Matthew 16: 13-20
Tuesday morning on the “Today Show,” Savannah Guthrie interviewed a four year old preacher fromMississippinamed Kanon Tipton. This kid started preaching at 21 months – not even two years old – and they had video of that. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but even at 21 months he looked and sounded like a preacher.
Now at four years old he has all the mannerisms of an energetic Pentecostal preacher: the enthusiastic calling on the name of Jesus; the jumping up and down in place; and even the wiping of sweat from his brow with a clean white handkerchief.
In the interview Guthrie asked Kanon’s father, “Do you think he is mimicking what he hears or do you think it is a calling?” The father replied honestly, “I think it’s both…Of course he’s mimicking, but I do feel like the hand of God is on him in a special way.”
Then Guthrie asked the boy’s mother, “Do you think he understands what he’s saying, the words coming out of his mouth?” The mother replied just as honestly, “Yes, Ma’am, to a degree I do.”
So, is Kanon playing church, pretending to be a preacher like his Daddy? Or is he preaching the word of God? Some might wonder if it is possible for a four year old child to understand much of anything about who God is and how God acts in the world. Of course it is possible… Children know what love is. They know what it means to do something wrong and be afraid they’ll get caught. They know what it means to get caught and to be forgiven. They may not be able to articulate complicated theology, but a lot of them know God better than some adults.
Kanon proclaimed in one video clip “The Lord is here tonight — and his name is Jesus!’’
Imagine Jesus asking, “Who do you say that I am, Kanon?” And Kanon replies, “I say you’re the Lord.”
Jesus started out by asking the disciples what people were saying about the Son of Man. We hear Son of Man and we automatically think of Christ, but at least in the Old Testament the title Son of Man had the concept of an ideal human being – the offspring of humanity. For example: Ezekiel is frequently called the Son of Man. Jesus wanted to know what the people thought about the Son of Man. What’s the word on the street? What do people think about me and why I am here?
The disciples told him, “Well, some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” These were all prophets. People were clearly aware that Jesus was bringing them a word from God, but at first they did not realize that Jesus was the Word of God.
So then Jesus took the question, changed it up, and asked it again. “Okay, who do you say that I am?” I’m picturing the disciples standing there in stunned silence. They were on the spot in a class for which they were not completely prepared. Oh no, what in the world is the right answer? It must not be prophet. Please don’t call on me, please don’t call on me, please don’t call on me…
Finally Peter spoke up. Peter, the one who often jumped right in without looking first. The one who did or said the first thing that came into his head. Some people call that poor impulse control. Some people call it faith.
This time what came into Peter’s head was, “You are the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God.” If they had been playing Family Feud the disciples would have all clapped and shouted, “Good answer, good answer!” all the while they stood there in relief that Jesus had not called on them.
I don’t think Peter was relieved. I think he was somewhere else entirely. I imagine he just stood there staring into the eyes of Jesus as if no one else were in the room. The truth had dawned on him – and even though he did not fully understand what he had just said – like little Kanon Tipton he did understand to a degree, and he meant what he said.
Jesus responded “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gate of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly told the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
I think Jesus made that admonishment because like Kanon Tipton they understood, but not fully – only to a degree.
Jesus said you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church. I have a book about idioms from the Bible that says that yes, Petrameans rock, but sometimes Petrawas used as a nickname that had the connotation of rocks in the head or blockhead. It was a nickname given to stupid people and to those who ask questions and who pay little attention to what has been said.
Jesus said, Simon, you are a blockhead and upon this blockhead I will build my church. This blustering, ignorant, often wrong, enthusiastic, not afraid to get into it man will be the foundation of my church.
“You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah!” That was a whole lot of esteem that Jesus heaped on Peter’s head. We don’t know what the reaction of the disciples was to that shower of esteem. They might have been jealous of the attention Jesus gave Peter. They might not have even noticed the words of high praise.
Perhaps they were standing there thinking, “Hmmm, who do I say that he is?” What if he asks me, too? What will I say?
Jesus has lots of names: Prince of peace, Immanuel, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Man, or Son of God, the gate, the bread of life, Alpha and Omega, the Great High Priest, Last Adam, the Lamb of God, savior.
Billy Sunday, the famous evangelist of the early 20th century, said “There are two hundred and fifty-six names given in the Bible for the Lord Jesus Christ, and I suppose this was because he was infinitely beyond all that any one name could express.”
Well, I guess so. But who do we say that he is? If a stranger stopped us and asked “What do you believe?” What would we say? If we started reciting the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed, they’d probably look at us funny and say, “Yeah, that’s something you memorized, but what YOU believe?
It might come as somewhat of a shock for us to learn that there are many people out there who don’t know what we believe. Some think they know what we believe based on what they’ve seen on TV or in the movies or through personal encounters with vocal Christians, or maybe in some other Christian denomination.
There are also people who think that we say we believe these things, but we don’t really believe it. Several years ago one of my colleagues in a different denomination brought his confirmation class to worship one Sunday at our church and afterward they stayed behind to ask me questions. One of the students said to me, “You sounded like you really mean all that stuff.” I smiled and said, “I do really mean all that stuff.”
But when I thought about it later it really wasn’t funny. It made me a little sad and I wondered how many other people think Christians, especially ministers, say this stuff but we don’t really mean it, we don’t really believe it.
To some people it might not seem like we really believe that Jesus Christ is Lord or King or whatever term we decide to use meaning he is in charge. If we really believed that Jesus Christ was in charge, we wouldn’t keep trying to tell him what to do. We would pray and listen and try to discern what he wants us to do. Instead our prayers are filled with requests and reminders of things that God needs to give some attention.
To some people it might not seem like we really believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. If we really believed that then we would surely be more trusting and study all that he did and said and follow him as closely as we could. Our primary concern would be to love God and then to love our neighbor and to love ourselves. Instead, we spend an awful lot of time arguing about topics that there is no record that Jesus ever even addressed.
Who does this congregation say that Jesus is? If Jesus Christ is Lord, if he is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, then everything he said is true. The way he told us to live, the way he told us he will be with us always, the way he died for our sins, is all true. A lot of us don’t know how to sound like we believe all this; much less know how to go about living as if all this was true. It’s frightening.
It’s frightening because if we admit that Jesus Christ is Lord, Savior, and Friend, than our lives start to change. If Westminster Presbyterian Church (USA) confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, then we have to be ready to transform everything if that is where Jesus leads us.
It would be a lot easier if the world would just stay the same for a little while, but it doesn’t. The world has been changing since it first began. Even back in King David’s day they looked out the window and exclaimed, “Oh, God is doing a new thing. Hmmm…”
These days the world changes faster than I can have new t-shirts printed up. Look around, God is doing a new thing and we don’t know how to do this new thing. Our answer in the past has been to try and force the world backward into the old thing. The thing we understood. The thing we knew how to manipulate, at least a little bit. Well, that’s not working.
Nope we’ve got to jump into this new thing God is doing, but here’s the good news: the world is changing, but the new thing God is doing doesn’t change who Jesus is. Jesus is still the word of God. Every bit of his life, death, and resurrection are still in force. He still calls us to identify with the poor and excluded. He still wants to turn moments of despair into moments of hope. He still wants to transform lives and make us whole again.
Who do we say that Jesus is? I hope and pray that we are ready to answer that question with more than words. I hope that we will answer with our lives, our money, our decisions, our kindness and our humility. I hope that we will answer by loving instead of talking about love.