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Pentecost Reading = Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
We are still in our series looking at the questions God and Jesus ask in the Bible. Last week we heard God ask Ezekiel in a valley of very dry bones, “Can these bones live?” Even when everything feels dry and dead, God can bring new life.
This week we are with Jesus and his disciples. They are in the district of Caesarea Philippi. As you’re reading the New Testament, it’s a little confusing, because there’s another Caesarea near the Mediterranean. That’s where Paul was imprisoned for two years. But Caesarea Philippi was at the northern edge of Israel – right at the base of Mount Hermon and about thirty miles north of the Sea of Galilee.
The location and its rich history are both important if we want to understand the context of our text today. The city was the location of several temples. There was a temple to the Pagan god Pan. Pan was associated with seeing the future and dispensing revelations. Inside the caves there was a seemingly bottomless pit with a spring of never-ending water inside it. Pagans thought this was the Gate of Hades – the window to the underworld. It was actually the headwaters of the Jordan River fed by a natural spring. Herod erected a temple to Caesar Augustus on this site. And when Philip took over after the death of Herod, he expanded the city and moved his regional capital here. For added historical and theological fun, this site was where the first ruler of the northern tribe of Israel, Jeroboam, led that portion of the nation away from worshiping God. There was a lot going on at Caesarea Philippi, and very little of it had much to do with our God.
In our text today, we hear the first time that Jesus is proclaimed as the Messiah and Son of God. So why would Jesus want that revelation to occur at such a troubled, mixed-up place? Let’s find out!
Main Reading = Matthew 16:13-20
13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I 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.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Well I have to say, I am truly blessed. Truly blessed. Why am I truly blessed? I am truly blessed by the confluence of two bits of fortuitous timing. Fortuitous timing #1: my younger son is four-years-old and just starting to expand the kinds of shows, movies, and characters he’s interested in. Fortuitous timing #2: the movie and TV producers have run out of ideas, and they’re just recreating the same shows, movies, and characters I watched when I was his age. I am truly blessed! Yes, son, I do know the differences between the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, including which one loves pizza, and I don’t need Google to tell me! Ten points if you know the answer, too.
A couple of months ago, he watched the live action version of Aladdin with one of his preschool friends. The bad guy in Aladdin is Jafar, who is a powerful sorcerer. At the end of the movie, Jafar uses his last wish from the genie to “become the most powerful sorcerer there is!” And the genie grants his wish by turning Jafar into a genie, which makes him get swallowed up into his own bottle instead of being free. His ultimate goal is to be more powerful than everyone else, and it ultimately leads to his downfall.
Subtleties of how genies grant wishes aside, it’s worthwhile to consider what is our ultimate goal. Caesarea Philippi was the place where so many different ultimate goals competed for people’s attention. Those obsessed with the afterlife could visit the Gate of Hades. Those who worshiped the natural world could appreciate the headwaters of the River Jordan, a natural oasis in the desert, and a view of Mount Hermon. Those who sought political or military power could stroll on over to Philip the Tetrarch’s administrative building. Those who wanted a word from the gods they could use to get ahead in their lives or businesses could petition the seers of Pan for insight.
What’s your ultimate goal? If you had a genie, would you ask for power like Jafar? Would you influence the government like Philip the Tetrarch? Would you seek knowledge of the future like the seers of Pan? Would you focus on the natural world? Health? Relationships? Pizza? What’s your ultimate goal?
If you don’t have an answer, don’t worry. We’ll pick up that question much more specifically this fall. I have a whole series looking at how we are uniquely made and how we can uniquely live out God’s vision for our lives. Consider this a teaser.
Back to today’s sermon, I believe Jesus chose Caesarea Philippi because he could present his disciples with such a wide range of human pursuits – so many ultimate goals were represented within eye shot! And some of those things in eye shot were the exact expectations people had about Jesus. Some hoped he would bring about a new government by overthrowing the Romans like Philip the Tetrarch sitting over there in his administrative building. His disciples said that others expected Jesus to be a prophet dispensing divine insight like one of the seers of Pan right over there in that cave. Some wanted Jesus to only care about God’s people in God’s Chosen Land. In fact, Jesus, you should stop caring about whatever happens past that tall mountain in front of us.
With that rich backdrop, Jesus asked his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” In other words, am I a king to you? Am I a healer to you? Am I prophet to you? Am I a teacher to you? Am I a divine vending machine dispensing miracles on request to you? “Who do you say that I am?”
Think about that. How would you answer Jesus’ question? And I’m not talking about the church answer. I’m wondering what you really think. Is Jesus a good teacher? Is Jesus a good role model? Is Jesus a good story? Is Jesus a guide? Is Jesus an occasional miracle worker? Who do you say that he is?
Liar, Lunatic, Lord
Do you remember back in school when the teacher would call on you to answer a question out loud in front of the class – and you weren’t sure of the answer? Or maybe a boss asked you a question like that in a meeting with the bigwigs – and you weren’t sure what they wanted to hear? I was talking to my mom last week and she said that she imagines Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question falling into that category. Instead of a bold declaration, maybe he said, “You are…the…Messiah? The Son of the <gulp> living God?” We’ll never know, but I kind of like it.
The Christian author CS Lewis once said that Jesus is one of three things: a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. There aren’t really other options. Jesus said he was the Son of God, that God was his Father. Other people said that, too. There have been plenty of false saviors and wannabe Messiahs. We label them as lunatics. They’re crazy.
There have also been plenty of gurus and cult leaders who knew they were lying through their teeth, but they didn’t care because other people bought it. We label them as liars or con men.
