A Sermon on Peter’s Confession

Lectionary of Peter’s Confession

In the Name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen

But who do you say that I am?  You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

Today is our Patronal Feast.  A Patronal Feast is when a Church celebrates its Patron Saint. So if we were St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church, our Patronal Feast would be on the Sunday closest to May 3, St. Phillip’s Day. But since we are named “Messiah” our Feast Day is the day of St. Peter’s Confession.

Today I want us to look at what St. Peter’s confession means, and most importantly, what it means for us who are named “Messiah.”

Jesus asks” Who do you say that I am?”

St. Peter replies “You are the Messiah. The Son of the Living God.”

The word “Messiah” is the Hebrew word for “Anointed.”   The same Greek word is “Christ.” So if we say that Jesus is the “Anointed” or the “Christ” or the “Messiah,” we are saying the exact same thing.  Anointing is simply the physical act of pouring oil on a person’s head, inducting them into office.  Throughout the OT, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed (1 Kings 19:16).

One of the Anointings that we read about in the OT, is that of David.  The Bible says, “then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers, and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.” (1 Sam 16:13)  Samuel pours oil on David’s head to make him king, and the Spirit of God comes upon him.  David is a messiah.  

The term “Son of God” is similar.  The kings of Israel and Judah, like most Ancient Near Eastern Kings, are considered to be the “son of God.” (Ps.2)  This means they have a special relationship with God.    

In the time between the Testaments, the time of Greek and Roman occupation, and the composition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Jewish people were looking for The Messiah or Anointed One who had the special relationship with God and who would come to set all things right.  Peter is saying Jesus is this person. Jesus is the one who has been anointed by God and who had the Holy Spirit come upon him. Jesus is the one who has that unique relationship with God, and who will restore all things.

So what does this mean for us? We who call ourselves the Church of the Messiah.

When we call ourselves the Church of the Messiah, we claim that we are followers of him whom Peter confessed to be the Messiah.  We claim that we follow Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  We claim to follow him who will put all things right.

Short story.  For almost four years, my daughter Anna Grace has taken voice lessons from Ashley Sosis.   In addition, she has sung in the choir under her every Sunday and has worked with her on solos and other special occasions.  This Christmas Eve, Ashley and Anna Grace sang a duet prior to the service.  In listening to the recording a few days later, they heard two voices, but neither could tell whose voice was whose.  When Anna Grace sings, she sounds exactly like her teacher.

And, therefore, for, those of us who here today who say that we are the Church of Messiah, we say that we are learning from Messiah, and imitating the Messiah, so that we begin to look, and to sound, and to be like the Messiah.

But what does that look like in our lives together?  One of the things I love about The Episcopal Church is the centrality that the Gospels – the stories of Jesus’ actions and teachings – have in our life together.  Every Sunday, the gospel lessons about Jesus are brought out into the Congregation and read.  It is here that we learn about Jesus.  Therefore, what it looks when we proclaim we are the Church of the Messiah, is that it looks like Jesus. 

In your bulletins, are a business card size inserts setting for those characteristics of what (I think) a Church of the Messiah should look like.

First, to be the Church of the Messiah, is to be a people of Prayer.  We know that Jesus grew up going to the Temple in Jerusalem. (Lk 2:46)  He is reading in the synagogue when he proclaims that the word of the prophet has been fulfilled. (Lk 4:20) We know from John’s gospel that he continues to go the Temple for Holy Feast Days. But what we see throughout the Gospel is that Jesus goes away to pray. He goes off by himself to nourish that relationship with the Living God. (Lk 5:16).   To be the Church of the Messiah, means we are a people of Prayer.

Second, to be the Church of the Messiah, is to be a people of Proclamation.  In the Gospels, Jesus sends his disciples out two-by-two to go and to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near. (Lk 10:9) Jesus sends out his disciples in the Great Commission after his resurrection. (Mt. 28:19) And in the reading from Acts today we see the boldness of Peter in his proclamation that salvation lies in Jesus.  We are a people of Proclaiming the Kingdom of God and of Jesus the Messiah.

To be the Church is the Messiah, and to follow in his footsteps, is to be people of Humility.  In Philippians 2, the Apostle writes: “Do nothing from selfish conceit but in humility count other better than yourself.  Have in mind among yourself, Jesus who though he was of equal status with God, did not cling to the advantages of that status, but when the time came. He set aside his divine privileges and took upon himself the status of a servant.  And became one of us. And having become one of us, He humbled himself and lived a selfless obedient life, to the point of dying a selfless obedient death, even a death by crucifixion.

