Who Do You Say I Am?

For refernce, the Bible passages are printed below the text

Before her passing, my 94-year old mother was always frustrated with identity issues. She walked down the street in her hometown, where she’d lived her entire life, and people would say hello to her by name. The refrain was always the same: “Hi Polly, how are you?”

Her frustration was that she had lived through a couple of generations of folks, so the people who said hello to her may have been the sons or daughters or grandsons or granddaughters of people she once knew. Her answer to those who said hello to her by name was, “Who are you?”

Identity is a hot topic.

We are all frightened by identity theft. We protect our identity and we have all kinds of ways in which we define who we are.

Our Gospel lesson today is all about identity. Jesus starts the conversation by asking his disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The crowds have one answer, but Jesus is not interested in those answers. What Jesus is after is a personal answer from the disciples.

Peter hits a home run. He answers with an action-packed theological answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

This is the power of Jesus – being the gift from God.

Jesus is the gift from God that comes to us to change our identity. It means that we are “Children of God.” Being children of God means that we have received a gift from God, and that in receiving the gift, we become the gift.

Giftedness is a difficult thing to understand. For us to understand the gift that we have and the gift that we are, we need to engage in a process to discover the gifts we have.

In our second lesson, Paul writes about gifts: We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

There are a couple of things about gifts.

First, we all have gifts given us by God.

Secondly, most of us don’t use the gifts that we have been given.

Part of the quandary is that gifts have to be discerned; understood in order to be used!  Understanding gifts takes a lot of hard work.

Paul says that all gifts are gifts of grace because they come from the source of grace, which Peter identifies as “the Messiah, Son of the living God.” Gifts come from grace and those gifts come from who Jesus is and who we become in Jesus.

If you look at Paul’s list, the one thing that always strikes me is that each of those gifts is connected to some sort of action. We need to do something with the gifts that we have. We need to do something with the presence of God in our lives.

If we understand that we have a gift, and if we do something to use that gift then we answer the question that Jesus asks: “Who do people say that I am?”

David Lose, the preaching professor at Luther Seminary answers the question this way:

 “I think Jesus also came to show us what’s possible.

And so rather than give into the threat of disease, Jesus healed.

Rather than surrender people to demons, Jesus showed compassion.

Rather than let people starve because there’s not enough to go around, Jesus fed people who were hungry.

Jesus refused to be satisfied or limited by the status quo and invites us to do the same, because if Jesus’ life and death show us how much God loves us, Jesus’ resurrection shows us that that love is more powerful than hate and fear and even death.

 Jesus shows us, in short, that God’s love wins.”

So who do we say that Jesus is, and how do we live Jesus in our daily lives?

Answering the question with our lives makes all the difference in the world and using our gifts, living our lives in response to Jesus, can change the world.

Robert Johnson was one of my mentors and professors at one of the seminaries I attended. He came up to me one day with that perplexing stare of his and asked me: “Why are you here?”

He followed that question by asking, “Who do you think Jesus is in your life?”

I was a bit dumbfounded. I blurted an answer that I’d hoped was intellectually smooth and sophisticated. He shook his head and said: “That’s not good enough.” Then he walked away.

Over the next three years Professor Johnson would ask some form of the same question. He would ask, “Who do you say Jesus is in your life?”

Over those three years we had some very penetrating and difficult discussions. He pushed me harder than I had ever been pushed before about my faith. In the end, I had a pretty good idea of who Jesus wasn’t in my life.

There is an old saying in self-help groups that comes as close as any to a short statement of who Jesus is for me. The saying is this:

You have to walk the talk as well as talk the talk.

I think that’s what Paul is trying to say. I think that is what Jesus is trying to get Peter to understand. We need to live who Jesus is for others.



Second Reading: Romans 12:1-8

In response to God’s merciful activity, we are to worship by living holistic, God-pleasing lives. Our values and viewpoints are not molded by this age, but are transformed by the Spirit’s renewing work. God’s grace empowers different forms of service among Christians, but all forms of ministry function to build up the body of Christ.

1I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do 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.

3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

 Matthew 16:13-20

At a climactic point in Jesus’ ministry, God reveals to Peter that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” and Jesus responds with the promise of a church that will overcome the very gates of Hades.

13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.