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Your Answer Matters a Great Deal!

Exodus 3:7-14;  Matthew 16:13-20

One Sunday morning after a lively, rousing service in a city church, a woman walked out of her church and bumped into a lost-looking man who was standing on the sidewalk. His eyes were fixed on the cross on top of the church steeple. The lady became very excited about the possibility of making a new church member, so she told the man she had belonged to that church most of her life.

The man then asked her, “And what is that you believe in there?”

The woman started to answer but soon she realized that she did not know the answer or did not know how to put it into words. As she stood there trying to compose something, the man said, “Never mind. I’m sorry if I bothered you,” and walked away.


What would you have answered in her place? The reasons you go to this or that particular church, and what is it that folks believe in there? The Apostles’ Creed? Some Bible verses you memorized at an early age? Is that the sort of answer you want to recite on a sidewalk even if you think someone might stick around until you are finished?


In our Gospel story this morning, Jesus himself is the man on the sidewalk, the one who asks the question about what he means to others. He and his disciples have just come into the Caesarea Philippi, a lovely region by the Mediterranean Sea, in northern Israel. He is already famous, for he has done several miracles and taught awesome lessons for several weeks.

And every now and then he quizzes his own disciples to see how much they are taking in. To see how well they have understood him –and he does not hide his displeasure when they score very low.


Just before this questioning they have had a close encounter with the Pharisees, judgmental, play-by-the-book guys. Also with the Scribes, not very different from the Pharisees. And with the ordinary folk by the road –men and women who had been healed and inspired by his teaching or his goodness. And with folks who run away from anyone or anything “spiritual” or “inspirational.”

And even with his disciples’ relatives and friends. So everybody had something to say about Jesus. Many conflicting voices, as you can see.


With so much going on the road, with so many conflicting questions and answers, I suspect by now his own disciples are wondering deep in their hearts and minds –“But who is this guy Jesus anyway?” The same kind of question Moses asks God the moment God sends him out with an impossible mission: to free his people from Pharao and take them all the way to a Land of Promise.

“But who are you?” Moses asks God. Moses needs to know.

“Let’s suppose that I go to my people, and they ask me, ‘Who is sending you’? What should I tell them?” I’m sure you remember God’s answer: “Tell them that I AM sent you.”


Jesus has noticed this cacophony of voices and opinions even among his own disciples, so he asks them point blank – “Who do people say I am?” They are relieved, because this is a question they have some answers to –“John the Baptist”, “Elijah!”, “Jeremiah” –all resurrected! Or some other prophet, maybe . . .”.

Like school kids waiting for their teacher to declare the winner, Jesus’s friends shut up for a moment, then they ask: “So, which is it, Lord?” “What is the right answer?  A? B? C? But Jesus does not give them the answer. He, like the man on the sidewalk, wants more than that –he wants their answer, so this second time he goes right to the point, “But who do you say that I am?”


Once again Simon, the son of someone called Jonah, is the first one to raise his hand. Thank goodness for Simon, for right or wrong, he is the first one out of the gate, the first one to try to walk on water, and now the first one to volunteer an answer.

“Jesus, you are the Christ, the Son of God.”   This time Simon strikes gold. We know that – we know this time Simon is on target because Jesus has only sweet words for him – “Blessed are you, Simon.”

But “wait a moment,” we can hear the others in the group wonder out loud, “Isn’t this the Simon who just a few days ago sank into the stormy waters of the lake like an idiot?” Before things get ugly, Jesus completes the sentence – “for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Which is a little like saying, “Blessed are you for an answer that is not your own!” “It’s God’s answer, Simon, not your own! See? God has chosen to speak it through you.” Yet it is more than enough to score big for Simon — “From now on you will be Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”


Everything that day began with some honest, valid questioning of who Jesus was. Now we have Simon’s own identity re-defined. I like the word play in the Greek version of Jesus’ words, for the name “Peter” in Greek, Petros, means “pebble,” a “little stone,” a small chip off a larger petra, which is a rock or a boulder.

