Well it seems after last Sunday, I get 1 more year…(The weather last Sunday was spectacular!) Last week, I asked you in the sermon, “What's in a name?” The Book of Proverbs tells us: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.”
This week in the Gospel, Jesus asked the disciples "Who do people say that I am?" or put it another way, what is the name they are giving me? (Elijah, John the Baptist, one of the prophets) And then he asks them but “who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." No longer is he just Jesus, but Peter names him the Messiah, the one they follow is the promised one of God. But Jesus tells them to stay quiet, not to tell anyone, for following the Messiah is much more difficult than you think…
A British World War II veteran remembers his internment in a Japanese prison camp:Jesus reminds all of his disciples that faith is not just a matter of creed and ritual, but in "denying ourselves" and taking up his life and his service, by bearing our cross, do we experience the true depth of our faith.
During the war, a group of His Majesty's soldiers were captured by the Japanese at the notorious River Kwai. During their imprisonment, the British captives were, at first, very observant of their religion, praying together, singing hymns, reading daily from the Bible. They were hoping and expecting that God would reward their faithfulness or at least mitigate their captivity. God didn't deliver, however, and the men became both disillusioned and angry. They gave up any outward display of their faith.
But after a while, as they began to tend to the needs of one another - caring for the sick and injured, protecting the weaker ones and, in some cases, dying for one another - they began to discern something of the Spirit of God in their midst. They discovered that religion was not just what one believed but what that belief led one to do for others, especially when it seemed that there was nothing that could be done. Compassion gave them their inner strength - and their inner strength gave them compassion. [Ernest Gordon, longtime dean of the chapel at Princeton University, cited in "Storm Center" by Peter J. Gomes, The Christian Century, May 31, 2003.]
The British prisoners came to understand the faith not as outward displays of what they understood as faith but how they acted out of love toward others.
For Jesus asks Peter at the end of John’s gospel, after all that had happened: Do you Love me? This question coupled with today’s question help us understand what taking up his cross means, for it is more than simply wearing a cross, more than just our prayers, it is how our lives respond to Jesus looking at you and asking Who do you say I am? Do you Love me? For only in embracing these questions and answering for ourselves, living the Messiah’s love, compassion and humility in our lives do we enable the Spirit of God to renew and transform our world through us…
Who do you say I am? Do you Love me? Amen.