Sermon – August 24, 2014
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 16) Track 1
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Matthew 16:15
Please be seated.
The region of Caesarea Philippi where our Gospel occurs is beautiful. It’s about 30 miles north of Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee where Jesus and his disciples spent quite a bit of time according to Matthew. It is about as far north as you can get in modern day Israel.
What is special about this spot are the springs. The day I was there, the springs rushed out of the ground and were full and clear and cold. The rushing water was the dominant sound. These springs form the Jordan River, which feeds the Sea of Galilee, flowing out through the desert to the Dead Sea, which has no exit. The mighty Jordan River where John the Baptist conducted baptisms, including Jesus’ baptism. The mighty Jordan River, symbol of the crossing from life to death. It all starts at Caesarea Philippi.
The ruler Philip, son of Herod the Great, built a palace on a cliff above the site. In a secluded spot away from the rushing springs, he built a worship space to the Roman gods, especially Pan. The cliff face is full of niches where altars would have been to the various gods.
It is here, in the midst of the altars and niches to the Roman gods, that Jesus issues his altar call. “Who do you say that I am?” he asks. He’s asking who the disciples will follow. They are free to return to the gods of the area or the Roman gods. They have a choice. Will they follow the Roman gods or will they follow Jesus?
This invitation by Jesus, this altar call, is issued again and again in our scriptures. Who do you say that I am? Who will you follow?
As the Israelites are getting ready to cross this Jordan River into the land God promised them, Joshua, guided by God, issues this same choice in Joshua 24:15
‘Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’ Joshua 24:15
This is the choice we are continually asked to make. Who do you say that I am? Whom will you serve? And we sing with gusto the Asian Indian hymn,
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back, no turning back.
But here’s the thing… every day and many times each day, we are asked to make the choice! Because following Jesus affects every area of our lives. How do we spend our time each day? Does it reflect our following of Jesus? How do we take care of ourselves? Does it reflect our following of Jesus? How do we relate to our neighbors? Does it reflect our following Jesus? What kind of work do we do? How do we spend our money? What do we return to God? Many times each day, the question comes….Who do you say that I am? Whom will you follow?
And what does following Jesus entail?
I remember Matthew 25:31-46. Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, sick or in prison? And Jesus responds that whenever you see someone in need, you have seen Christ and must respond accordingly.
I remember Jesus’ response to the Pharisees who tried to trip him up in Matthew 22:34-40,
‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
I remember the simple verse from Micah 6:8:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
And we struggle with what it means to follow Jesus. As you know, people contact me when they are in need and I have a discretionary fund available to give people assistance. But what is the right amount? I’ve bought $15 Kroger cards and handed them out to people, but sometimes people need more.
I look at the world…at Ferguson, MO, just the latest place to confirm that racism is alive and well and destroys all of us. I remember the history of Corbin, the gathering of the African-Americans on the trains to Chicago and the burning of their homes…of the “get out of town by sundown” signs that were up until 1989, and I wonder have we repented of that? Is there more we need to do to atone for that?
I think of the upcoming pow wow and the land we stand on …land that was taken from the native peoples, who were marched to death to what is now Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. And given that, what does following Jesus, and obeying God look like in response to that evil act?
I think of the Episcopalians who came in 1906, the railroad company families, who founded St. John’s, who most likely helped the resources of coal and lumber to be taken from the land with little regard for the people who lived on the land. I think of the resulting, pervasive and stubborn poverty, and I wonder are we doing enough to atone for our legacy?
I have decided to follow Jesus and we come to the foot of the altar. Yet, how are we doing in loving our neighbor, in responding to those in need, in doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God?
We do our best…we try to do better… and we gather each week as St. John’s Corbin, as the body of Christ. We ask for God’s mercy and forgiveness. And Jesus calls us to this table and feeds us. Feeds us with bread and wine…feeds us with his presence, right here, right now, so that we like Peter can answer Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”