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  • Pastor David’s Sermon – 2014/08/24

    Scriptures:
    Psalm 124
    Exodus 1:8-2:10
    Matthew 16:13-20

    Sermon:

    As a bonus, scroll to the bottom of the page to see Carissa’s sermon!

    Adults who are here this morning, there’s something very pressing we need to talk about, and that’s those times in your life when a kid you don’t know asks you a very important question, which is hard an awkward to answer. You know – when they ask you, “How old are you?” When a young kid asks how old you are, you have three choices. You can tell them the truth. But that’s boring. You can lie, but that’s not really a good thing to do. And the third choice is the fun one. The third choice reminds me of what Jesus would do. Jesus loved to take people’s questions, and respond to them with a question of his own. And so, the proper response is, of course, to say, “How old do you think I am?” (Note: I only recommend this strategy if you’re not afraid of the answer!)

    I first tried this when I was 23, working at an elementary school. A girl asked me how old I was, and I said, “How old do you think I am?” She stared at me. She tilted her head. Then she responded, “50.”

    So I asked, “What makes you say that?” I was expecting that it was because I was a teacher, or because of the forehead wrinkles I’ve been sporting since I was 17. But it was much simpler than that: she explained to me that I was clearly much older than 10, but there’s no way I was 100. So she tried to pick something in the middle.

    This is relevant because…okay, it’s not that relevant. But I did that with Carissa’s 7-year-old cousin last weekend, and she actually nailed my age, on the first guess, and I’ve never had a little kid do that before. But seriously besides that, I bring it up because today’s passage from Matthew is all about Jesus asking questions – questions about himself, and, through those questions, questions about us.

    First, it’s been a few weeks since we’ve really run through what’s going on in the Gospel of Matthew. More or less every other week this summer, I’ve been preaching from Genesis one week (although we’re now into Exodus as of today), and then from Matthew the next. Since we’re in Matthew today, let’s recap where what’s going on in that Gospel. This is during Jesus ministry, of course, which means that Jesus has been baptized, been tempted in the wilderness, delivered the Sermon on the Mount, performed over a dozen miraculous healings, and told some of his most famous parables. Just before our passage today, he performed another miracle: the feeding of the 4000. Now, some of our bat-eared listeners will think to correct me, and say, “Don’t you mean the feeding of the 5000?” Well, yes and no. The feeding of the 5000 is one of Jesus’ miracles, but there’s also a feeding of the 4000 miracle, and both are recorded in Matthew. That’s just happened, and (again, surprise surprise) the disciples were worried about not having enough food. But it all worked out.

    Anyway, that takes us to the temporal location for today’s story. Now, there are some important things we associate with Jesus which haven’t happened yet. Of course, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection haven’t yet happened; that’s obvious, since those come near the end of Matthew. But there’s another thing that we associate with Jesus that hasn’t happened – he hasn’t yet predicted his Crucifixion and Resurrection. That’s in the reading we’ll do next week, so I don’t want to get into it too much here. But we’ll see the aftermath of that in the next little section.

    Anyway, today, we’re shown Jesus hanging out with his disciples, fresh off another miracle. And in their time together, the disciples always get to asking profound questions. But they don’t this time; instead, this time, it’s Jesus who starts the conversation. He starts with the question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

    Okay, there’s a lot to unpack in that question. I think most of us would say, “Jesus is asking about himself.” But I’m not actually sure that’s true. “Son of Man” is a weird phrase in Hebrew. It’s first used in the Book of Daniel. “Son of Man” is the same as “Son of a man.” Why does that matter? Well, it’s “Son of a man” (ben adam) as opposed to (ben elohim) “Son of a god.” It’s a short catchphrase that means, essentially, “Messiah.” So Jesus is asking, “Who do people say the Messiah is?” He might not even be asking about himself! He’s asking a question about what people think.

