A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Confession of St. Peter – January 18, 2004
Text: Matthew 16:13-19
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
There are some rules that hold true no matter where you go. Whether you’re in St. Paul, or North Dakota, or even on the other side of the world, you can see those rules in motion, and smile. One of those rules, I’ve discovered, is this: People talk about what matters to them.
Or, put another way: If you want to know what’s important to someone, listen to what they talk about.
For example, down at the café you’ll hear a lot of different things. People use the coffee hour to catch up on what’s going on around town. Many of these topics come and go – one day it may be the burning of the old elevators, the next it’ll be the color of the minister’s house, or the latest wild turkey sightings, or anything else that’s noteworthy that week.
But I can guarantee you that no matter what day you choose to fill your cup you’ll hear about the weather.
It’s not that North Dakotans are boring folks who can’t think of anything to talk about but the weather. Far from it! No, the reason the weather always comes up, again and again, even within a single conversation, is because it’s so terribly important to our lives here. For those of us who farm, it’s your lifeblood – the weather determines not only what chores you’ll be able to do today, but how well you might find yourselves living six or twelve months from now. There are few things more important to farming than the quality of the weather.
But even for the towndwellers among us, the weather has much more power over our lives here than in most places. We’re not very sheltered, and storms can be big and powerful when they blow up. We live in a place where the high and low for the year might be nearly 150 degrees apart, and the weather can smack you in the face when you set foot out the door. Whether we live on farms or in town, it’s hard to beat the weather in terms of what matters to us here.
And so we talk about it, day in and day out, at the café and bank and gas station. We talk about it before church, and after church, and maybe even during church if the sermon’s a bit slow today! We talk about the weather because it matters to us – like the rule says, if you want to know what’s important to someone, listen to what they talk about.
Which brings us to today’s gospel reading. It’s a favorite story – Jesus has asked his disciples who the people are saying he is. They all chime in, giving the teacher several answers, passing on all the gossip and speculation that they’ve been hearing about him.
But Jesus has a follow-up question in mind, the one he really wanted to ask them in the first place. “OK,” he tells them, “but who do you say that I am?”
Friends, that is the question before you today. Who do you say that Jesus is?
And just as importantly: How often do you say it?
The first question is hugely important. Everything in the world depends on who Jesus is, and so what you have to say on that particular matter is central. When you speak about Jesus, is he more or less an abstract concept that you shout when you stub a toe or the Vikings blow another big lead in the fourth? When you talk about Jesus, do you mostly call him things like “great man,” “spiritual leader,” “wise person,” or “moral teacher?” When Jesus is part of your conversation, do you worry about the difference between some sort of “historical Jesus” and the Jesus you know through faith and the scriptures?
Or do you, when you talk about Jesus, follow the confession of St. Peter, saying, “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God”? Or even more simply: “Jesus is Lord”?
Who do you say Jesus is? Not “who do you believe deep in your heart Jesus is,” but who do you say with your own lips that he is?
And how often do you say it? It’s easy to keep that sort of talk reserved for Sunday mornings, and even then it’s probably true that we talk more about the weather than Jesus all too often.
Do you talk about Jesus outside of church? Do you ask your family and friends what they think of him, who they say he is? Do you read books about him and then feel inspired to study with your friends, so that you can talk about him together? Do you find him coming up in your conversations as often as the weather, because he really does matter to you that much?
The rule says we talk about the things that matter most to us, and I think it’s true. And yet hardly anyone – even your pastor – talks about Jesus all that much.
I’d like to challenge us all to spend more of our words on the person who saved us this week. If what you’ve heard about Jesus is good news to you, then do what we do with any other good news – share it with your friends, family and maybe even a stranger. Talk about it, not because the pastor’s challenging you to, but because it really is good news, and because it matters to you.
Wouldn’t that be something, to hear Jesus’ name in the café, at the grocery store, and even in your own home? It all starts with who you say Jesus is, and how often you say it. Think about it this week, and then take a chance. See if God doesn’t do some surprising things when Peter’s confession becomes your confession.