Who are You?

The Rev. Mary Vano
St. Margaret’s, Little Rock
August 21, 2011
10th Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 16A
Matthew 16: 13-20

For some reason, the 1978 single “Who are You,” by The Who, got stuck in my head all week as I reflected on today’s Gospel. For that is the question this reading addresses about Jesus. “Who are you?” I really want to know! The people want to know. Much deeper than a name, they want to know who this man is. What is his significance? Jesus knows that people have been talking about it, so he brings it up with his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Some ideas have been tossed around—John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah—but Jesus is not a reincarnation … he is a new creation. So Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”

It’s a critical moment in this relationship. Peter, who is so faithful, and yet so flawed, has apparently caught on. He responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter knows who Jesus is, and because he knows Jesus, he is blessed, and he is powerful. Jesus gives to him the keys to the kingdom of heaven – all because he asked and answered the question, “Who are you?”

Last year, I discovered a training video created by Chick-fil-a. The name of the video is “Every Life Has a Story.” Piano plays as the camera scans people coming through the restaurant, ordering their meals, and eating with their families. Under each face, a caption tells something of the person, such as, “A single mom struggling to make ends meet,” and, “His only son deployed to a war zone.” After tugging at your heartstrings for a couple of minutes, the final words come across the screen: “Every life has a story … if only we bothered to read it.”

Chick-fil-a is a Christian company. The aim of the video may simply be better customer service, but at the heart of the message is better Christian service. The point is, we cannot serve one another well, unless we’re willing to see others as human beings, deserving dignity, respect, and love. We cannot serve one another well without some willingness to ask the question, “Who are you?”

That question is an important one&mdashnearly as important as the answer. It’s the question—the act of asking “who are you?”—that draws us nearer to our subject. When we allow curiosity to guide us, it will pull us away from our self-preoccupation and open our hearts to profound discovery—a chance of relationship, a new way of seeing the world, an opportunity to serve and give meaning to your life.

Those are the gifts that Peter received when he responded to Jesus’ invitation: Who do you say that I am? Peter was able to answer because he had spent time with Jesus. He had followed. He had abandoned other pursuits and taken time to listen and to learn. The reward that Jesus gives to Peter—the keys to the kingdom of heaven—is not a prize for a correct answer; it is the fruit of Peter’s faithful pursuit. In following Christ, he came to know Christ, and in knowing Christ, he knew the transformation of his soul and unlocked his own potential.

Our baptismal covenant invites us to follow Peter’s path. One of the questions we are repeatedly asked is this: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” Seek and serve. Christ. Neighbor. Self. When we seek Christ, we may not find all the answers, but we will find a relationship with a loving God. And we will discover a way of seeing this world with the eyes of tender compassion. This discovery makes us better able to see each other—to see the spark of divine love that is at the core of every human being. That is the spark that makes it a joy to serve another. It is in serving—serving one another and serving Christ—that we will finally know real meaning and purpose in life.

It’s kind of a cycle: in seeking Christ we are drawn more deeply toward others. In serving others, we see ourselves more clearly. With a truer sense of our own identity we find ourselves nearer to Christ. It all begins with an open heart and a little curiosity, the willingness to ask the question, “Who are you, my friend?” “Who are you, my Lord?”

Of course, the answers to those questions are never simple. Even when we think we know someone, they will surprise us! There’s more to know. That’s exactly what happened to Peter. Next Sunday, we’re going to read the very next verses of this passage, and—spoiler alert here!—we will find that right after Peter thought he had it figured out—and he did have it at least halfway right—Jesus will surprise him again. When Jesus tries to prepare his disciples that he, as the Messiah, must go to Jerusalem, where he will suffer and be killed, Peter rejects it. He knows that Jesus is Messiah, but he doesn’t yet understand what that means. He doesn’t know that the Son of the Living God will give his life for the life of the world. He does not know that the cross will be the world’s salvation.

But we know what Peter couldn’t know: that when we ask the question of Jesus, “who are you?” we will find the answer upon the cross.

With the start of school this week, I resumed a practice for my children that I began a couple of years ago, when Drew first went off to school. Each day as I say goodbye to my children, I retrace upon their foreheads the sign that was placed there at their baptism. It is the sign of the cross. My hope is that the cross upon their foreheads will remind them daily of things that can’t be expressed in simple words. That cross is a sign that Christ is in them—that at their core is a center of love placed there by a God who lovingly created them and gave His life for them. It is a sign that as Christians they carry that love into the world, and that they are called to give the compassion and mercy of the Lord to all whom they meet. And whatever their stories turn out to be, the sign should remind them that God is with them at every turn, and that they need not fear.

In short, what I hope to give them is a sense of their own identity—but it doesn’t stop there. Upon that cross is a prayer that God will implant in them a curiosity and an openness of heart, that they can go into the world with the gift of joy and wonder in all of God’s works, and always be willing to ask that question, “Who are you?” and take time to discover the answers.

You too, brothers and sisters, wear that same cross, as you were once sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. I pray that you and I too, may go out into that world open-hearted and curious, and ready to Seek and Serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.