    And people think a lot of things. For the most part, they think that their messiah will be one of the great prophets, like perhaps Elijah or Jeremiah, returned to life. I don’t think that Jesus is asking, “Who do people say that I am?” That’s a different question!

    It’s like this: imagine if I ask you the question, “Who do people say the President of the United States is?” You’d say, “Barack Obama.” Imagine if my wife Carissa asked you the same question. You’d give the same answer. Heck, if Barack Obama asked you the question, you’d still give the same answer. But then imagine the question, “Who am I?” If I ask you that, you’d say, “you’re the pastor;” if Carissa asked you, you’d say, “you’re the pastor’s much better half;” if Barack Obama asked you, you’d say, “You’re the President.” You see? The first question Jesus asks is not really about himself: it’s a generic question whose answer should be the same, regardless of who’s asking it. The second question is the one he’s asking about himself.

    Think about it. If Jesus were asking the first question the way in which it is commonly thought-of, why does he change his phrasing in the next question? In the next question, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Well, if he’s asking about himself in the first question, then that question should be read as, “Who do you say that I am?” If he’s asking it the way that I’m suggesting, the question Jesus is asking is, “Who do you say that I am?”

    I know that’s kind of a weird thing to talk about, but it is significant, because it changes the type of answer, if you change the type of question. So when Peter exuberantly shouts out his answer, he says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” You see? Peter says, emphatically, “You are the Messiah, but not just the Son of Man… you are the Son – of God.” He’s making a claim about Jesus’ identity that goes to recognize the core of who Jesus is. He’s recognizing that Jesus is not merely the same as some human messiah – some mere “son of a man.” He’s showing that he knows Jesus to be the Son of God.

    And here’s the thing: once you make that recognition, your life has to change. There’s no going back to square one. When Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” he has made his claim that he is going to follow Jesus always.

    And you know what? It’s not just a one-way street, either. Jesus also gives Peter a task. He re-names Peter. Before, his name was “Simon;” now Jesus calls him “Peter,” which means “rock,” and then Jesus says that Peter is the “rock” on which Jesus will build the church. Sure, there’s some fun word-play here; but more importantly, Jesus points out that the decision to follow him is followed by both great reward, and great responsibility. You see, Peter can’t go back to the same life he lived before. He’s now fully-committed to Jesus’ ministry, and Jesus has shown him who he must become moving forward.

    I’ve been pondering this passage this week. What do we say when Jesus asks us the question, “Who do you say that I am?” How do we respond? Well, it’s tough to top Peter’s answer. But I tried to think of what I would say, if Jesus were standing right in front of me. I think I would say, “You are the Son of God, who came to call us to work for peace in the world, to worship God, and to show us how to live in accordance with God’s will for the world.”

    As I thought about my answer, two things happened. The first was, I was convicted by it. I said that Jesus shows us what we can do for God; that we are supposed to live in accordance to God’s will for the world. I see how I have utterly failed in that task, time and again. I think of how I have made that decision for Christ, and still I struggle every day to do what I should for Christ, and yet come up short.

    But there is hope in that, friends. We fail; sure we do! We fail often. It’s part of the human condition. But you know what? Jesus knows that we’re human. But he calls us into service, anyway! It doesn’t matter to him that we’re not perfect. Even in our imperfection, he calls us to be better; even in our imperfection, we can be useful to him in ways that we may not even understand. You don’t have to be perfect to serve Jesus; you just have to want to be. God takes care of the rest.

    Think back to our (long) Old Testament lesson from this morning. In our Old Testament lesson, the whole fate of the Hebrew people rests on the shoulders of two women: Shiphrah and Puah. They are the midwives who are supposed to deliver all the babies of the Hebrews. Pharaoh orders them to kill the boys, and keep the girls alive, but instead, they don’t kill any of the children, boys or girls. They lie and say that the Hebrew women are just too vigorous, and deliver before they can get to them. They disobey an order from the most powerful human being in the world, because they know that God’s call to justice is stronger and greater than Pharaoh’s call to vengeance. They hear God’s call, and they answer.

