Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 24, 2014
First Christian Church
I’ve always had an interest in superheroes. Which is kind of odd, because I tend not to buy comic books or as they are now called, graphic novels. I know friends that have boxes of comics from years past, but that’s not me. No, the way that I found out about superheroes was through TV, specifically, the SuperFriends- a light-hearted take on the Justice League which ran on ABC at various times in the 1970s starting in 1973. Then it was watching the live-action series “Wonder Woman” and the “Incredible Hulk.”
In the years following college, I would catch an animated version of the X-Men and during the seminary I was loved watching Batman Beyond, a futuristic take on on the Dark Knight. And yes, I still watch superheroes in the movies and on television. I watch shows like “Arrow” which is a take on the comic book hero, the Green Arrow; Young Justice which focuses on the sidekicks of famous heroes, and well, there are more, but I think that’s enough for you all to know for now.
I think that I am fascinated by superheroes because the stories can sometimes take on things that are taking place in the wider culture. I like the X-Men because the story makes these superheroes are not treated like superheroes by the wider culture. In fact, they are seen as threats hence why they are referred to as mutants. Since I was coming out during that time period, I could see X-men as an allegory to how LGBT persons are accepted in society- or not. Comics can also allude to the changing demographics of a society. Earlier this month, Marvel Comics announced that the next Captain America was going to be African American. The character is currently one of the current Captain America’s superhero associates, Falcon. Falcon was considered one of Marvel’s first black heroes when he was introduced in the late 1960s and assume the identity of superhero that embodies the American ideal represents the changes take place in the United States.
Superheroes tend to have aliases. Sometimes they want to keep their other identity a secret. Batman was actually billionaire Bruce Wayne. When Superman wasn’t saving the world, he was Clark Kent, a journalist. Very few people around them actually know of their secret identities. I think comic books and television use a ton of suspended disbelief in thinking that a mask around people eyes will prevent them from knowing who they are, but for some reason people buy it.
Because these heroes didn’t tell people who they were, people became curious. Who are these people? Is it someone they know? What was it that people said after meeting the Lone Ranger: who was that masked man? Regular folk just want to meet their hero and find out about them. There are some that see them as a threat to society and they want to expose them before they cause more trouble.
Superheroes can remind people of how we relate to God: a mysterious powerful creature that seems to want the best for us. Some just want to meet God and learn more about God, while others see God as a threat to their way of living.
In today’s passage Jesus is in the hinterlands of Israel in a city named Cesarea Philipi, which was named after Ceasar and the vassal king of Israel. It’s in this setting that Jesus asks his disciples, who do people say that I am?
They respond. Well some think you’ve got to be John the Baptist. Others think you have to be Elijah. And a few think you might be Jeremiah or one of the prophets of old. Jesus then asks again, but this time his question is for the disciples. “Who do you say that I am?”
His disciple, Peter responds. You are Christ, son of the Living God. Jesus is pleased with Peter’s answer and talks about the church is going to be built on Peter, which is remarkable since seemed to always be putting his foot in his mouth.
Who is Jesus? That’s a question people are still asking today. Jesus does fascinated people regardless of whether they are Christian or not. Some see Jesus as a great prophet. Other thinks he was a really good man, a moral exemplar. The people of that day could understand Jesus as another prophet. Maybe he would lead a movement to overthrow the Romans. The people knew from their history that God would raise up leaders to urge the people of Israel to follow God. What they had a harder time understanding is that this man, Jesus was God incarnate, living among the people.
It’s not that different today. I remember the big news in the theological world in the 1990s was the Jesus Seminar, group of theologians who voted on what passages were deemed authentic and those that were not. Scholars like Marcus Borg can easily see Jesus as a great person, but tend to de-emphasize the whole sun-of-God thing. The answer the crowd gave, the answers people like the Jesus Seminar show how we all understand Jesus. We can understand Jesus being a great teacher, someone that was incredibly close to God. What is hard for people to understand is that Jesus is actually God, God come down to be with humanity. We have a hard time understanding that this person that raised people from the dead ends up dead himself. We have a hard time believing that this same Jesus, God’s sone could rise from the dead. A prophet or a teacher is easy to understand. The Son of God? You must be joking.
Peter was able to answer like he did because he was in relation with Jesus, which meant he was in relation with God. And that’s the key point of this passage. Too often this passage has been used as a check list; we use it to make sure that people are believing in the right way. Yes, this passage in vital in our faith as Christians, but it is so much more than something to judge if we are Christian or not. This passage tells us what the life of a Christian is all about; it is always about being in relationship with God which expresses itself in service to God and other. People become Christ followers not because they believe the right things, but because they re in relationship with the God of the Universe. We Christian don’t simply know the fact, we know deep in our hearts that Jesus cares about us and in return we love God back.
When Jesus talks about Peter being the rock, he is talking about the coming future. Peter was integral in the founding of the church, a community of people who didn’t just believe things about Jesus, but who were in relationship with God and each other through the life death and resurrection of Jesus. We here at First Christian-St. Paul are called to not to spit out facts about Jesus to those outside the walls of this church. We are called to go out and share the good news, that Jesus is for us, all of us. Jesus is not a distant God, but someone who intimately wants to be connected to creation. This is the good news; that God is with us, that people are never alone.
It’s always interesting when a hero reveals themselves to a trusted friend. More often than not, that person ends up having a closer relationship with the superhero. They might even work with the hero in their quest to right wrongs.
So it should be with us. God has been revealed in Jesus. The mask has been ripped off. We know Jesus is with us because we have a relationship with the Son of God. And now that God’s secret identity has been revealed, let us work even closer with God to right the wrongs in creation.
It’s a bird. It’s a plane? No, it is Jesus Christ. Hallelujah. Amen.