a question presented at Francis Asbury United Methodist Church, Baton Rouge, LA
Sunday, August 20, 2017
Reverend David Melville
SCRIPTURE: MATTHEW 16: 13-16
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the living God.”
Jesus was – is – not an easy fellow to know. Jesus was – is – many things to many people. We teach our children that He is a rabbi, teacher, friend, physician, Prince of Peace, miracle worker, prophet, priest and king. He’s a counselor, a “Son of Man,” and the “Son of God.” You’ve seen some of the posters attempting to name all the titles; they look almost as busy as a “Where’s Waldo?” poster. Jesus’ closest friends were still debating the exact nature of Jesus all the way through their last supper together, and afterword.
Evidently Peter got it right by simply calling Jesus “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” [verse 16] Even though at one time or another Jesus has fulfilled all of the diverse roles I described earlier, I don’t recall any other scripture showing Jesus as excited and animated and pleased with an explanation of why He was put on this earth.
This morning I want to ask you not only “Who do say Jesus is?” but also “Who do others say you are?” I believe both questions are related, and both questions are important, and hopefully the answers are correct to both questions. You see, for both Jesus and each of us, the answer has eternal consequences. Because Jesus accepted the good and the bad about being the Son of God, Jesus returned home to God. If we are accurately known as a child of God, we will one day return home to God.
I ask these questions because the question Jesus asked about Himself is in three of the four gospels, and we’re supposed to study scripture each Sunday in our time together; and I was prompted to ask the question about what others say about us because a good friend of Melanie’s and mine died this week in Amite, and I have been asked as a friend and as his former pastor to say something this coming Wednesday about the deceased. Of course I have been asked many times since I entered ministry in 2001 to “say something about the deceased.” You hope you are being accurate in in what you say, but you never know.
Our friend’s name is Chuck, and I am honored to be asked. This week final comments, assessments, observations and conclusions about Chuck Edwards will be said – at least publicly — at his funeral service. Next week someone may be asked to perform the same function for you or me. Who will they say Jesus is to you? Who will they say you are?
My favorite shirt with words on the back is this one. It says, “Live your life so the preacher won’t have to lie at your funeral.” I have received more comments and acknowledgements and “amen’s” about this shirt than any other I have ever worn. People love it and resonate with it from my grandchildren to United States Senator Bill Cassidy, who saw it from a distance at the grocery store and made a point of seeking me out and applauding it.
Some of you know my call to ministry at age 47 began in earnest when I joined with a dozen others in a Bible Study led by our Senior Pastor, Dr. Pat Day, at First United Methodist Church, Shreveport. When Dr. Day asked each of the group to share why we had signed up for a thirty-six week study of the Bible, you heard the usual goals and reasons. Mine was kind of different: it wasn’t to help discern my call for ministry … that would come later; it was to learn more about references to the Bible I saw in literature and plays and popular music. [Who was the woman in the hit song Jezebel?; what is Johnny Cash meaning in When the Man Comes Around?; John Steinbeck in East of Eden, William Faulkner in Absalom, Absalom! etc. And Lordy, Lordy, all the Biblical gems mined in Jesus Christ, Superstar! So I wanted to start playing catch-up on the stories, even though I had been in church every Sunday for decades.
I remember Mrs. Katherine Caruthers was very direct and honest when it came her turn to say what she hoped to get out of the class: She explained, “I want the pastor to know me before he preaches my funeral service.” At a big church with thousands of members that is not always the case. I can assure you that after those thirty-six weeks, Pat and Katherine were on a first-name basis! And that was a good thing. Dr. Day came to know Katherine for the wonderful lady she is.
What will the pastor who officiates at your funeral service know about you? What does your family, friends, fellow church members know about you? This coming week speak and act in ways which clearly show your priorities, your passions and your legacy. Hopefully, all three will reflect your love of Jesus. Loving Jesus first does not dilute or take away from your love of family, work or hobbies … in fact, loving Jesus first helps you to love yourself, love others and to love life more. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” [John 10:10]
When Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and money (mammon)” [Matthew 6:24], He was not saying one could not have God and money; He was just saying one had to be the priority … the master … and hopefully the master would be God. Those of you who have been faithful tithers through the years will probably testify that when you make God the priority – write the check to the church first — there will still be enough money left over … perhaps even more money than you would have had if you had not tithed. Call it new math, funny math, call it what you will … mathematically it just seems to work out that way. Go figure.
Do others know you? What will people –especially those closest to you – remember about you when there is no more opportunity for rebuttal, and when it is too late to change or to explain. And what will God say about you? We can’t hide from God.
Some people prefer to be enigmatic. Don’t be enigmatic. The world is enigmatic enough already with its fifty shades of gray. We need a few people to stand out loud and clear as baptized believers of this Messiah named Jesus. That’s what I’m going to say about Chuck Edwards on Wednesday: he was a baptized believer. I know it because I had the privilege of baptizing him when he almost 80 years old.
But we can know that someone has been baptized, and still not know them. Just as with Jesus, we can express with confidence who someone is only by looking at the way he or she lived, the way he or she loved, and the way he or she died. This Wednesday I’m going to say that about Chuck as well. We have to live a certain way if we want to be remembered a certain way; we have to live a certain way if we want to die a certain way. Preacher, what do you mean, die a certain way? You’re talking like a doctor, or the Coroner. No, as the preacher I mean die at peace, die prepared to meet Jesus. And the leap from here to the arms of Jesus won’t be that far if you’ve been with Him all along. Thank goodness that with the physical deterioration that a tall, strapping Chuck Edwards had experienced, he didn’t have to leap far to be with Jesus; he was already with Him.
We don’t have time just to know Jesus or for others to know us superficially. At death, hopefully we will know exactly who we are saying good-bye to (our friends and family and co-workers and fellow travelers), and hopefully we will know exactly who we are saying hello to: Jesus … the Messiah who came to earth to save us. Among all the titles and names for Jesus, that is the title and name that we need to know.
On the surface a great test of how much we know about our spouse is to participate in one of those “Newly Wed” type shows. Maybe we should have one of those here at Francis Asbury for fun. But I have to warn you … players may be disappointed and hurt when your partner doesn’t know you after all, and chooses the wrong answer.
At Fellowship United Methodist Church in Bossier City Melanie and I were good sports and were two of the contestants in their version of The Newly Wed Game. At that time we had been married for 33 years; we ought to blow the others away, right? Well, I think we came in last … I think there were some trick questions.
Even though we lost, did that mean that I did not know Melanie? I don’t think so. After knowing her since elementary school, and after living with her for 33 years, I knew and know her as one of the most intelligent, loving, strong, compassionate, forgiving and Godly women you’ll ever meet. I had, and have her pegged in the ways that count the most. I may not score well on a test about a book I’ve read, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know that it is a great book … a best seller. And Melanie is a best seller! No offense, Bob Eubanks, but if God is the host of the show, Melanie and whomever she’s playing with win every time, because they know who she really is. She is a baptized child of God.
I hope this week you will know God up close and personal through His Son, Jesus Christ. I hope you will know Jesus Christ not only as He was, but as He is. And I hope you will be known this week not only by your family name, or your job or your political party; not even by your good looks or your church membership. I hope people say about you, “He or she is a child of God.” If that is how you are known and understood, then see how all those other names and labels shine!