    Pharaoh is the king of the most powerful nation on earth. They are two lowly women, doing one of the only jobs women are allowed to do. Since they are working, we can probably safely assume that they are not married (if they were married, they’d need to be home, not out delivering babies). And unmarried women are the lowest of the low in this society. Yet they are able to stand up to Pharaoh.

    So you see, God calls all people to this kind of living. God asks us to examine who we are. But that question follows the one about Jesus. We need to know whom we believe Jesus to be. If he’s just a guy, then it doesn’t matter. But if we believe that he’s God, truly God in flesh, to show us a way forward… well, if that’s who he is, we need to orient our entire lives around that fact.

    Now there’s one more curious thing here that I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, and it relates to this idea of deciding to recognize who Jesus is. At the end of the Matthew passage we read, Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about him – in verse 20: “Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” Why would he do that? It runs counter to everything we know, right? What if we introduced that as our plan for evangelism at church? “Don’t tell anyone about Jesus, guys!”

    I think it’s more than that, though. It’s not about not telling people; it’s about doing things that make people go, “Wow! That person is really different. I wonder what makes him or her that way?” Then, when they ask, you tell them that it’s because Jesus Christ is at the center of your life.

    I think that, more than anything else, is the point of this passage. It’s not just about saying the right words; it’s not about intellectual assent to an idea; it’s not about being perfect; it’s not about getting new members to the church; it’s not about doing what makes you happy. None of those things is the point of life. It’s about deciding who Jesus is. And if you answer like Peter did, it’s about reorienting your whole life around that belief. And once you’ve done that, you can tell people about Jesus; but my bet is, you won’t have to. They’ll be asking – because it’ll be plain for the whole world to see. Amen.

  • Pastor David’s Sermon – 2014/08/24

    Scriptures:
    Psalm 124
    Exodus 1:8-2:10
    Matthew 16:13-20

    Sermon:

    As a bonus, scroll to the bottom of the page to see Carissa’s sermon!

    Adults who are here this morning, there’s something very pressing we need to talk about, and that’s those times in your life when a kid you don’t know asks you a very important question, which is hard an awkward to answer. You know – when they ask you, “How old are you?” When a young kid asks how old you are, you have three choices. You can tell them the truth. But that’s boring. You can lie, but that’s not really a good thing to do. And the third choice is the fun one. The third choice reminds me of what Jesus would do. Jesus loved to take people’s questions, and respond to them with a question of his own. And so, the proper response is, of course, to say, “How old do you think I am?” (Note: I only recommend this strategy if you’re not afraid of the answer!)

    I first tried this when I was 23, working at an elementary school. A girl asked me how old I was, and I said, “How old do you think I am?” She stared at me. She tilted her head. Then she responded, “50.”

    So I asked, “What makes you say that?” I was expecting that it was because I was a teacher, or because of the forehead wrinkles I’ve been sporting since I was 17. But it was much simpler than that: she explained to me that I was clearly much older than 10, but there’s no way I was 100. So she tried to pick something in the middle.

    This is relevant because…okay, it’s not that relevant. But I did that with Carissa’s 7-year-old cousin last weekend, and she actually nailed my age, on the first guess, and I’ve never had a little kid do that before. But seriously besides that, I bring it up because today’s passage from Matthew is all about Jesus asking questions – questions about himself, and, through those questions, questions about us.

