Christ, Here. Now.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

~Matthew 16:13-20


Who do you say that I am?

Jesus asked that of the people who were with him on that day so long ago. Can you imagine it? Here is some context. Just before this conversation, Jesus is with religious leaders who ask him for a sign, even though he has been a living sign of the coming kin-dom.

And then, even Jesus’ disciples get confused, forgetting about how Jesus, not once, but twice – provided bread and fish for thousands of people. The disciples have forgotten, and Jesus – frustrated – reminds them.

So now, try to imagine the scene, as vividly as you can. Imagine that you are in the group with Jesus and his disciples as you all walk into the district of Caesarea Philippi. Are you and your companions tired? Maybe thirsty? What are you talking about, or thinking about?

And then Jesus asks that question:

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

Maybe you and the others are kind of startled by that question. Or, maybe it flows naturally from the conversation. You might wonder why Jesus is asking this question. Still, you join in with answers to the question – people think Jesus is one of the prophets who are long gone.

And then the follow-up question:

Who do you say that I am?

And Peter – it’s always Peter, isn’t it? – he says: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

But you know what comes next? After this exchange, where Jesus blesses Peter for the depth, wisdom and truth of his answer – comes Jesus’ prediction of the great suffering that he will undergo on his way to a horrific death. Our beloved Peter then says, no way! This can’t happen to you! And Jesus’ famous words to Peter in response: “Get thee behind me Satan.”

So nested amid the vignettes that reveal conflict, confusion and temptation is a luminous gem as the disciples get a glimpse of who Jesus really is, and a glorious, heady sense of what that might mean.

So, if today Jesus said to you: Who do you say that I am? – What is your answer?

We could say that this is a rhetorical question, because Jesus isn’t here with us today. Or, he is, as the risen Christ, the one who broke through from death into a transformed life. But – we might be thinking – he is not here in person, I can’t touch him, hear him, see him.

Well, read this from Theresa of Avila:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

That means that – yes – when you looked in the mirror this morning, you were looking at one of the bearers of Christ in this world. Now look at the person sitting next to you, the person across the room, the person in the next car. She or he too bears the face of Christ.

And think of the people in your life – those you love, those you maybe don’t like so much, those you barely know – they all are Christ’s body, hands, feet, eyes here on earth. Or, at the very least, they have that potential within them.

And now, let’s travel in our imagination to a place that is no doubt bone-weary and grieving after wrenching violence – a place where Jesus’ healing presence is desperately needed, still, even though it is no longer front-page news. There are many places on this earth where that is true. But this place I’m writing about now is close to many of us – Ferguson, Missouri, a community not so long ago wracked by racial violence after a white police officer killed an unarmed African American teenager. This event and its aftermath permeated our national consciousness as the violence unfurled before us, and rippled into each of our hearts.

Who there is the face of Jesus? Think of the people who live there, some whose stories many of us now know so very well, some whose stories we have yet to hear.

Can you see the face of Christ in Michael Brown, the young man who was so brutally killed in August? Can you see the hands of Christ in Michael’s mother?

What about in those who protested against the violent, soul-killing injustices?

And if you saw the images of the looters, and the police officers – did you see anything of Christ there? And where will we see the face, the hands, the eyes of Christ as this injustice continues to unfold?

This is one of our jobs as people of faith – as people who have experienced the transforming power of Christ’s presence in our lives – this is one of our jobs: to give witness to who Jesus is to us – and to give voice to who Jesus is in places like Ferguson – and to look for signs of his presence among us.

To look for signs of his presence everywhere, the places and faces where you expect to see signs of the Living Christ; and the most unlikely, most desolate places and faces.

To do this, we need prayer – we need to turn to the One who lives in us, and whose presence fills the universe. And I want you to join me in a prayer that I have recently learned – and maybe you’ve come across it too. It’s the “hands up, don’t shoot” prayer. It’s also the posture of a very old prayer, a prayer called orans – a prayer of pleading that began well before Christianity, and has been used by Christians for hundreds of years.

So please take some time today to pray this prayer. Put your hands up, palms outward, or to the side. A posture of surrender. Also a posture of receiving and giving.

And we pray, with our whole selves, in this prayer of surrender and plea:

Oh Holy One
Thank you for revealing yourself to us.
Open our eyes to see you in each other.
Open our eyes to see you in all of those places and faces where we least expect to see you – the places and faces of despair and desolation.
Hear our prayer of surrender as we hold before you our sisters and brothers in Ferguson. We pray for your justice – your healing and freeing justice – to be unleashed in that community.

And show us here, so many miles away and yet bearing the pain of our brothers and sisters there, how we might surrender to the inflow of your love and truth in our lives here, now.

May we be your body, your hands, your eyes, your compassion as we serve you, and as you minister to us through each other.