You see in Jesus, we have that example of a perfect humility and of a self-emptying love.  If we are to be the Church of the Messiah, then our lives should be governed by this profound understanding of humility of thinking of others better than ourselves – regardless of their politics, their religion, or their station in life.  Like the Messiah, we must go to others with the humility of the Tax Collector and not the arrogance of the religious Pharisee. (Lk 18:9)

When we say that we are the Church of Messiah, we proclaim that we walk in the Peace of Jesus.  We read of Jesus and his disciples being caught in the midst of a tempest while in a boat in the Sea of Galilee. (Mk4:25) The waves and the winds tossed the boat, and the disciples became afraid.  Jesus then says “Peace!”   And the winds stop.  And the waves grow calm.  And so it should be with us.  In the midst of the tempest and squalls of our lives, the storms that grow on social media or result from the politics of the day, we are to pronounce, “Peace” to calm the storms.  As Jesus says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (Jn 14:27).   We should be a people of untroubled and unafraid hearts, a refuge from storms, a people who bring the peace of God into this battered world. 

When we say we are the Church of the Messiah we look to the Messiah and say that we respect the dignity of every person. We see this Respect in Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the Well. (Jn.4) In the patriarchal society of the Near East, Jesus (a man) begins a conversation with a woman. But not just any woman, a Samaritan.  For a good Jew, the Samaritans were not to be engaged.  You see, they were ethically and religiously unpure.  They were considered heretics from the Jewish religion and had intermarried with the surrounding gentiles, compromising their bloodline.   Samaritans were outcasts from Judaism.   

But this woman was drawing water by herself.  In the Near East, the village well is the center of women’s society. But, she was alone.  She was an outcast of the outcast.  And yet, Jesus saw the image of God within her, and engaged her and taught her and treated with dignity and respect. When we proclaim we are the Church of the Messiah, we proclaim, that like Jesus, we see the very image of God in all human beings, but particularly those, like the Samaritan woman at the well who has been cast out of polite and good society and of their community.

We when say we are the Church of Messiah, we look to Jesus to see how he fulfilled the physical needs of others. You know the story of the feeding of the 5,000. (Mk 6:30) The crowd following Jesus had nothing to eat.  When Jesus asked his disciples what resources they had.  The disciple discovered only five loaves and two fish to feed the 5,000.  And yet with these meager recourses, the people were fed.  Look around. Look in your wallet or your bank account, look at your calendar, and see the resources you have.  How much more can we do?  Talk to Rick Stall about Mobile Meals, or Dan Brown at Boys & Girls Club, or Nan Hunter about Swash Park homeless ministry.   We can put your resources to work.

James writes “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one you says to them ‘Go in Peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?  For faith without works is dead.” (Js 2:16) To be like Jesus means to take care of not only the spiritual needs of our community but the physical ones of the least of these as well.  For as we take care of the least of these, so for Him. (Mt. 25:45)

When we say we are the Church of the Messiah, we proclaim that we are a church of forgiveness.  You know the story of Holy Week.  Jesus was betrayed by the person in whom he entrusted all of his material goods.  He was denied by the man whose confession we read today.  And he was abandoned by the rest save for his mother and a few women. As you remember, Jesus was handed over to the Romans by the Jewish religious leaders.  These were not bad men who knew what they were doing was wrong, but good men who believed that the Scriptures and tradition required their actions.  The leaders of the people to whom he came, these leaders who worshiped the God who sent him, these leaders who read the Scriptures who spoke of him – believed that God would want him dead.  And yet, on the cross, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). This pronouncement of forgiveness is given without any caveats or any exceptions.  And so, we, as the Church of the Messiah, are called to this radical forgiveness of all those whom we perceive have betrayed or abandoned us. To forgive without exception or revenge is what it means to follow the Messiah.

There is one categorical difference between Jesus the Messiah and we who follow him.  We are not called to die for the Sins of the World and to reconcile all of Creation to the Creator.  However, we are called to die to ourselves, to our ego, our selfish desires, and our passions, so that we may be agents of reconciliation to those around us.  Paul says that through Jesus, God reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18). There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, and through this ministry of reconciliation we are called to be one with each other and with those from whom we are separated. To follow the Messiah is to be called to the work of reconciliation.

And as we become more like Jesus, Peter’s Confession comes to describe us also.  For just as we confess who Jesus is, so he confesses who we are.  You see, at our baptism, we are anointed with water.  We too are anointed with the Holy Spirit, like David and Jesus.  And as we begin to walk with Jesus and to imitate him, we become the sons of the Living God.  As Paul writes, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  You have received the spirit of sonship.  When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and fellow heirs with the Messiah.”  (Rom 8:15)

And so, on this our Patronal Feast, we declare that we are the Church of the Messiah.  In Jesus the Messiah, we too are anointed ones, we too are the children of God.  In following Jesus the Messiah, we are a people of prayer, of proclamation, and of an abiding humility.  We follow him in peace, respecting the dignity of others, and caring for their physical needs.  And, like the Messiah, we are a people of forgiveness and reconciliation.  This is what it means, when we call ourselves, The Church of the Messiah.      


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