    First, it’s been a few weeks since we’ve really run through what’s going on in the Gospel of Matthew. More or less every other week this summer, I’ve been preaching from Genesis one week (although we’re now into Exodus as of today), and then from Matthew the next. Since we’re in Matthew today, let’s recap where what’s going on in that Gospel. This is during Jesus ministry, of course, which means that Jesus has been baptized, been tempted in the wilderness, delivered the Sermon on the Mount, performed over a dozen miraculous healings, and told some of his most famous parables. Just before our passage today, he performed another miracle: the feeding of the 4000. Now, some of our bat-eared listeners will think to correct me, and say, “Don’t you mean the feeding of the 5000?” Well, yes and no. The feeding of the 5000 is one of Jesus’ miracles, but there’s also a feeding of the 4000 miracle, and both are recorded in Matthew. That’s just happened, and (again, surprise surprise) the disciples were worried about not having enough food. But it all worked out.

    Anyway, that takes us to the temporal location for today’s story. Now, there are some important things we associate with Jesus which haven’t happened yet. Of course, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection haven’t yet happened; that’s obvious, since those come near the end of Matthew. But there’s another thing that we associate with Jesus that hasn’t happened – he hasn’t yet predicted his Crucifixion and Resurrection. That’s in the reading we’ll do next week, so I don’t want to get into it too much here. But we’ll see the aftermath of that in the next little section.

    Anyway, today, we’re shown Jesus hanging out with his disciples, fresh off another miracle. And in their time together, the disciples always get to asking profound questions. But they don’t this time; instead, this time, it’s Jesus who starts the conversation. He starts with the question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

    Okay, there’s a lot to unpack in that question. I think most of us would say, “Jesus is asking about himself.” But I’m not actually sure that’s true. “Son of Man” is a weird phrase in Hebrew. It’s first used in the Book of Daniel. “Son of Man” is the same as “Son of a man.” Why does that matter? Well, it’s “Son of a man” (ben adam) as opposed to (ben elohim) “Son of a god.” It’s a short catchphrase that means, essentially, “Messiah.” So Jesus is asking, “Who do people say the Messiah is?” He might not even be asking about himself! He’s asking a question about what people think.

    And people think a lot of things. For the most part, they think that their messiah will be one of the great prophets, like perhaps Elijah or Jeremiah, returned to life. I don’t think that Jesus is asking, “Who do people say that I am?” That’s a different question!

    It’s like this: imagine if I ask you the question, “Who do people say the President of the United States is?” You’d say, “Barack Obama.” Imagine if my wife Carissa asked you the same question. You’d give the same answer. Heck, if Barack Obama asked you the question, you’d still give the same answer. But then imagine the question, “Who am I?” If I ask you that, you’d say, “you’re the pastor;” if Carissa asked you, you’d say, “you’re the pastor’s much better half;” if Barack Obama asked you, you’d say, “You’re the President.” You see? The first question Jesus asks is not really about himself: it’s a generic question whose answer should be the same, regardless of who’s asking it. The second question is the one he’s asking about himself.

    Think about it. If Jesus were asking the first question the way in which it is commonly thought-of, why does he change his phrasing in the next question? In the next question, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Well, if he’s asking about himself in the first question, then that question should be read as, “Who do you say that I am?” If he’s asking it the way that I’m suggesting, the question Jesus is asking is, “Who do you say that I am?”

    I know that’s kind of a weird thing to talk about, but it is significant, because it changes the type of answer, if you change the type of question. So when Peter exuberantly shouts out his answer, he says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” You see? Peter says, emphatically, “You are the Messiah, but not just the Son of Man… you are the Son – of God.” He’s making a claim about Jesus’ identity that goes to recognize the core of who Jesus is. He’s recognizing that Jesus is not merely the same as some human messiah – some mere “son of a man.” He’s showing that he knows Jesus to be the Son of God.

    And here’s the thing: once you make that recognition, your life has to change. There’s no going back to square one. When Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” he has made his claim that he is going to follow Jesus always.

    And you know what? It’s not just a one-way street, either. Jesus also gives Peter a task. He re-names Peter. Before, his name was “Simon;” now Jesus calls him “Peter,” which means “rock,” and then Jesus says that Peter is the “rock” on which Jesus will build the church. Sure, there’s some fun word-play here; but more importantly, Jesus points out that the decision to follow him is followed by both great reward, and great responsibility. You see, Peter can’t go back to the same life he lived before. He’s now fully-committed to Jesus’ ministry, and Jesus has shown him who he must become moving forward.

