But who do you say that I am?
You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
This is the classic revelation of Jesus’ identity by Peter, the revelation that happens approximately midway through each of the gospel stories told by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Jesus’ identity has implications for our identity. Jesus is about starting a movement to restore the world, and every person in it, to the glory God intends for us. As followers, we get to take on that mission, and to proclaim God’s mission of reconciliation and healing. Jesus’ invitation to follow is not like asking someone to follow us on Twitter or Instagram. For some of us everyday humans, the temptation to want followers simply for the sake of having followers is very great. I know.
Jesus gets excited about Peter’s identifying him as the Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed one, to bring about the transformation of the world. Jesus gets excited about this because it means that Peter and the others will carry on the saving, reconciling movement he came to proclaim. Peter recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesus confers upon him enormous authority. We have such authority conferred upon us by our baptism, and and simply by having a share in a community like this.
I came across a parable recently that illustrates how easily our identity and authority as followers of Jesus can get a little skewed. This is an oldie but goodie, and some of you may have heard it before. It was written during what some still consider to be the “glory days” of the Episcopal Church in the 1950.
On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life¬saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for those who were lost. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time, money, and eﬀort to support its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew.
Some of the members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the ﬁrst refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building.
Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club’s initiations were held. About this time a large ship wrecked oﬀ the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting, there was a split among the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life¬saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life¬saving station. But they were ﬁnally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station. So they did.
As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that seacoast today, you will ﬁnd a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.
Surely we would never say this parable reminds us of St. David’s, but I think we might agree that it’s an accurate designation of the evolution of the institutional church over many centuries. Do you recognize any parts of the story? I recognize the early days as being like the church in the Book of Acts. We have been reading the Book of Acts during the daily office these weeks—story after story of the church growing in amazing ways because people want to join in the church’s life-saving mission, and to give themselves to the movement Jesus founded.
I recognize myself, in how easy it is to get caught up in worries about paying for the heat or caring for linens, or choosing the right color of paint for the kitchen. These things can distract me from God’s mission. And, it is easy to confuse saving lives with saving the church.
I don’t know about you, but my life wasn’t saved because someone needed me to be part of their church so they could grow. Good thing, too, because at the time I started going to church, I had no money, no wonderful husband who loves to find his way around church kitchens, and no cute kid to liven up the Sunday school.
My life was saved by the surprising encounter with the holy that I experienced in the breaking and sharing of bread, and in the people who came to the table to share it with me. In a mysterious way, these things made my unholy life holy.
When we recognize Jesus as the Messiah, we recognize ourselves as disciples, followers committed to saving lives, helping broken people to become whole. This life-saving mission belongs to every single one of us in the same way that the electric bill and our children’s ministry and the music we sing and the bread and wine we are about to share belong to all of us. We are Peter, we are Jesus, we are life-savers.