8.21.11 Pt21L10 Who Is J? The X!
  • They say that you can't tell a book by its cover, but yet long ago publishers figured out that colorful, eye-catching, attention-getting bookcovers improve sales
    • And frankly, interesting bookcovers make me pick up and at least read the back of a book or the inside cover to find out more about a book on display
    • So it's not surprising that when I was browsing the shelves of a religious bookstore, and saw THIS BOOK (Prothero, American Jesus ) – I not only had to pick it up, but I just had to buy it
    • I'm much too far away for you to see this book cover, but let tell you what's on it so that you can imagine it – with suburban homes here on the lower edge, and against a clear, pale blue sky – here is a hot air balloon
      • Not just any hot air balloon, but above the tiny gondola holding a few people towers a hot air balloon shaped like a cloud, and emerging from the cloud is a bearded Jesus wearing a purple robe and with his hands outstretched
      • Wow! Hot air balloon Jesus! That's so much larger and cooler than the little plastic Jesus statues that a lot of people had on the dashboards of their cars when I was growing up. Why I think it's even quirkier than the "Touchdown Jesus" statue just outside the Notre Dame football stadium with his hands raised in blessing, or to football fans hands raised as a referee signaling a touchdown
      • But what about the book that because of the picture I couldn't resist buying? – the title of the book is American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon
      • Inside the book, the author writes about some of the ways that Jesus has been portrayed in this country over the past several centuries
        • Among Christians, Jesus has sometimes portrayed as a wise man or a sage, at other times like a sweet savior, yet other times not so much sweet as a manly and muscular guy, and now over last several generations as a superstar or celebrity
        • But Jesus is also popular among non-Christians! They may not buy that whole "gospel-thing", but Jesus has been recast by others as a brotherly figure, a revolutionary, a teacher, and as a master of enlightenment
          • So the two questions that Jesus asked Peter in today's gospel are just as important for us now as back then – "Who do [other] people say that the Son of Man is?" and "… who do YOU say that I am?"
            • Who do other people say that I am? The disciples rattled off a number of popular answers – John the Baptist! Elijah! Jeremiah! One the other prophets! And to those old answers we can now add, other people now say that Jesus is a wise man, who is both sweet and manly, quite famous, maybe plays football, and is possibly revolutionary and enlightening.
            • But then Jesus shifted the direction from other people to his disciples. "Who do YOU say that I am?" And through this scripture passage, that question has been asked of each and every generation of believers – and while the popular images have changed with time, the answer that Peter gave, has been handed on as the answer that we are called to give – "YOU ARE THE MESSIAH, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD."
              • When Peter said that, it was a break with the past
                • You see, all the answers that other people gave were rooted in the past.
                  • John the Baptist had already been killed, Elijah and Jeremiah, and the other prophets – they were centuries before
                  • But Peter said something new about Jesus. Peter said something that did not arise out of his own insight, his own cleverness, or his own wisdom.
                  • Instead, when Peter identified Jesus as the Messiah, or the Christ, Jesus blessed Peter but THEN WENT ON TO SAY that Peter could only have said this because it had been revealed or disclosed to Peter by God the Father in heaven.
                  • In other words, what Peter said was not his own, but what Peter said had been given to him by God!
                    • While Peter's declaration that Jesus was the Messiah was something new that jumped beyond the past, when we today join Peter and say, "You are the Christ" – for us to join Peter's declaration not only jumps beyond the earlier scriptures of Moses and the prophets, it also separates and distinguishes both Jesus and us from much of our present world
                      • Today, people can and do say almost anything about Jesus
                        • Some people have dismissed him.
                        • Others love him as a benevolent person, but have no clue about death and resurrection, forgiveness and life, or grace or the Kingdom of God
                        • Yet others wear Jesus like a superstitious charm to avoid excel in sports or business or life and ward off pain or suffering
                          • But the question that Jesus asks us is still the same – "Who do YOU say that I am?
                              • And when we stand with Peter, when we stand with the believers of every age, when we stand with others who for centuries have spoken the same creeds – when we do this, we declare that Jesus is not a rubber Gumbly-like figure who can be twisted into anything
                                • We declare, because God has revealed the gospel to Peter, our ancestors in faith, and to us, that Jesus is nothing less than the Messiah, the Son of the living God
                                  • And this Messiah was anointed to bring Good News to the poor
                                  • This Son gave his life for us and for the world
                                  • And this Living God has begun to overturn the powers of sin and death, injustice and brokenness, by planting in their place the Kingdom of God