Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, 23rd August 2020
Readings: Isaiah 22:19-23; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20
When I meet couples to make bookings for weddings, I have to ask them for some personal details, such as name, address and nationality. I also have to record in the register the names of their father and their occupations. In years gone by, people were identified not just by their own names but by the identity and occupation of their fathers. Many English Surnames that end in ‘son’ or with an ‘s’, originally identified the father, as in Williamson, abbreviated to Williams, which both mean 'son of William'. Surnames beginning with Mac in Scotland, also mean the same, as in Mac Donald, 'son of Donald'. And in Jesus’ time, the prefix ‘bar’, also identified the father, so Simon Barjona, was Simon son of Jonah. Identification is important in order to facilitate conversation. If someone can be labelled we all know who we are talking about.
In Nazareth, Jesus was identified as the carpenter’s son. His fellow townsfolk questioned how he could have pretensions when he spoke in the synagogue, and rejected him. Sometimes he was disrespectfully identified as Mary’s son, implying that the identity of his father was unknown. Away from home, these distinctions would not have helped to identify him, so when Philip speaks about of Jesus to Nathanael he calls him first Jesus of Nazareth, which prompts Nathanael to ask ‘can any good come out of Nazareth?’ When people in Jerusalem ask who the man is causing such a commotion in the triumphal entry into Jerusalem the people reply ‘this is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth.’
‘Who is this?’, is the question the evangelists are trying to answer. Mark says from the beginning that he writes the gospel about 'Jesus, the Son of God', whereas Matthew begins with 'the genealogy of Jesus the Christ, the Son of David'. Jesus wants to know what the people are saying about him: ‘who do people say the Son of Man is?’ he asks the disciples, and their replies are confused. Some say he is John the Baptist, (whom Herod had killed), Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets come back to life. When he questions the disciples as to who they say he is, Peter confesses him to be the Christ, the son of the living God.
The question that Jesus asks the disciples, he asks us too: who do you say I am? We recite in the creed what we say we believe about Jesus. But in order to answer that question honestly we have to know what Jesus means to us. It should be our duty and our joy, as Christians, to know him more intimately, and more completely. We may be reticent and a little embarrassed about sharing our faith, but we need not be. We should feel able to share what we know about Jesus, and why we receive him here in word and sacrament every week, why we need him in our life. Jesus is part of who we are, when Christians are confirmed, the bishop says to the candidate, God has called you by name and made you his own.’ Thus we confirm our identity as children of our heavenly Father.
In St John’s gospel, when the Jews ask Jesus ‘who are you?’ he replies, 'when you have lifted up the Son of Man you will know who I am'; they would find out after his crucifixion and resurrection. They claimed God to be their Father, but Jesus told them, ‘If you had God as your Father, you would love me.’ Instead he said their father was the devil because of their murderous intent. ‘Before Abraham was born,’ he said, ‘I am’ echoing what the voice of God said to Moses from the burning bush. The Jews then picked up stones to kill him but he escaped them.
If we regard God as our Father and consider ourselves his children, then we will love Jesus who is also our brother. And if we love our brother Jesus then we will do what he commands us. If we live our lives by the commands of Jesus then we will speak volumes about Jesus and who he is. However we must be careful not to give way to sin, to destructive and harmful behavior, that might make us appear more like the devil’s children.
To be children of God, is a great realization, for thus we see our common humanity and our equality. But it is also a great responsibility, a lot to live up to.