- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cerelli at Francis Asbury United Methodist Church in Rockville.
In our text from Matthew [16:13-20], Jesus said, "Who do people say that I am?" We ask the same question. What do people think of me? Do they think I'm weird, nice, smart, a snob or ugly? What labels do they put on me? Which box do they try to fit me in? Much of our inner lives are spent pondering these questions.
Teenagers are painfully self-conscious of what other people think of them. As we grow older, we may be less aware of the questions, but I believe they still drive us. Who do people say that I am? One of the great needs of people is to be understood, to be accepted, to be loved just exactly for who we are. The great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen calls this being "fully received" or unconditionally loved. Entire lives are spent searching for a person with whom we can risk sharing who we really are, trusting that we might be "fully received."
We also spend most of our lives trying to answer the question: "Who do I say that I am?" We often settle with labels that others give us because we don't know what else do. But there was a person who walked this earth with His inner and outer life congruous. Although He didn't walk around with a name tag saying, "Hello, My Name is Jesus, meaning 'God saves,' and I am the son of the living God," everything we know of this man shows us that Jesus of Nazareth was a real deal. He was authentic.
When Jesus asked, "Who do people say that I am?" the responses were that He is John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah or one of the prophets. I wonder whether the disciples were being kind in not mentioning other things people called Jesus things like wacko, magician, a troublemaker wandering door to door. Jesus seems unmoved by the disciples' answer, and shifts the question to them. "Yes, yes, that's what they are saying. But who do you, my closest friends, say that I am?"
In response, Simon the fisherman said, "Your are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." We see that Simon had an openness to the revelation of God, for Jesus said only God, not "flesh and blood," could have made this known. Once Simon recognizes who Jesus is, Jesus does the same in return. "And I tell you, you are Peter." Peter means rock. Jesus named his strengths and gifts, and with gifts always come responsibilities.
I wonder whether Simon Peter believed what Jesus said about him. It must have been difficult. When Peter faltered, as when he fell asleep or denied Jesus in His greatest hour of need, the voices outside said, "Peter, you are those things." He must have believed those voices at the time, even though Jesus told him he was "the rock." That was the very core of Simon Peter, and we know that his spiritual strength and courage ultimately prevailed.
We often think, "It was easy for people in the Bible." Jesus came right out and told the disciples who they were. I want Jesus to tell me who I am. I want a clear voice, small or booming, to tell me who I am. I believe that we aren't going to hear that voice without some pretty intentional listening. I believe that Christ speaks your true name. You who know yourselves to be created by the loving God of all creation know in your heart's wisdom who you really are.
So the question becomes for us today, "Who does God say that you are?" The answer may be different than who others say that you are, and even different than who you say you are. When you see only your brokenness, you see, as the apostle Paul writes, "in a mirror dimly." Christ sees us whole, cleansed and free.
Christ is truly the one in Whom we have been "fully received." The most important work we are given to do is to find that answer: "Who does God say that you are?"
Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Nicholas Voucanos at St. Theodore Greek Orthodox Church in Lanham
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