Sep 03

Pushing For a Better Hope

He just couldn’t stop there, could he? Why couldn’t he be satisfied with what had been said already? Wasn’t that enough? Wasn’t that what the Father had revealed to Simon Peter? He’s the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Why does Jesus have to keep pushing?

Just before this passage, in the story we read last week from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus asks his disciples two questions: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and “Who do you say that I am?” To the first question, the disciples answer that people think Jesus is a prophet. To the second question, Simon Peter responds with a confession of faith, a gift from the Father: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus praises Peter, promises to build his church on Peter the rock, and gives to Peter and the church the keys to the kingdom of heaven. It is a glorious moment—but Jesus just won’t stop there. He keeps going. His work is not done. His teaching is not complete. Matthew tells us that “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Jesus does not rest content, not even after praising Peter. Continue reading

Aug 27

Jesus Christ: The Messiah

There’s a great spiritual you might have heard at Christmastime over the years. Each of the verses talks about some aspect or another of the Christmas story, but the heart of the spiritual is the refrain: (sing twice) “Everywhere I go; everywhere, I go, my Lord; everywhere I go, somebody’s talkin’ ’bout Jesus.” I know it’s August, and I know we have long left Matthew’s telling of the Christmas story in the dust, but this spiritual, this refrain, we need them today, now. Everywhere I go, somebody’s talkin’ ’bout Jesus.

Who do people say that the Son of Man is? That’s Jesus’s first question to the disciples. I have on my office bookshelves across the lawn some three hundred books. Back at home, at the parsonage, I probably have another thousand or so—all of them, or nearly all of them, are either talking about Jesus or talking about people who like to talk about Jesus. I teach sometimes at a seminary in Baltimore and another one down in D.C. Each of these has libraries with another hundred thousand or so books, mostly about Jesus or about people who like to talk about Jesus. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus: you could go down each page and count up how often his name appears, but it would take you a lifetime. Continue reading

Aug 20

Jesus Christ: Object of Our Faith

Jesus says to her, “Woman, great is your faith!” This woman, this Gentile woman, she, of everyone who meets Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, she alone has great faith. I don’t know about you, but I want to hear Jesus say to me, “Mark, great is your faith!” Do you want great faith? This Canaanite woman shows us the way.

Last week Jesus told the disciples that they had little faith. Little faith is better than no faith. With little faith, the disciples listened to Jesus’s command, got into a boat, and crossed the sea of Galilee at night for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. With little faith, Peter got out of the boat when Jesus ordered him to come. Little faith is trusting Jesus, taking him at his word. We all need this little faith to be his disciples. With little faith we can go where Jesus sends us, even into situations that are frightening, without fear, because we trust that the one who sends us is Lord above all—and all means all. Continue reading

Aug 13

Jesus Christ: Lord and Son of God

Following Jesus means that we should, from time to time, expect to find ourselves in objectively scary situations. Too often, though, we live as if being faithful disciples means never having to go anywhere or do anything that could be frightening. We all want, or we all should want, the faith to live without fear. But living without fear is not the same thing as never being part of anything scary. Living without fear means trusting that Jesus is Lord, that he is the Son of God, that the lordship of Jesus extends over everything, visible and invisible. We cannot discover that Jesus reigns over everything if we shy away from anything that might be unsafe. Risk aversion is not the same thing as living without fear. That’s what Peter and the rest of the disciples discover in a windy night on the Sea of Galilee. Continue reading

Aug 07

Jesus Christ: The One Who Feeds

Fifteen years ago I spent part of a summer working with young children in a slum halfway around the world from here. We were teaching kids preschool, so we were covering basic things they needed to know in order to be ready for kindergarten when they were old enough. One of the topics was different animals—you know, the kind of thing you talk about with young kids all over the world. What’s a chicken? What does a chicken say? What about a duck: what does a duck do? What does a duck say? And so on. What about a dog? What does a dog say? What does a dog do? A dog bites me, one kid says. Everyone in the room laughs. A dog helps me find food in the trash heap outside my house, another kid adds. Whoa. No more laughter. Just exchanges of sad, knowing looks among the teachers.

Hunger is reality in this world, and more often than not, it is something people are born into or forced into, not something that happens because of bad decisions made by particular individuals. When my grandmother was a little girl, coffee soup and dandelion soup made regular appearances on her small family’s menu. Like the kids I helped in that slum, she didn’t ask to be born into a family that couldn’t afford to feed her. And her family worked hard, just like the families of kids all over the world. They just lived where there wasn’t enough: enough jobs, enough money, enough food. So my grandmother ate soups that weren’t really soup, and these beautiful children I fell in love with followed dogs across trash mounds to scavenge for food that wasn’t really food. Continue reading