Questions

Rev. Fr. John Scott Trotter
St Stephen’s Blytheville, Calvary Osceola
August 21, 2011
Year A, Proper 16
Exodus 1:8-2:10; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

Seven centuries before Jesus’ time, Hezekiah was King of Israel. He restored the Temple, profaned by his predecessor, and did what was honorable in God’s eye. However, times were turbulent. Assyria was the dominate power of the day. With the promise of help from Egypt, Israel and several smaller powers rebelled. In the dark times that follow Isaiah places the key to the house of David on the shoulder of Eliakim, a court official, as a sign of hope for the future saying:

“… he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open …”

It is a message to the people of Jerusalem, that a coalition of earthly forces is not the source of their hope. Jesus’ giving Peter the keys to the Kingdom builds on this piece of Jewish history. Remember, the Jews are once again oppressed, this time by Rome. It is reminder that the hope for the future is not built on military or economic power, economic prowess or political ideology but on God’s promise of justice and righteousness for all.

We should remember the radically inclusivity of scripture, especially in Jesus’ teachings and Paul’s writings. We have heard it explicitly in Romans and it lurks in the back ground of those we heard this morning.

Paul writes that all are called to be present to God; that everyone should seek to be transformed in and by discerning the will of God.

He notes that everyone has a unique gift. The list here is shorter than others, but it shows great diversity. Paul also argues that even in this great diversity we are all one body in Christ. Everybody has a gift, and everybody needs everybody else’s gift. We cannot be whole, we cannot be holy if we exclude anyone, or degrade any gift.

Let me share a current example. I owe a letter to the district governor of a civic organization. One of their programs is a foreign business exchange. A team from this district goes to visit a foreign district and they also visit here. The idea is exchange ideas, to learn from each other. The this district is paired with the Philippines, and agriculture is the business focus. During an chance meeting the district governors meet and shared information about agriculture of their respective regions. All northeast Arkansas production numbers are vastly higher that those in the Philippines. The decision was made for two teams from the Philippines to visit Arkansas, because we had nothing to learn from them. I believe the decision is wrong. Here’s why.

After World War II, the leaders of the Anglican Communion noticed that the relationship within the communion was Great Britain, the US and Canada giving money and directions to the other provinces. They realized this was a power down, power over relationship and contrary to the teaching of the bible. Out of that realization the ideal of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in Christ emerged. It is exactly what it sounds like. All Anglican provinces, all Anglicans are mutually responsible to each other and we are all interdependent on each other, all within our relationships to Christ. The leaders set up a system of once a decade visitation to all provinces by representatives selected from all provinces. The visiting teams observe the church and share what they learn. While far from perfect it is an intentional dynamic of the relationship within the Anglican Communion where the rich and powerful provinces learn from the poor and powerless provinces.

I have no clue what northeast Arkansas farmers can learn from Philippine farmers. But, I know they will never learn if we think we are better than they and have nothing to learn from them.

The notion of mutual responsibility and interdependence also applies to the dramatic challenges we face in the US. Those of red persuasion must admit it is not all about boot strap individualism. Those of blue persuasion must admit it is not all about strong centralized federalism.

Neither is our future found is perfect purple. Just as ancient Israel learned the hope for our future is not military or economic power, technological prowess nor political ideology. Hope for the future is in our mutual responsibility interdependence to and for each other; hope for the future is God’s promise of justice and righteousness for all.

And finally we get to the two verses that really got my attention this week.

First, is Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” It’s an amazingly personal and poignant. I asked myself who I say Jesus is; and honestly I start with the creeds, but they are flesh and blood, of earthly design.

Everyday I’ve pondered who I say Jesus is. And every day questions and perceptions grow. I’ve had no definite revelation—that’s okay, just getting my head and heart around the idea is enough.

Then I got to wondering, Who do you say Jesus is? I hope you are intentionally, actively considering, pondering, discovering, and questioning, even doubting. In light of mutual responsibility and interdependence in Christ principles we should share our discoveries, our questions, even our doubts. We should share not only among ourselves, we should share with our neighbors, those we know, and those we don’t know. As we do, I am sure we will discover we are being transformed and that we are discerning what is the will of God.

The other verse—”… this is revealed to you by my Father.” Ancient church teaching—the creeds, etc.—are a useful beginning, but as I’ve said, they really are earthly things. Ancient and new interpretations of scripture are also helpful. Note: all reading of scripture is interpretation, the bible says so. It is more indepth material. Reading scripture can lead you to new experiences and understandings, still it’s a rather earthly thing. So how do we receive divine revelation of who Jesus is? Some, a very few, are gifted with direct revelation from God, as Peter was. The rest of us depend on the Body of Christ, otherwise known as the church to share experiences, thoughts, questions, and doubts. Each of us knowing “I am responsible for; dependent on, the other;” and the other knowing “they are responsible for; dependent on me;” and together we are dependent on and responsible to Christ.

Finally—oops, there is a third verse. We need not be concerned about getting it perfectly right. Just before Jesus gives Peter, and us, the keys to the Kingdom, he says: “… and Hades will not prevail against it.”

No matter what, the Church will prevail.

So it seems that all of us—white, black, Hispanic or Asian; Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist or atheist—are responsible for and to the other.

Thus far it has been, and it’ s likely to continue to be, messy. It is the way it is. But it is in these complex, messy relationships that we will see Jesus and come to know the messiah, the Son of our living God. It’s truth enough, it’s hope enough: to sleep well at night; and take on the challenges each morning brings.