do you say that I am?”

It’s okay to take time to consider our response

It’s biblical to take time to consider who we say God is

And to consider what gifts God has given us

And how God wants us to use those gifts.

We will be entering a time to consider these questions as a congregation

next month as our participation in the Vitality Initiative for Congregations begins,

this is not a quick fix scheme

that promises to ‘save your church in 3 easy steps!’

rather it is a time to pause and ask these questions of identity,

who do we say God is?

What gifts has God given us?

Where is God calling us?

Deep Asking and listening take time,

the Vitality Initiative is 18 months long

but it’s worth the time

because what we discern,

what we come to confess about God, and ourselves,

directly impacts how we will understand ourselves

and what we will do with our life together.

These questions can be daunting

but when we ask them in community,

with the scriptures as witness,

the Holy Spirit our comforter and guide

and Jesus who has claimed us as his own

God will reveal to us who God is

Who we are

And what we are to do.

And it will probably take us in some surprising directions.

Peter confessed Jesus to be the messiah, the Son of the living God,

and Jesus gave Peter a new identity and purpose,

and it took Peter in some unexpected directions,

the garden of Gethsemane,

the courtyard of the high priest,

the empty tomb, breakfast beside the sea of Galilee,

it even took Peter, a good Jew,

to the gentiles with the message of Jesus

a place he certainly didn’t expect to wind up

but which deepened his understanding of who God is

and who he proclaimed God to be

and how he understood himself.

I wonder what unexpected things we will encounter

When we pause to consider who Jesus is for us

I don’t know what is ahead

But I fully expect a God filled transformation.


Who do you say Jesus is? Amen

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