Sermons That Work

This Text Ends With a Puzzle…, Proper 16 (A) – 1999

August 22, 1999

This text ends with a puzzle. Peter has named Jesus as God’s own anointed one. The language used here is “Messiah.” It means the anointed one. But then Jesus tells his disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah. Why? There are several theories. One is that it was not time for this to be revealed. Another theory is that it would have provoked a revolt against Roman authority. This was a real fear, as just a few years later someone did just that by proclaiming himself to be “the one.” A third theory is that the disciples didn’t know what being the Messiah entailed. They thought that the Messiah was coming to restore the political and religious integrity of Israel.

We know this from other places in the Gospels. In Luke, Chapter 24, verse 21, the disciples Jesus was walking with on the way to Emmaus said to the risen, but as yet unrecognized Jesus, “And we had hoped that he was the one who was going to set Israel free.” This was in response to Jesus’ question to them, “What are you talking about to each other as you walk along?” They told him they had been talking about Jesus who had died. They learly did not recognize him and even more clearly did not understand the nature of Jesus’ role as Messiah.

But, even though the Matthew text ends with a puzzle, it does reveal two very, very important things. First it reveals Jesus’ identity to us. Next it describes a powerful gift that the new Israel will have.

Jesus said to Peter, “Good for you, Peter,” after Peter identified him as the anointed one. The he said, “For this truth did not come to you from any human being, but it was given to you directly by my Father in heaven.”

St. Paul confirms this when he says, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”

Faith is ultimately based on heartfelt, spiritual insight. We can know that God is at work in our hearts when we begin to see sure signs of his presence. For instance, when any one of us begins to see Jesus as the anointed one of God or as the risen one, as did the disciples in the Emmaus resurrection story. Or when we claim him as Savior and submit our lives to his Lordship. When we are asked the questions of faith, we respond in faith if we have faith. The spiritual side of our faith asks the question this way: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” When any of us says, “Yes,” to that question, God is present and guiding us.

But, Jesus didn’t come into the world just to be recognized. He came to bring a new reality. This new reality gets called lots of names: the New Covenant, the New Israel, the Kingdom of God, the Commonwealth of God, the Church, one holy, catholic and apostolic. And Jesus describes this new reality as having astounding authority. Jesus says, “What you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

This is scary. It makes us uncomfortable. We are afraid of those who rush to claim it. We put all sorts of procedures, processes, and structures in place to be sure we exercise this authority with the utmost caution.

And, again, this is a faith issue. Even though we say, “We believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” virtually every Sunday, none of has ever seen it. The church we see is troubled with dissention about what God expects of us in terms of our behavior. The church we live in is divided into many camps. And the church has trouble giving itself, dedicating itself to bringing healing to our broken and sinful world. Clearly when saying, “we believe,” it is God at work in us. This is a confession of faith.

All of this is caught up in Jesus revealing his mission, his purpose, to his disciples. Peter got part of it. We know from the rest of the story that he didn’t get all of it until Pentecost. We are like Peter. We know the whole story, but there are parts of it that puzzle us and scare us. Even though we are puzzled and scared, we need to honor the faith that is in us and know that God is at the heart of our ability to confess that faith.

And sometimes things are clear.

A man named Frank told this story about his brother, Walter. “We always wondered what Walter was good for. He was a prankster, never took anything seriously, and was always in some kind of mess. We were in the World War in the Rainbow Division. We were to attack. We were scared to death, huddled in a hole. Walter climbed out of the hole, started laughing and said, ‘Well, are y’all gonna come with me to see how much trouble I can get into.’ We went with him. Walter was severely wounded later in the day. He was crippled for the rest of his life. But at that moment, I knew what Walter was for.”

In this text from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is telling us what he is for and what we are for. It cost him his life. Even as church members we have been wounded in various ways. Martyrdom still goes on. If you are puzzled and scared, you aren’t paying attention. But if you are puzzled and sacred and still saying “we believe,” then you can be assured that God is with you.

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Christopher Sikkema


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