by Kirsten Fryer
Who do people say they are? I heard "favored to win the gold," "the biggest upset of the games," and "the fastest man in the world." I heard "the one who was cheated" and "Olympic champion." I heard "merman," "freak of nature", and "Lightning Bolt." I definitely stayed up way too late on several nights during the Olympics anticipating broken world records and gold medals. There were, of course, the 8 swimming events that kept Michael Phelps in the spotlight, the sprint events dominated by the Jamaicans-especially Usain Bolt, and the women's gymnastics events-Nastia and Shawn became familiar names in many households. They made this an Olympics that will go down in history-"a truly exceptional games." Their names captivated the world and their Olympic achievements kept many of us way too late for too many nights in a row.
Now when Jesus came to Caesarea Phillipi, he asked his disciples "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" Matthew doesn't tell us how quickly they responded. He does not tell us if they shuffled their feet and looked to the ground. Did they answer boldly or did the question embarrass them a little bit? Were they relieved to hear the question "who do other people say the Son of Man is?" rather than "who do you say I am?" All Matthew gives us is some say John the Baptist, but others say Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. That's a pretty impressive list.
Yet, Jesus presses on. For although people speculate that he is among the best leaders of their history, he has not heard the correct answer. But who do you say I am? I wonder if the other disciples looked nervously to Simon Peter. Did he step up the plate, the spokesman among them? Had they discussed it, come to a consensus in hopes that someday they would have the opportunity to speak the words? Or did he just blurt it out: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God, relieved to finally say it. After all, what did he have to lose? If he was wrong, it wasn't the end of the world. But if he was right, it would be his gold medal moment. The opportunity to speak the words that had been bubbling inside of him since he first heard "follow me." This was the moment for him to step up and speak out.
If he was right, it would be the beginning. If he was right, it would mean that the one he had hoped for, the one whom he had believed in was standing right in front of him. No more waiting for the Messiah to come. It would be the beginning of a new reality for Peter, for the disciples, and for the world. It would confirm the hope they had held on to for so long. You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
And when he spoke the words, not only was the Messiah within arms reach, his arms were reaching out to Peter. And had been reaching out to him since that very first "follow me." Peter had finally spoken the words he had longed to speak. Named the one whom he had hoped for. Now the Messiah was standing in front of him and was calling him blessed. The beginning of a new life for Simon, son of Jonah, now called Peter, the Rock.
As we gather here today, we are at a beginning place. The beginning of a new school year. The beginning of seminary for some. The beginning of another school year for others. For some of us, the beginning of our last school year. The beginning of a year of a new job or a new position for several. We stand at the beginning of a year celebrating the many new faces in our community. We stand at a beginning of a new year, even as we grieve the absence of some very familiar faces within our community, and the death of our sister, Connie.
As we stand here at the beginning who do people say we are? They say we are juniors, jiddlers, and middlers. Affiliates and "I don't know where I fits." Seniors, faculty and staff. They say we are husbands and wives, parents, and children. Brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. We are called friends and colleagues. We begin a new school year as we leave behind what has become familiar-jobs, homes, colleges, CPE sites, and internship congregations. We stand here today, not knowing what is in front of us. We stand here today with the support of family, friends, and home congregations. We stand here excited and terrified all at the same time. We stand here with expectations and not knowing what to expect. And, with Peter, we speak the words you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
It would be hard for us to be here today without having spoken these words. One does not typically just stumble into the seminary. We come here today after a time of discerning...knowing that we continue listen for how God calls us in the world. But as we continue on the journey, it is, after all, these words that form and shape us and make us who we are. The Messiah, the Son of the living God calls us to live to serve him...to make his name known in the world through all we say and do.
When Peter spoke the words you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God, his life changed. He was given a new name, a new purpose in life. His name would go down in history; he would be remembered and revered. Not of his own doing. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. Peter could not come to the conclusion alone; he could not utter these words on his own.
And even as we begin this new year here at LSTC, we do not do it alone. We live in faith that Christ is with us. Sometimes it is hard to remember-perhaps most notably on those nights when we are up way too late because we procrastinated way too long on that paper or that Greek homework. Perhaps it is in those moments where the ground seems to come out underneath us-the faith shaking moments that we all have had, and will have. And it is at those times, that we say thanks be to God that it is not our own words, but God's words that have molded and shaped us to be who we are.
Who does God say we are? You are my child who has been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Although we proclaim Jesus to be the Messiah, the one who saves, we do not do it by ourselves. We cannot say these words alone. For no matter what anyone else calls us, God calls each of us child, who has been saved by Christ.
So as we begin this new school year, as we begin as a new community called together by Christ, we can remember this: we are the daughters and sons of the living God. No number of "A" papers or failed quizzes will change that. No matter who else you are, no matter what other people call you, the waters have washed over you. You are named and claimed by Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
Even as we try desperately to catch up on the sleep we missed watching all of those gold medal moments from Beijing during the last two weeks, we remember that gold medal moment of Peter's so long ago. That moment when he spoke the words you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
As we gather here today at the beginning of a new year, we give thanks for the moment that came for most of us before we can even remember-the moment that no amount of gold can buy-when the water and the words washed over us in baptism. We remember that no matter what other people call us, God calls us sons and daughters.
At the beginning of this new school year, we give thanks for new life. We give thanks for the simple stuff that is far more valuable than gold. Through the waters of baptism and the wood of the cross, God calls us sons and daughters, named and claimed by the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Amen.
Matthew 16: 13-20