A blog of resources, writings, and thoughts from the rector of St Timothy's Episcopal Church, Salem, Oregon.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
The enduring question...
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disci ples, ‘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?’ [Matthew 16:13-15]
Sister and Brother Disciples,
It is often said that Christianity can be caught but not taught. In other words, no one can be made to believe in Christ Jesus and the Gospel through intellectual action alone. It must ways be an action of the Holy Spirit coupled by a willing assent of an individual human being. Authentic growth in the Church is never the result of a plan, technique, or the achievement of a set of mandated goals. It is a gift from God received by humans hungry for the True Life God alone can give and sustain.
The trouble is that this sort of growth cannot be managed, predicted, or con trolled. It is very frustrating for institutions and systems because of this. Thus, there is always pressure in the Institutional Church to replace the unique spiritual journey each of us must take with conformity to some sort of litmus test that satisfies the Institution’s need for control. That creates a tension between what Christ initiated in the Gospel (and is taught in the catholic faith, the Creeds, &c.) and how his followers try to “manage” the Gospel message.
In some eras, this tension becomes quite destructive: the misuse of earthly pow er, the lowering of expectations for what discipleship entails, or a false assump tion that the Gospel and our current culture are synonymous are some examples. In other times, though, this tension can produce tremendous benefits. In our own day, the Gospel increasingly meets a society alienated from God, from nature, from the spiritual, and from our own selves. The opportunity for people—within as well as outside of the Institutional Church—to “catch” Christianity is perhaps more ripe in our day than it has been for nearly two hundred years.
God’s mission to a broken and alienated humanity in Christ Jesus—the missio Dei—to a great extent hinges upon our answer to the question Jesus asks of his disciples in the above-quoted passage. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke this scene acts not only as the setting for Peter’s confession of Jesus as Lord and Savior, but as a perpetual setting forth of THE question all who would follow Jesus must answer: not once, but again and again as we make our journey into the King dom of God. No one can answer this question for us, but neither can we make it go away. How we live, how we act, how we choose as Christians… all of these things hang from who we know Jesus Christ to be.
This year, St. Timothy’s is taking an intentional journey through its Adult Chris tian formation offerings. We are organizing our classes and discussions around this great question: “Who do you say that I am?” We are not doing this to en force a narrow, anxious dogmatism. The motivation is one of honest exploration of the biblical revelation, the apostolic and creedal core of catholic faith, and our own personal experiences.
Together, we will encounter Christ Jesus anew as a parish community, each of us being asked to bring our assumptions—hidden and explicit—to the table. There, we may find old answers no longer work, previous approaches don’t match up with scripture, or new possibilities call us to a deeper, richer, more mature encounter with Christ.
One thing is certain, however: no Christian, no church body will long survive with faith if it cannot answer this question. Each in our own way, we must wrestle with Our Savior’s words to us: “Who do you say I am?” If, as a community and as individual disciples, we do this work in his presence, his truth, his peace, we will each be able to join St. Peter in saying “You are the Messiah, the Son of the liv ing God” in a way authentic both to our selves and to the Gospel. I look forward to the journey ahead for all of us.