|| "Who do you say
that I am?" Jesus asked. Simon Peter answered, "You
are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus
answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are
Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra)
I will build my church..." Jesus then began to speak of
the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get
behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling
May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
Beyond all the titles
Message preached March 15,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon John 3:14-21 (and other texts)
Order of Worship
Listen to this sermon (.mp3 - quality of recording is low)
At one time she was a skinny little Junior High girl in my youth group. In no way could Susan have been thought of as an ugly duckling, only someday to become a graceful swan. No, she was pretty, and intelligent, and talented. Still, it came as a surprise to hear that she had been chosen to represent the state of Indiana in the 1987 Miss America pageant.
Susan: “Miss Indiana,” a potential “Miss America” … There’s something in a title that makes a person seem larger than life. It was not easy for me to pull together the two images of this young woman in my head. On the one hand was Susan, member of the youth group I once led, daughter of Flawn and Nancy, granddaughter of Clarence and Erma, someone with a mouth full of braces and a mischievous glint in her eyes. On the other hand was “Miss Indiana,” confident college student, and really quite beautiful.
The summer between those pageants, I was invited back to perform the wedding of one of the other girls in that youth group. Susan was there. I kidded her father about his britches being a little small for all the pride stuffed in them. He replied: “Let me tell you”… and he did. Still, I found it hard to approach his daughter. Something in her title got in the way.
I guess I’ve always been a little intimidated by people who seem a little larger than life. Oh, I did talk with Susan (or was it “Miss Indiana”?) as the congregation was being slowly ushered through the receiving line. But it wasn’t until later, during the reception, that we got a better chance to talk. With words that sound rather dumb, I asked her, “are you still Susan?” She looked me in the eye and smiled, with the same mouth that was once held in captivity by an orthodontist, and said, “ Yes, I’m still Susan, and I wish everyone knew that.”
“I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.” With these words the Apostles’ Creed begins to talk about the man from Galilee. The phrase is a mouthful of titles for this man. He is called “Jesus.” He is proclaimed “Christ” - Messiah, Savior. He is considered “God’s Son.” He is confessed as “our Lord.” These four titles are not all the names he is given in the New Testament, by any manner of means.
This man, whose disciples simply called “teacher” or “master,” is referred to as (to name a few more): the true prophet, the suffering servant, the Lamb of God, the high priest, and the Word made flesh, in addition to “Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Lord.” It’s so easy to become intimidated by them all. Titles have a way of doing that, you know.
Titles which were intended to help us to understand, can get in the way of our understanding, if we allow them to. Oh, we can share polite small-talk with this One from Galilee, and in the process be so intimidated by these larger-than-life titles that we don’t really encounter him. With all these titles floating around in front of us, perhaps we have a real need to drop the small-talk and simply ask, “are you still Jesus?”
By that I mean: are you still in touch with what it’s like to be an ordinary human being? Do you still remember, Jesus, what temptation is all about, or do you just sit pretty with a smug look on your face knowing that you didn’t sin, and wonder why the rest of us can’t follow suit? Can you still taste what failure is all about? Oh, I know (in retrospect) that the cross was not a failure. In the long run it was a smashing success. However, I live with a fear of failure, Jesus, and if you don’t know what that’s all about, then all those titles that people refer to when they talk about you aren’t worth a plug nickel.
Do you remember what it is like to hurt, for instance, to be rejected, even by those close to you? And what about loss, are you in touch with that? Something happened to Joseph, your earthly dad, who worked as a carpenter in Nazareth. He was there when you were born but not when you were grown up. Can you still relate to losing him? Or what about the tears on your mother’s face when she had to watch you die? That’s not how it’s supposed to happen, you know. Parents should die before their children, not after. Does her heartache grab you?
Are you still in touch with the needs you felt as a man: hunger, thirst, the human need for affection, acceptance, accomplishment? Do you remember what it’s like to be an ordinary person? Are you still Jesus, or are you some “Mr. Universe,” who is nice to look at, listen to, think about, but never really get to know? Such questions may sound a bit brash or crass, but we need to ask them nonetheless.