    I’ve been pondering this passage this week. What do we say when Jesus asks us the question, “Who do you say that I am?” How do we respond? Well, it’s tough to top Peter’s answer. But I tried to think of what I would say, if Jesus were standing right in front of me. I think I would say, “You are the Son of God, who came to call us to work for peace in the world, to worship God, and to show us how to live in accordance with God’s will for the world.”

    As I thought about my answer, two things happened. The first was, I was convicted by it. I said that Jesus shows us what we can do for God; that we are supposed to live in accordance to God’s will for the world. I see how I have utterly failed in that task, time and again. I think of how I have made that decision for Christ, and still I struggle every day to do what I should for Christ, and yet come up short.

    But there is hope in that, friends. We fail; sure we do! We fail often. It’s part of the human condition. But you know what? Jesus knows that we’re human. But he calls us into service, anyway! It doesn’t matter to him that we’re not perfect. Even in our imperfection, he calls us to be better; even in our imperfection, we can be useful to him in ways that we may not even understand. You don’t have to be perfect to serve Jesus; you just have to want to be. God takes care of the rest.

    Think back to our (long) Old Testament lesson from this morning. In our Old Testament lesson, the whole fate of the Hebrew people rests on the shoulders of two women: Shiphrah and Puah. They are the midwives who are supposed to deliver all the babies of the Hebrews. Pharaoh orders them to kill the boys, and keep the girls alive, but instead, they don’t kill any of the children, boys or girls. They lie and say that the Hebrew women are just too vigorous, and deliver before they can get to them. They disobey an order from the most powerful human being in the world, because they know that God’s call to justice is stronger and greater than Pharaoh’s call to vengeance. They hear God’s call, and they answer.

    Pharaoh is the king of the most powerful nation on earth. They are two lowly women, doing one of the only jobs women are allowed to do. Since they are working, we can probably safely assume that they are not married (if they were married, they’d need to be home, not out delivering babies). And unmarried women are the lowest of the low in this society. Yet they are able to stand up to Pharaoh.

    So you see, God calls all people to this kind of living. God asks us to examine who we are. But that question follows the one about Jesus. We need to know whom we believe Jesus to be. If he’s just a guy, then it doesn’t matter. But if we believe that he’s God, truly God in flesh, to show us a way forward… well, if that’s who he is, we need to orient our entire lives around that fact.

    Now there’s one more curious thing here that I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, and it relates to this idea of deciding to recognize who Jesus is. At the end of the Matthew passage we read, Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about him – in verse 20: “Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” Why would he do that? It runs counter to everything we know, right? What if we introduced that as our plan for evangelism at church? “Don’t tell anyone about Jesus, guys!”

    I think it’s more than that, though. It’s not about not telling people; it’s about doing things that make people go, “Wow! That person is really different. I wonder what makes him or her that way?” Then, when they ask, you tell them that it’s because Jesus Christ is at the center of your life.

    I think that, more than anything else, is the point of this passage. It’s not just about saying the right words; it’s not about intellectual assent to an idea; it’s not about being perfect; it’s not about getting new members to the church; it’s not about doing what makes you happy. None of those things is the point of life. It’s about deciding who Jesus is. And if you answer like Peter did, it’s about reorienting your whole life around that belief. And once you’ve done that, you can tell people about Jesus; but my bet is, you won’t have to. They’ll be asking – because it’ll be plain for the whole world to see. Amen.

  • Come Join Us!

    Sunday Church Service: 9:30 am
    Adult Sunday School: 10:30am
    Wednesday Youth Service: 6:30 pm

    102 East 1st Street
    Marion, SD 57043
    Phone: (605) 648-3876
    Email: emmanuelpc@goldenwest.net
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