The New World View
#TheNewWorldView is the podcast for August 23, 2020. Jesus in a stark contrast of setting asks a question that changes everything. Listen here FREE and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Matthew16 #CaesareaPhilippi #PetersConfession #Christ #SonoftheLivingGod #Hell #Change
Full Text of Podcast, Open Here (For our Deaf and H/H Brethren)
Please pause this audio and read Matthew 16:13-20.
In the Golan Heights of Israel is a ruin that is spectacular. It sits at the base of Mount Herman and has a mountain wall that juts upward 100 feet. We who live near Shawangunk Mountain near New Paltz, New York, we know what that looks like. It is breathtaking and impressive.
At the base of this mountain wall is a cave that is huge and deep. In front of the cave are the ruins of a temple to the Greek god Pan, you know the half goat, half flute playing small ‘g’ god, who lures people into lustfilled sexual deviancy. On its ruins was another temple built in B.C. 19 as a tribute to Caesar Augustus. The entrance to the cave was thought to be the entrance to Hell. As I was writing this homily, the sheer magnitude of the whole sight was enough to take my breath away.
I want to say that again: the cave was thought to be the entrance to Hell, Gehenna, the place of the firey furnace, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Just take a second and breathe all that in.
Now, let me tell you that the place where the temple in front of the cave in the 100 ft. high mountain wall is called Caesarea Philippi. It is the setting for our Gospel today. The Temple in front of the mountain face was a temple built to declare that Caesar Augustus was god. It is a Temple that declares that a man, who used power with impunity, is god. All were supposed to bow down to a man. All were supposed to adjure to a man: or they would face cruelty, punishment, and death. Power to destroy is what should strike fear from this man who claims to be a god.
So, let us go in our minds to Caesarea Philippi and hear the words of Jesus, “Who do people say that I am?” Some say you are the Baptist come back from the dead telling everyone to repent, say some of the apostles. This is significant, because Caesarea Philippi still had vestiges of worship of the god Pan and was known to promote, lust, sex, and bestiality. So, they are spectulating that in this city where sin was promoted as a good thing, you now, “What happens in Caesarea Philippi, stays in Caesarea Philippi?”; in this city, Jesus is thought to be someone calling the world to repentance.
He is thought to be a prophet among the most prophetic, like Elijah who would return according to Malachi 4:5-6, and turn the hearts of the people back toward each other. These, I would say are both true. Jesus the Christ does call us back to repentance. He does come to turn our hearts back toward one another. Yet, in the space where there is a huge monument erected to declare a man is a god, with a small ‘g’, Jesus pushes just the apostles here on the issue. “But who do you say that I am?”
It is a question we all must face. Is Jesus just a good moral teacher who makes us feel superior and content? Is Jesus a soothing antidote to the pressures of the world? Is Jesus the key to material wealth and success? Is Jesus the one to come who is going to establish a political kingdom against the established political order? Or, is Jesus more than that?
Peter, representing all the apostles here, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” It is inspirational and can only be because of the movement of the Holy Spirit, because to say Jesus is the “Christ” means that he is the Messiah, the “anointed one”, who has come to save the Jew first, then the Greek. Not only that, Jesus calls himself the “Son of Man” or the son of a human.” Yet, Peter says he is the Son of the Living God, which would make Jesus, God. Right there in front of the Temple that proclaims Caesar a god, Peter declares Jesus is God.
It is a stunning declaration because for us who say, “Jesus is Lord,” we are saying that Jesus is God. His name means “God saves”. To combine his name with the title “Christ” means that “God saves” is the “anointed one.” Yet, the setting says something more. To have this declaration in the City where Caesar is declared god, means that with Peter’s declaration, anyone who believes that Jesus is the Son of the Living God believes that Jesus is above earthly authority. It is a rejection of earthly ways which use power to make followers of god submit through force.
