what do you say?

me preaching 1-22-17a sermon, based on Matthew 16.13-20, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, August 27, 2017

“Who do you say I am?” This question has divided the world. Christian from non-Christian and Christian from Christian.

The division occurs not simply given how you answer, whether you say Jesus is the Son of God, verily, God, an esteemed prophet, a wise teacher, a wondrous miracle-worker, or merely the founder of a religion, but also given how important you think the question is. A matter of life or death? A matter of existential significance, your very response a declaration of who you say you are? Or is it of lesser import, like an intriguing intellectual exercise suitable for a relaxing late summer evening with friends over a good meal and a fine glass of wine?

For if you think the question is important, worth pondering, a matter of personal interest and experience, then that sets you apart from someone who considers it a casual matter or not worth thinking about at all.

And here’s the irony. If the question is important to you, then fairly soon, I think, you may discover that it doesn’t matter how you answer. For Christianity is less about orthodoxy, right belief, than orthopraxy, right practice. Or, more…most truly, Christianity is about the connection between belief and practice. Before Christians were called “Christians”,[1] they were known as followers of “the Way.”[2] For following Jesus was, is not primarily a method of thinking or even believing, but a manner of living and behaving, particularly in regard to others; loving your neighbor, especially the poor, as yourself.[3]

To put this another way, Christianity is not merely about what you believe about Jesus, who you say he is, but also about what values you associate with that belief and how faithfully you practice them and how you deal with others and yourself when you don’t.

My Christianity is about love and justice; unconditional compassion and fairness for others. All others. Those whom I like and don’t like, those with whom I agree and disagree, those who share and don’t share my values. My Christianity also is about how loving and just I am or can be given the limitations of my personal history and experience, insight and understanding, preferences and prejudices, which is why my Christianity calls, commands me always to turn to God, trusting in God’s grace and mercy to strengthen me to be and to do love and justice and to forgive me not if, but when I fail.

What is Christianity for you?

That’s my primary point. You decide. You get to decide. It’s for you to decide. No matter how you put it, it’s your call. Your choice.

I think Jesus meant what he said. Who do you say I am? Not what do others say, even if “the other” is the church with its two millennia old and counting proclamation of doctrine based on that first century answer to the question, as reflected in Peter’s reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  No. What do you say?

A penultimate word, for now… Today or any day, after you answer, tomorrow or any next day, given new experiences and circumstances and your reflections upon them, you may find yourself answering Jesus’ question differently or, though using the same words, understanding them differently. The point is to remain open, honest, and transparent with yourself in your continuing, deepening walk with Jesus.

A final word, for now… At the end and beginning and middle of any day, however you answer the question of who Jesus is for you, remember that your truth is the truth only for you.[4]

 

Footnotes:

[1] See Acts 11.26.

[2] See Acts 9.2.

[3] Matthew 19.19. See also Matthew 25.31-46, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.

[4] By way of an apologia or explanation, it was some time ago when, through a gradual process (as most life processes are) of experience and examination of that (those) experience(s), I came to this truth; that is, what I discern to be true can be related to some universal truth (however conceptualized), but, in humility and honesty, I cannot, I dare not claim my truth as that universal truth, thus, true for all people. To state this point another way, there always is a difference between what I declare is my truth and the Truth, and even my truth and your truth. This perspective has allowed and encouraged me to remain in encounter and conversation with others whose views differ, whether marginally or greatly, from mine with an aim of understanding others, learning from others, and expanding my boundaries of the nature and definition of truth.