So, as Lewis’ reasoning goes, since Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and the Son of the Living God, he must be either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. If the best teacher you ever had told you they were the Messiah, would you be able to just sweep that away like they never said it? I’m guessing that teacher would be fired, and I’m guessing you wouldn’t think he or she was the best teacher anymore.
In the same way, we can’t sweep away what Jesus said and claimed about himself. Jesus can’t just be a good teacher. Jesus can’t be just a good role model. Because good teachers and good role models don’t claim to be the Son of the Living God. That would make them liars or lunatics. He must be Lord, he must be Messiah, he must be the Son of the Living God, or he’s not a good teacher or role model.
Jesus says that Peter’s answer is the literal foundation of the church. There’s a little wordplay going on here. Peter in Greek is “Petros.” It means little rock. Pebble. But a big rock, a boulder, is “Petra.” Jesus said, “you are Peter (pebble), and on this rock (big boulder) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Peter’s belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God is the foundation stone. Everything we do, everything we are is based on that belief. Without that, we have nothing. Without that, we are nothing. Liar, lunatic, or Lord. Who do you say that he is?
Following Your Lord
I don’t know about you, but I’m in the “Jesus is Lord” camp. If you’re still with me, how can we follow our Lord right now? Normally, you would be going to church, and maybe attending a Bible study or other group, and hopefully serving other people somewhere. But worship services are a little different right now. And online Bible studies are a little harder than in-person. And many of our normal service opportunities aren’t happening right now.
So if worship services are different, and our groups aren’t as convenient as they used to be, and our regular service opportunities are on hold, do we just pause our faith for a while? I hope not. That doesn’t sound like Jesus being Lord if he only affects our lives when it’s convenient for us.
So if Jesus is Lord, how can we follow him right now. How can we BE the church even when we can’t GO to church for a while?
Well, when we talk about having a healthy life of faith around here, what do we talk about? Three things: Rooted Relationships, Growing in Christ, and Branching Out to Serve. Rooted, Growing, and Branching Out.
So what do Rooted Relationships look like during this time? Let me give you three ideas.
Remember that we define Rooted Relationships as having people in your life who know how to pray for you specifically this month. So one way to achieve that is to have a group of 2-3 people who share prayer requests and pray for each other each week. It doesn’t have to be someone in the church. It doesn’t have to be someone in Colorado. You can just email the other person or people every week to update them with your highs, lows, and prayer requests, and ask them to do the same. Easy peasy.
Second way to invest in Rooted Relationships is to connect with one of our groups who are still meeting online. My men’s Bible study is still meeting online with Zoom. Are you part of a group that is still meeting? Give it a shot! Or if your group hasn’t been meeting, try to get the band back together online. We have some training materials on our website for using Zoom and hosting meetings with Zoom. If you still need help, just ask me!
Third way to invest in Rooted Relationships takes a bit more thought. We are working on our in-person worship plan, and as part of that proposal we created some guidelines for people who want to do a form of worship at their homes. We’re picturing about ten people who come over to watch the online worship service together. Pretty simple. It’s just a one page sheet that shows you different options that are green for recommended, yellow for OK, and red for not recommended. You can still make red choices, but make sure anyone you invite over knows what you’re planning to do.
So if you want to worship with other people sooner rather than later, take a look at these guidelines and think about people you know who might want to join you. We’re not going to organize this for you, but you have our recommendations to guide what you decide to do. If the online worship is working for you, stick with that. If you’re chomping at the bit to see other people, take a look at these guidelines for at-home worship groups.
Those are three ideas for Rooted Relationships during this time.
What about Growing in Christ? So much of spiritual growth is actually about the investment we make regularly at home, not the groups we attend at church. And that at-home investment is still very much available right now!
The two biggest investments we can make to be growing in Christ are very simple: reflect on Scripture and pray for guidance. I have updated our website to include the devotional I have been using for years along with several options for daily email devotionals you can subscribe to. So you can get an email every day that includes Scripture, some reflections from excellent Christian pastors and teachers and writers, and an opportunity to pray for God to guide you today. And don’t try to tell me that quarantine life doesn’t give you five minutes to do this! I’m not gonna buy it if you tell me you’re too busy!
If you already have a regular time to reflect on Scripture and pray for guidance, stick with that! But if you’re in a rut or your old habit hasn’t survived this disruption, take a look at fpcl.org/bible for some easy options.
What about Branching Out to Serve? This one’s actually harder, because a lot of the ways we typically serve, like the Community Dinner, aren’t available right now. Many of you have gotten creative by serving in new ways. Thank you to those who are calling people each week, writing notes, delivering Communion elements, shopping for people. Others have been focused on donating funds since they can’t serve in-person. Thank you to those who donated to our burner phones for the homeless, or for our King Soopers gift card handout. We’re about to send funds to our partner church in Zimbabwe to help them buy food for their congregation. You can still donate to the Zimbabwe effort before we send it, but time’s almost out.
Other than those occasional needs, how can you serve? I recommend thinking about your street or your block or your neighborhood. Could anyone use a random phone call? Could a family use a bag of toys or art activities? Is there anyone who you could offer to shop for without them asking you, or maybe call them right before you go to the store or put in your curbside order so they don’t feel like they’re imposing on you? Keep your antenna up for very opportunities to serve people in the name of Christ.
Sisters and brothers, who do you say that he is? Who is Jesus? Is he a liar? A lunatic? Or Lord? If he is Lord, we can still follow him during this time. We can still be Rooted, Growing, and Branching Out. It takes a little work because it’s not our normal routine. Is your Lord worth a little extra work? I hope so. Amen.