In a rather stark and powerful symbolism, the Temple in front of the cave at Caesarea Philippi declares that gods use all the tools of earthly power to coerce, intimidate, and cajole humans into subservience. The declaration by Peter that Jesus is the actual God who has come to save humanity says something entirely different. It says that when we declare that Jesus is the Lord, and the Lord of our lives, we enter God’s reality, what he calls the Kingdom of Heaven.
It is a reality where love is the guiding principle. It is a reality where I treat you as I wish to be treated. It is a reality of invitation that saves. Think about that. The earthly reality of Caesar is one that dominates. Jesus sets free. You do not have to be a slave to sex and sexuality, of which Caesarea Philippi and the Roman use of authority was dripping. You do not have to be a slave of greed, lust, anger, envy, sloth, pride, and gluttony. All of these vices were used by the rulers to convict and kill Jesus. These are not the ways of God.
God allows us to go off on our merry way. He ask us and invites us to join him in his reality which saves, redeems, renews, lifts up, and shows us the fullness of not putting our stock in the ways of the earthly life. The Kingdom of Heaven is a reality which turns our hearts toward one another where we care. We are people who should not, do not, and will not condemn, lest we have to face our own condemnation for our sin.
The declaration of Peter on behalf of the apostles also says that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human. That changes everything. The Person of Jesus, human and Divine, changes the reality in which we live. In Jesus Christ, is the joining of the spiritual reality which has no physical boundaries, with humanity which is trapped in this changeable physical reality. Rather than the earth transforming and constraining Christ, Christ transforms and unchains the physical. Now, we can love through our bodies. Now, he can love through the physical elements of the Sacraments.
Through the waters of Baptism, we are changed and can love and refocus our lives away from the earthly temples to be living, walking, talking, loving, healing, renewing, Temples of the Holy Spirit. Our goals are God’s goals. Our way of seeing creation are God’s way. Our way of viewing other people is God’s way of viewing people. Our way of treating others is God’s way. Our desire is the desire to be with God, and be like God. God is Love. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not insist on his own way. He is not irritable or resentful. He does not cancel. He does not rejoice in wrongdoing. He rejoices in the truth. He bears all things for us. He believes all things. He hopes all things good for us. He endures all our sins on the Cross for us. He never ends.
He is our Kingdom. He is our Way, our Truth, and our Life. We live in him and move and have our being. It is a totally new reality. Unlike the Temple at Caesarea Philippi in all its abuses of humanity for its own self-satisfaction, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God is about giving life and giving it abundantly.
Hell, on the other hand, is not about life. It is about death. It cannot but implode on itself. Everything that Hell touches dies. Hell steals innocence. Hell perverts love. Hell rots to its core. There is no renewal in Hell. There is no relief, not even momentarily, in Hell. So, how possibly, if Hell faces love can it prevail? By definition, renewal will always undo death.
We, the Church, have been given authority to bind up the hurtful things, the things that hurt and destroy. Don’t enter that relationship, it will hurt you and use you. Don’t lie, it will just lead to your destruction. Give me that wound from your life and I will bind it up to throw it into the abyss to set you free. All of the binding is for the purpose of setting us free from the harm of evil.
We, the Church, have been given the authority to loose the blame, shame, and guilt that evil uses to keep us down. We are loosed from the humiliation that God never wants for us. We have been given these tools to use with wisdom and love to restore. We have been given these tools to invite others into this reality of the Kingdom of Heaven.
This is part of Stewardship Month here. We are invited to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven to place Jesus Christ as the authority of our minds, our hearts, our lives. We are invited to renew or reaffirm the fundamentals that keep us connected to the Vine so that we might be his branches. We do so willingly because he showed that he is worthy of our trust. He is not like the users of the world, but is about restoring us to innocence and purity that is not wrapped up in power, but mercy and forgiveness.
The question remains, for us, who do we say that he is? I say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” With that comes the renewal and the reality of entering the Kingdom of Heaven and living his freedom daily. So, what do you say? Who do YOU say that he is? I invite you to embrace Jesus and say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Take a moment now, and say it in your heart.
May God bless the preaching of this Gospel in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2020.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.