Most of us are too afraid to say such things out loud. We may be intimidated by all these titles surrounding the name of Jesus. However, instead of asking such questions out right, we usually live them. We give into temptation without much of a struggle, figuring that this is a real world, and what did Jesus know about such things, anyway. We allow other people to define for us what success is, and then kill ourselves trying to match up to their expectations, or give up trying to succeed. We allow pain and loss to dominate our lives or, on the other hand, we refuse to even recognize our hurt, living lives that know no joy, because we never feel the pain out of which joy springs. We don’t hunger and thirst for anything more in life because we don’t see much possibility in there being anything more to life. We act out our questions rather than asking them. However, what if we were to ask the dumb question, “are you still Jesus?” Would he smile and reply, “yes, I’m still Jesus, and I wish everyone knew that”?
“I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.” So professes the Apostles’ Creed. Along the way of faith, this all-too-brief sentence tries to convey that “yes, Jesus is still Jesus.” He fully shares with us what it means to be a human being. He hasn’t forgotten his roots in the soil of our experience. However, the roots of this Jesus go much deeper than our experience. His roots - in fact - go back to the sixth day of creation, when Adam was made from the soil (Adamah) of the earth, brought to life by the breath of God. The first Adam, who stands for us all, was created with a great purpose: to live a responsible life, responsible for God’s creation, able to respond to the will of the Creator, seeking to see the world through the eyes of its Author, to see the potential in what God created, and to work with God, given the power of this Author, God’s author-ity, to work with the Creator in taking care of creation and helping it to become more fully what God intended it to be.
Jesus’ roots go back to the original creation of Adam and, as scripture maintains, Jesus was and is the “Son of Man” (the son of Adam, another title), the truest man there ever was, in tune with the intentions of the Creator. Yet Jesus’ roots go back even further. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” With language that reminds us of the beginning - the genesis - of the Bible, John’s gospel proclaims that this Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, was there before the very first day of creation. He was “in the beginning with God,” John goes on to say, “all things were made through him ... in him was life.” The roots of this one from Nazareth go back, not only to the original creation of human beings, but to the beginning of creation itself. Scripture calls him not just the “Son of Man,” but the “Son of God.” His roots go deep...
With all this in mind, perhaps the question that should immediately follow, “are you still Jesus?” is “are you still the Son of God?” I mean, I do need to relate to you, Jesus, as someone who knows what it’s like to walk in my shoes. But I also need someone who can help get my toes pointed in the right direction, and can help me get my legs in gear when my body just doesn’t want to move. I need that hand which first brought a semblance of order to the chaos of the world. I need a hand to help when my world seems out of control and chaotic. I need someone who knows about creating something fresh and new and alive and real, when everything around seems old and stale and unreal.
Do you remember that sixth day of creation, Jesus, when we were fashioned out of dust by the hand of God? All too often I lose track of why I am here and where I am headed. Without a sense of purpose, the road I travel seems very dry at times. I need to be in touch with what God is still doing around and in me - why I am really here. I need to know that the hands which formed the earth are not inactive or asleep at the switch. I need a reason and the power to fully live now, as well as to die someday with the insurance that the hand which created me will not let me go, even beyond my earthly end. I do hunger and thirst for something more in my life.
What if we were to ask the dumb question, “are you still the Son of God?” (with all that such a question means?) Would Jesus smile, with a smile as wide as the world itself, and say, “yes, I’m still God’s Son, and I wish everyone knew that”?
“I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.” With these words the Apostles Creed begins to talk about the man from Galilee. This phrase is a mouthful of titles, and by no means has this sermon even begun to scratch the surface of what all those words mean. It is my hope that we not become intimidated by all the titles and never really get to know the one about whom these words are spoken. Because Jesus is still Jesus, he can fully relate to every step we make in life, whether toward or away from God. Because Jesus is still God’s Son, he can bring about a new creation in our lives. Because of all of this, Jesus Christ is “our Lord.” We can follow where he leads, trusting that he knows our limitations as well as our possibilities; trusting that he is able to get us to where we need to be. “Whoever believes (whoever trusts) in him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life.”
When Louisa Stead wrote the words to our final hymn, I wonder what she meant by “sweet,” as in “tis so sweet to trust in Jesus.” Did she intend to say that trust is never bitter or salted by tears? Did she mean that it is always fresh, pleasing, agreeable, delightful? I wonder. As someone whose husband drowned trying to rescue a child, thus leaving her and her daughter penniless, did she mean something more by that word “sweet” – a sense of trust which eventually led her to cross an ocean and share her faith in a distant land? Think about that as you stand and sing #340 in your hymnal.
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)
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