Last sermon given at Trinity Winchester
Scriptures: Zechariah 12:8-10;13:1; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24; Psalm 63:1-8
I’ll never forget a conversation I had once. This person contacted me because he’d seen something I’d written and I suppose he saw that I was a Christian.
I can’t recall what I had been discussing or debating in my writing, and I doubt it was very important, but I remember this guy contacting me and starting to ask me questions about Jesus.
As we talked he stopped asking so many questions and instead started to “inform” me of some of the things he knew about Jesus, my answers having revealed my ignorance of several events he thought were very important for Jesus’ life and teachings.
For example. “Did you know,” he said, “that Jesus went to India…”
Well, no, I didn’t know that… it’s not in the Bible and I really don’t think there’s any evidence outside….”
“Well” he interrupted, “you know that Jesus was a Druid, right? He went to England and Ireland with his uncle Joseph of Arimathea and learned from the Druids while he was there…”
If the DaVinci Code had been written I would’ve been sure I was speaking to Dan Brown’s cousin…and if this guy had read it, I don’t doubt I would have gotten a nice summary of all its theories as well.
It became apparent in our conversation he believed any claim about Jesus except the ones found in the scriptures.
It didn’t matter how much effort I put into trying to explain how improbable it would have been for Jesus or any of his relatives to travel to Britain and back, to say nothing of the fact that the Jews, despite those lapses in the Old Testament, weren’t known for their openness to foreign religion, and I’m sure Jesus would have been even less so.
In spite of all my efforts, I’m not sure I changed anything. He may have left our conversation believing that Jesus was really a Hindu-trained Druid while I, well, I still believed he was and is who the Bible says he is—the Son of God, the Word made flesh, my Lord and Savior.
You see, we all want to claim Jesus as our own. But too often we want to claim him on our terms, as a sort of trophy or trump card for what we already believe, rather than on his terms as our Lord.
And of course if we can truly claim Jesus, it is not because we have chosen him but because, as he says, he has chosen us.
One of the great Christian ethicists of the last century, H. Richard Niebuhr once said that Jesus:
can never be confused with a Socrates, a Plato or an Aristotle, a Gautama (Buddha), a Confucius, or a Mohammed, or even with Amos or Isaiah. Interpreted by a monk, he may take on monastic characteristics; delineated by a socialist, he may show the features of a radical reformer; portrayed by a Hoffman, he may appear as a mild gentleman. But there always remain the original portraits with which all later pictures may be compared and by which all caricatures may be corrected. And in these original portraits he is recognizably one and the same. (Niebuhr, 13)
We live in a day and age when people are trying to justify many things in the name of Jesus. Too often by claiming a Jesus of their creation.
But this isn’t a new thing. And thankfully we’ve been given some guidance.
Consider our gospel lesson this morning, where Jesus asked his disciples “‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God.’”
There are lots of people out there claiming that Jesus is this or Jesus is that—that he’s John the Baptist, or Elijah, that he’s one of the Ancient prophets arisen.
Later on we know that there are enough people calling Christ a blasphemer and traitor to crucify him…
Today we might hear people saying “Jesus was a good man,” or “Jesus was a good teacher,” or “I like what Jesus said, but not what the Bible says he said…” Where exactly they’ve heard anything else legitimate, I don’t know.
We might hear people say that Jesus was a lot like Buddha—a good man who gives us a good example.
Even people who claim to be followers of Jesus may maintain that while following him is good for them, if it doesn’t work for you, that’d be just fine too—lots of roads up the mountain they might say.
But you see, Jesus asks the same questions of his disciples today as he asked his disciples during his earthly ministry: “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
As followers of Jesus, we can’t afford to be oblivious to what people are saying about him.
We can’t afford it because whatever interest they show, however skewed, is an interest in the one who can lead them into the way of life…
We can’t afford it because the opinions they express and the questions they ask may once have been our own.
We can’t afford it because while Jesus told his disciples at the time to stay quiet, lest the authorities get wind of what was happening too soon, we have been given a commission to make disciples of all nations—and people can’t become disciples when they don’t know the teacher.
So, we need to be able to answer the question, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
We also need to be able to answer Jesus’ other question to us: “But who do you say that I am?”
We need to know the answer to this in our hearts, and be able to answer with Peter, “you are the Messiah of God.”
You Lord, are the promised Savior,
My Lord and my God.
And when we can answer this question, we can be assured of Christ’s promises, for us…
For our lives and in our struggles. And there are a lot of struggles that can come.
Lots of storms to toss us around on the sea of life…
Many of you here this morning have faced more than your share just in the first part of this year.
But the promises of God still stand…he has promised to be there with us as we go through dark times, in the midst of the storm.
As our reading from Zechariah recounts, God has promised to be with his people during their trials—whether that be personal struggles, family problems, sickness, or Church conflicts—not that there are ever any of those…
God has promised to be there for us:
“On the day of the siege against Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “I will shield the inhabitants of Jerusalem so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, at their head.”
This is his promise to us—not that we won’t face troubled times
Not that somehow magically conflict and pain and fear will disappear…
Not that we will never feel like we are under siege by whole armies in our lives…
But that he will be there to strengthen us…
To protect us…
And in the end, to make us just a little more like him…
As Anna and I prepare to take up the new ministries God has prepared for us, if I could leave you with a word of hope…
It’s that God loves us even in the midst of the storm. He will shield us, and by his power even the weakest among us will be like David.
And that sounds like Good News to me. Amen.