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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 24, 2014

Edith Cavell was the head of a nursing school in Brussels when Germany invaded Belgium in 1914. She was a devout woman, deeply committed to Christ. Cavell helped the wounded on both sides of the conflict. She also helped many allied soldiers to escape capture. Someone found out about her work and betrayed her. The Germans executed her on October 12, 1915. Artist Brian Whelan has produced a series of paintings about Cavell’s life, filled with religious images to depict the spiritual side of her. She is shown as a solitary person of faith. Cavell loved Thomas a Kempis’ book, The Imitation of Christ, and so its words are in the paintings as well. The paintings will go on display at the National Cathedral soon to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. Ruth Frey, director of programs at the cathedral, said, it “was an exciting thing to learn about her courage and compassion”, according to the The Washington Post.

It is clear from her life that Edith Cavell had answered the question of who Jesus was for her and what that meant for her life. She believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. For her that meant Jesus was at the center of her life, her Lord and Savior. She had compassion for all the wounded, loving her enemies as well as the allied forces. She believed in freeing potential prisoners and captives. She spent her life in a caring profession. She wanted to imitate Christ.

Peter’s bold confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God is in response to Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” I am interested in other thoughts, he says, but mostly I am interested in your personal experience of me. What do you say after you have seen me heal and teach and preach? What do you say after you have seen me walk on water? What do you say after you have shared my life and learned from me? Peter gives the right answer. The disciples have already worshipped Jesus as Son of God after seeing him walk on water, but this is the defining moment, the moment when Jesus is going to start building his community, the church. Peter’s confession gives Jesus an opportunity to talk to the disciples about the group of believers that will come together as one.

But, you notice, Peter does not give any indication as to what his confession means. We know from other parts of the gospel that it is not what Jesus meant. Peter expects deliverance from Rome and a rise to power for Israel.

Messiah, Son of the living God has many meanings. Edith Cavell’s definition of who Jesus was is one confession of faith and action in response to that faith. Peter has another, but we cannot hang our hats on someone else’s definition, on someone else’s experience of Christ. The question Jesus asks is addressed to all of us, and now is the time to think about it. Who do you think Jesus is? Who do I think Jesus is? This reflection will decide how we live our lives as Christians in the world.

There are some definitions in the lessons today that we might consider. One is that Jesus is a prophet, a good man sent by God to teach us how to live. Other prophets performed miracles and taught and preached as Jesus did, though they did not proclaim new interpretations of the Torah. John the Baptist, Elijah and Jeremiah are all good answers.

Do you think of Jesus as a prophet, fully human?

In the Hebrew Scriptures, God is seen as deliverer, so Jesus as Son of God representing his Father, would be seen as a deliverer too. The deliverer Isaiah sees is one who will rescue God’s people from the waste places in which they have found themselves through their sin. Water is an important symbol for the deliverer. In a desert region, water is a precious commodity, and God will bring water, making Israel’s wilderness like Eden, the desert like the garden of the Lord. He will rule the people with justice as a light and give the people hope. Even though heaven and earth will vanish, God’s salvation will rule forever.

Do you think of Jesus as deliverer, the promise of God come to earth to give us hope and healing from our dark places?

In the light of the resurrection, Paul has a very different experience of Jesus. He says Jesus is the one who will help us discern the will of God, so that we can do what is good and acceptable and perfect, including presenting our whole selves to Christ and putting Christ at the center of our lives. God, who is the One who loved us so much that God gave Jesus up to death will help us discern who we are, what our gifts are and how we can contribute to the body of Christ. The Messiah, the Son of the Living God, has made it possible for us to be interconnected with one another in the church community.

Do you believe Jesus is present with us in the Holy Spirit, working to help us discern what actions we should take as members of the body of Christ?

It is not fair to ask you to think on your experience of who Jesus is without telling you some of what he means to me. I believe that Jesus is the self-revelation of God. God came to earth to show us how God feels about us – the great love God wants to give us and the forgiveness and reconciliation God longs for. God has great compassion for us and wants to free us from our bondage to the ways of earth that keep us separated from God. God also came to show us that out of God’s love for us, we should love others – our friends, our enemies, strangers and neighbors – by showing the compassion and mercy for them that God has shown to us. I believe Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, fully human and fully divine. I believe Jesus delivers us from our dark places and helps us discern who we are in God’s economy.

I am certain I don’t stand on these beliefs to the same degree every day, because sin is a part of life, but the times I do stand on it are times of great blessing for me.

Whatever you believe about Jesus, you probably don’t believe it every day or in the same way all the time. Peter certainly didn’t. He lost faith in an episode just before and started to sink into the sea before Jesus saved him. He betrayed Jesus three times. Yet Peter is the rock upon which Jesus will build his new community. Peter’s faith, tentative as it is, is enough to be the cornerstone for the church. That means our sometimes shaky faith is enough to make us a rock of the church too. Not only are we enough to be members of Christ’s body acting in the world, we are enough to possess the authority of the keys to the kingdom of heaven. We are able to bind and loose, to free people from bondage and bind them to the living Christ, not through doctrine and dogma, but through our own experiences of Christ working in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. However haltingly we may be able to speak about what Christ has done in our lives, we can be assured that death will not prevail over the church, that we are Jesus’ community, built and strengthened by one another, and evil and death do not have the last word because they do not possess the keys to the kingdom.

We, as the church, in all our varied beliefs about who Jesus is, in all our days of strong faith and shaky faith, are the rocks that hold the church together. We are not only what holds it together, we are the builders. I invite you to spend some time this week looking at who you think Jesus is, because it is the most important question we can ask ourselves. Then we need to ask ourselves how we will respond in action to this answer. We are good enough to be stones in the community of the church. May God help us be faithful ones.


     - Rev. Ann Barker