Dear Working Preachers,
“Who do you say that the Son of Man is?”
If this question doesn’t strike the fear of God in you, well, I am not sure what will. This is the question for the week. On so many levels.
What will you stand up for? What’s important? When do you say what you need to, want to, have to? Or when are you silent?
This week’s texts instill a “come to Jesus moment.” Faced with faith decisions, on what will you stake your faith, how you live your life? There is just too much that we cannot say. That we are unwilling to say. Or we think if we do say, we will incur judgment.
Which is why Jesus’ question is not requesting a mere response of confession.
Damn. Can I say that in the “Dear Working Preacher” column? Well, I think so. Because this whole column is about naming limitations, pushing boundaries, and calling out realities of the preaching life. It is meant for encouragement of your weekly preaching but also encouragement for what you may be called to do. There is a difference. Negotiating your call this past week? So crazy hard. Robin Williams. Michael Brown. The death of a celebrity tormented by depression and the onslaught of Parkinson’s. The death of a black teenager, senseless, suspect. To what extent these cases are not at all related and at the same time, so connected, so real. How does a death of a celebrity matter or the death of a black 18-year-old make a difference in your day to day ministry, in your preaching?
It matters, because at the end of the day, whom will you back? How will you respond?
These deaths remind us of that which you can voice and that which you cannot; of the very real demons that want to control us, and that many of us seek to subdue. None of us is immune to these realities. How will you deal with this? Do you have support structures in place that will help you negotiate what it means when moments of deaths are much more than death itself?
Jesus’ question is that of extraordinary vulnerability. I am not sure I could answer this question.
He’s asking on what you will wager your lives, the claim of your being. This is no benign question but has everything to do with who the disciples think Jesus is and more importantly, who they think they are.
Questions like this are risky, so risky. Like the Exodus story. On what will you stake your identity, your life, your future? How do you want to be known?
So much about our preaching, our ministry, is safe. To what extent it has to be, I get that. I really do. It has to be on so many levels. But Jesus is not about safe. Nor were Shiphrah and Puah thinking safe. Nothing about God becoming human is safe. Too much of our theology, constructs, and convictions is wound so incredibly tight — and is determined by boundaries that were never meant to be so restrictive of proclamation. They do nothing except erect walls of exclusion and expectation and justification behind which we hide.
“Who do you say that the Son of Man is?” is about risk. Putting yourself out there. In full recognition of rejection. And judgment. And heartache.
I mean, think about it. What is Peter thinking? “Holy … Now what do I say?”
Everybody needs to answer this question this week. Every parishioner. Every preacher. Because “who do you say that I am” has everything to do with who you are willing to be.
This really is the question of life, isn’t it? Do you know who you are? Who you want to be? What are the demons that make reflecting on that impossible? Because there are many. The demons that tell you that you can’t. The demons that tell you that you are not good enough. The demons that insist you aren’t enough. Period.
I want to hear Jesus’ question as less about certainty and more about inquiry. About imagination. About exploration. About possibility.
Because at the end of the day, there is individual accountability. Resting on the laurels of denominational beliefs will not save any of us. When you get in the pulpit on any given Sunday, this is the question you need to answer. When we can’t answer it or when we don’t have the answer, well, there is the point of concern. At issue is your ability, willingness, to answer Jesus’ question for yourself. And then, the sermon you preach will be that which matters for you, and then it will matter for those who hear you.