“Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?”
That’s the question Jesus poses to his followers in the Gospel lesson assigned for tomorrow. In the story, the disciples give him all the varied answers that they've heard murmured out in the public square. Everybody has a label for Jesus.
Elijah. Jeremiah. John the Baptist.
And then he poses a more difficult question: Who do you say that I am?
Now, it’s personal. Now, it’s an evaluation of their hearts and minds. Who is this guy to me?
Peter is the one who pipes up: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” Jesus congratulates Peter, noting that this spontaneous answer came from a place of deeper wisdom than what the world was revealing about Jesus, showing that his mind had been transformed. Jesus goes on to promise that Peter is the rock upon which the church will be built and Hades will not prevail against it. He’s gonna get the keys to the kingdom of Heaven and whatever he binds on Earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever he loosed on Earth will be loosed in Heaven. High-five, Peter!
Interesting to think, then, that Peter, the rock and foundation upon which the church will be built, is the one who denies Jesus three times at the critical hour. Even the church, sometimes, can falter and fail.
The church is very much like Peter, really. Sometimes it can clearly put forth an image of Christ to the world; sometimes it can be so tangled in the weeds of self-interest and self-preservation that I am not sure even Christ would be able to see the light of God in the midst of all that mess. Those are the times when the church is falling short of doing the important work she’s been tasked with to do: preach the Gospel at all times…even when it is bound to make somebody itch.
I have spoken of my friend, the Very Rev. Mike Kinman, before on this blog. Mike has been praying with his feet in Ferguson, Missouri. He’s been praying with his Facebook posts, highlighting the scourge of white privilege that has become way too obvious out of this situation (let’s face it: white people don’t get shot down in the middle of the street when they’ve got their hands up in the air.) He’s been praying with all his heart, and with all his mind and with all his strength. And he’s been doing it long before there was a shooting that took the life of an unarmed 18-year-old named Michael Brown. Mike has dared, from his own position of privilege as the dean of Christ Church Cathedral, to turn the mirror on himself and the others in prominent leadership positions within the Episcopal Church and say, “Hmmmm… aren’t we a nice collection of straight white men?!” Mike has understood, and acknowledges, that this disproportionate representation of one kind of person out of the whole great human creation of God serves to deny other voices, other visions, and, ultimately, a more complete picture of that beautiful creation that reflects Christ. If the church is going to do better and be ready to bring Christ to the world, it needs more leaders that look like God’s multi-colored and multi-gendered human tapestry. I imagine for Mike, this is a tough self-acknowledgement that when he’s given the chance to hire and promote, it will be on his shoulders to elevate someone who doesn’t look like him.
We should all be asking ourselves the difficult question, “Who do we say Christ is?” Do we say that Christ is white? Is he black? Is he male? Is he female? Is he trans? Is he straight? Is he gay? Is he asexual? Is he a citizen? Is he a foreigner? Is he conservative? Is he progressive?
Or do we say that Christ transcends all those labels that we have developed that too often separate and divide? Are we able to be unified in Christ as many members with our own special gifts which are made greater in our connection because they all represent an element of Christ?
Are we able to see that, in Christ, there is neither St. Louis nor “out-state”; neither black nor white; and that Ferguson is not just about “them,” but really about “us”?
I have said that the only way we can put a stop to the cycle of violence and racism that continues to crop up and fester like a wound that will not heal is if we stop seeing the Michael Brown’s of the world as “their” son, brother, father, uncle, cousin, and recognize that he is “our” son, brother, father, uncle, cousin. We must accept the responsibility that we are all connected and if one part of the body of Christ is hurting, we must address that. Sometimes, this will result in conflict. Often times that conflict seems rooted in the fear that to acknowledge the right of another person or group of people to function fully in perfect love and freedom would somehow take something away from somebody else. To get away from that thinking requires one to do as St. Paul was saying in his letter to the Romans when he calls on his audience to not be conformed to this world…this world of the I’ve got mine; screw you…and allow the mind to be renewed and transformed to discern God’s will. That will, inevitably, will lead one to see that perfect love and freedom trumps fear. Always.
Who is Jesus Christ? The greatest liberator from oppression ever, and the mediator and advocate I turn to in these trying times.