Saturday, August 20, 2011

Proper 16A August 21, 2011

          Was Moses a Jew or an Egyptian? He was born into the tribe of Levi, but he was raised as an Egyptian prince. We’d call him bicultural. Bicultural people are equally comfortable and uncomfortable in two cultures.

          Saturday two weeks ago a school friend from Richmond came to visit three cousins, all retired children of China missionary parents. At lunch we talked about their lives as bicultural people equally comfortable and uncomfortable in two cultures.

          St. Paul says, “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.” Christians are bicultural people. We live in this world, and spiritually we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. We are transformed by the grace of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus, made new people, given a new life.

          For over 1600 years the Christian church has taught that Jesus is both truly human and truly divine. The definition is the first of the Historical Documents on Prayer Book page 864. Jesus is our example and his Holy Spirit gives us the power to live both in this world and in the kingdom of heaven.

          First let me set the scene, then discuss Peter’s confession of faith and Jesus’ response, and finally call us to our own confession of faith. Last week we heard of Jesus and his disciples moving from Galilee to what is now southern Lebanon. Today we find them moving back again across the mountains into more Gentile territory to one of the sources of the Jordan river. I was there some years ago. It is a cool, refreshing place at the foot of Mount Hermon; a big spring feeds into a large pool from which flows a little brook with a park and a café. There is a shrine to the Greek god Pan and the place is now called Banyas. When Jesus came there it had been recently been rebuilt in the Greek style as a resort town by Herod Philip. He was one of the sons of Herod the Great who had massacred the innocents when Jesus was born. Herod Philip’s wife had recently left him for his brother Herod Antipas, and when John the Baptist criticized Herod Antipas for adultery, Herod Antipas had John arrested and executed.

          We can understand Jesus wanting a rest from the constant conflict with the Jewish intellectual and religious leaders, the Scribes and Pharisees, who had refused to accept Jesus’ teaching that the kingdom was at hand. We can imagine the disciples at the pool, rested and refreshed, ready to talk as good friends do at the end of the day. Jesus begins with a broad question, “You’ve been out in the crowds, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’” We can imagine the eager responses.  “Some say John the Baptist” come back to life. Others Elijah – returned (as the Passover ritual still expects) to prepare for the Messiah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. John the Baptist had recently been executed; Elijah had been taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot, and though his return was expected he had not been seen for over 800 years; Jeremiah had survived the fall of the kingdom of Judah to Babylon in 586 and was taken to Egypt, but that was also over 500 years ago.  What all these historical figures had in common was that they were dead.

          Then Jesus asks the disciples, “’But who do you say that I am?’ The first to speak was Simon Peter, good, impulsive, bold Peter who blurted out “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” I can imagine an almost audible sigh, partly from being off the hook of the question, partly from agreement that Peter had put their common feeling into words.

     We know Judas Iscariot remembered because when he betrayed Jesus he told this to the high priest who used it as his final accusation before the council, (St. Matthew 26:62-68) “Then the high priest said to him, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so (that’s right). But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” They answered, “He deserves death.”

     At Caesarea Philippi Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” “Blessed” is the same word as in the Beatitudes. “Blessed are you, Simon” for you are speaking what God my father has put in your heart. Peter called Jesus the Messiah, Hebrew for “anointed one.” Kings were anointed and the Dead Sea scrolls witness to the wide-spread expectation that David’s kingdom would soon be restored. Peter knew Jesus power – he had recently saved him from drowning – and he remembered Jesus proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Peter reflected on his experience and concluded that Jesus was the promised Messiah. But Peter’s confession went on to say, “you are the son of the living God.” Peter recognized in Jesus a new life. All the others were dead; Jesus offered new life. In Jesus Peter found the supernatural experience of being made new. He expressed this supernatural experience as the faith of his heart, and Jesus blessed him.

          On this rock of Peter’s confession of faith Jesus promised to build his church. Remember that when the people of Israel were about to die of thirst in the desert God provided for them water from the rock. Remember that Jesus and the disciples were right there where the water came from the rock from which the river Jordan flowed. The water that comes from the rock of faith is the life-giving Holy Spirit of God.

          We all have an individual experience of Jesus as the Messiah, the son of the living God, for ourselves. We are not saved by any one else’s confession of faith; we get to do that ourselves. We all take out our own individual passport in the kingdom of heaven. We are by adoption and grace made citizens of that kingdom, transformed by the renewing of our minds.  I invite you to make that personal confession, to renew your confession of faith, to be reborn again as you come to the rail today.    Was Moses a Jew or an Egyptian? Are we citizens of this world only or of both this world and the kingdom of heaven?

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