Thus, what Jesus says is this: “Simon son of Jonah, from this day on you will be called Peter, a chip off the old rock which will forever stand firm, regardless. . .”.

Once again Jesus is turning everything upside down, for this time it is nothing of what Simon Peter has said or done himself that wins him the keys to the kingdom. Rather, Peter is blessed because his answer is God’s answer, and he is a rock because he is a chunk off the Rock of Ages, and it is on this relationship that the church is built, not on any virtue of Peter’s.

See what God can do with us even though we may be – very much like Simon Peter — bullheaded, fallible, stubborn, opinionated, not always as competent as we may believe we are?


I once heard an inspiring testimony about this Gospel lesson. An old man underlined how glad he was to hear that Peter is the one “in charge,” so to speak, of heaven’s gates. “Someone like Peter,” the old man said, “will no doubt understand someone like me, someone who finds answers hard to come by, who finds it easier and safer to repeat other people’s answers perhaps because I am so spiritually flawed, or even worse, not always trusting God to help me with those answers.”


Friends, I have more good news! If Simon Peter, the pebble, is the rock upon which God’s church is built, then there is hope for me, for all of us indeed because Simon Peter is one of us –and we all are Simon. Because he remains God’s chosen rock whether he is acting like a cornerstone or a stumbling block.

Because he proves to us that what counts in our faith journey is to risk our own answers, to go ahead and try, to get up one more time when we fall. So, the next time you bump into someone who asks you what you believe, I pray that you understand that your answer matters a great deal.


You may say something unintelligent or unfashionable or even silly, but you may also say something truly inspired and inspiring if you just make it simple and tell others not necessarily what you believe about, but rather whom do you believe. “He is my Friend,” “He is my Truth,” “He is my Shepherd,” “He is my Hope and Salvation,” “He is the one who gives me perspective on life and stamina to face it,” “He is my light at the end of the tunnel,” “He is my beacon” . . .  “Would you like to meet him personally, today?”

Do you remember all those men and women in the Gospel whose lives were forgiven, healed, transformed by Jesus? Do you remember their own answers when asked, “What has happened to you”? They didn’t prepare a power point presentation with 10 or 20 bullets.

They didn’t circulate a resumé with all of Jesus’s wonders. They didn’t request Temple or synagogue time to lecture or advertise what Jesus had done to them.

Very much like many other folks in the gospels, they all gave very short, yet revealing answers: “See? I was blind, but now I can see!” “See? My legs were frozen, but now I can walk.” “See? I was a 0 to the left, now I am a child of God.”

 Friends, do the same when asked –say just what’s in your heart, what best represents a significant change in your life, and let a heavenly spark glow in your eyes! It’s more than enough!

God simply gave Moses a name –and a very short one indeed —yet a name that summed up all that God is, for that Biblical “I AM” means “I was, and I am, and I will ever be.” And the people if Israel in bondage immediately understood.


In a few weeks we will have a very special Sunday to officially welcome new members. Some of them come to us from sister Methodist churches. Others do not.

During my rookie years as a pastor, I used to plan big for such an occasion. Sort of 101s and 202s series with plenty of Methodist history, Methodist doctrine, Methodist discipline, Methodist tradition, Methodist expectations, and so forth.

But over the years I learned that no matter how important all that information, all that training could be, folks were anxious to join our congregation just because they felt so welcomed and loved and appreciated.

Take my word — we will circulate specific information, and we will plan for a special time when our new friends have a formal opportunity to explore more about our rich tradition and lifestyle, yet all they want to make sure of is that each of us here in this sacred place has a warm, grateful, welcoming heart for them too.

So, whenever someone may approach you to ask, “And what is that you believe in there?”, please remember to answer short and to the point with these words, “My friend, please let me tell you in whom I believe!”

“Would you like to meet Him today?”

Friends, you answer truly matters, and a great deal!