TRUE STORY: We had a relatively large adult education class in the first church I served as Pastor. The class decided that they wanted to study the Gospel according to Mark – reading the text and talking about how it applied to us. One afternoon – a few days after one of our sessions - a longtime member of the church walked into my office. He looked at me and he said, “Jesus wasn’t a Republican, was he?”
“NO”, I said.
“He wasn’t really a Democrat either?
“NO”, I agreed.
“He was more of a communist.”
Now that wasn’t a question. It was a statement. The man was beginning to see a different side of Jesus as he dug into the scriptures and he didn’t like the Jesus he was beginning to see. So he solved the problem. He never came back to Bible class.
In Matthew 16:15 Jesus asks his followers a question: “Who do you say that I am?”
How we answer that question makes a difference because it makes a claim on our lives.
As I studied and contemplated and prayed last week in preparation for my sermon on this text I made a list of “things I believe about Jesus.” As I continue to wrestle with the “who is Jesus?” question, I am struck with the realization that Jesus brings both gift and challenge.
I use my list to explain.
Jesus gives life – Jesus saves
For me, “Jesus saves” means that Jesus gives life to the world. Jesus death by crucifixion was the world’s “No” to God’s reign of peace and justice here on earth. Jesus resurrection was God’s YES. No matter what happens we are assured that life will one day triumph over death.
That is a gift. That Jesus did this for us is a gift which makes us very special people.
Jesus was generous with his
The second thing on my list is Jesus’ generosity. Jesus was generous – very generous - with everything he was and everything he had. Jesus generosity means we are the recipients of love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, healing, understanding, life . . . .the list goes on.
Those are great gifts. We are special people.
But here is where the challenge comes in. If we are followers of Jesus that means we are to be generous - with love – kindness - compassion – forgiveness – healing – understanding - life – with everything we are and everything we have . . . ..
Jesus confronted injustice.
The third thing that I had on my list is that Jesus is someone who confronted injustice. When Jesus came proclaiming that the “Kingdom of God is at hand” he was talking about a world where everyone is valued and resources are shared and everyone has enough.
I think that is the ultimate challenge offered by Jesus – to go out promoting that kind of world and to live our lives as if that kind of world is not only possible but coming into being.
When Jesus asks the question, “Who do you say that I am?” it is not a benign question.
He is not just asking who he is, he is asking who we want to be.
And thank goodness he doesn’t just leave us hanging – struggling because we can never live up to his or our own expectations.
Jesus sends the Holy Spirit
Number four on my list: Jesus also sends the Spirit who provides the gifts to help us meet the challenges. I think that at times we downplay our special value and we downplay our own giftedness. We deny our own gifts because we are afraid to test them out, or we give up on ourselves because the first few times we use our gifts we don't quite do as well as we would like.
Yet over and over scripture tells us that we have all been given gifts; not all the same gifts, but complimentary gifts.
God created us as unique and gifted individuals. Jesus frees us to use what has been given in creative and life-giving ways. Today we are invited once again to claim our gifts, to develop them, and to use them, dedicating them to the glory of God. And in doing so to find our life and to find our joy. Amen.