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Who Do You Say I Am

August 27, 2017

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 16:13-20

 

We live in a celebrity obsessed culture.  People want to know what actors and athletes, models and musicians, and internet celebrities are really like. Whether it’s an autobiography, a Charlie Rose interview, Twitter, or TMZ, people are fascinated with finding the “real person” behind the celebrity. 

Some are complex, interesting people with colorful lives and thoughtful perspectives.  Others are… less so.  Even so, it’s almost always true that the public persona is only a sliver of who the person really is – or in some cases, it’s a mask to hide who the real person is. 

One of the most compelling questions of our day is, “Who was Jesus of Nazareth?” He was an extraordinarily public person.  But even his public face seemed enigmatic to many.  Even with a wealth of historical evidence and eyewitness reports, there’s a pretty broad spectrum of answers out there. 

Some people think of him as a moral teacher whose highest aim was to teach tolerance and respect.  Others think of him as a fiery preacher who eviscerated the unrighteous with his words.  Still others see Jesus as a gentle friend, who lived a life of love and compassion. 

He’s been called a holy man, a champion for social justice, a feminist, and anti-feminist, a republican, a democrat, a mystic, a fraud, a fairy tale. 

Surely, all of these things can’t be true.  But why are the opinions so varied?  A couple times a year, Time magazine and the History channel and a few other outlets will do pieces on discovering the “real historical” Jesus.  And even these will never reach a definitive consensus. 

The reason is: everybody wants to claim Jesus for his own.  See what you will, He was a remarkable guy.  He singlehandedly changed the world.  His teachings are incomparably wise.  And His name will provoke strong reactions wherever it is spoken. 

So, most of the time, people will bend Jesus to fit their values.  Because if Jesus endorses you, then you must be right. 

The problem with answering the question of who Jesus was isn’t because he lived so long ago.  2000 years ago Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”  There wasn’t much agreement back then either, “John the Baptist… Elijah… Jeremiah… some other prophet.” 

I mean, it’s true that Jesus is a complex guy.  He is a teacher, a prophet, a healer.  He spends his time with the outcasts and the dregs, but he is morally upright and with uncompromising values.  He’s hard as stone at times, and gentle as a lamb at others. 

And, I don’t think it matters how many historians and documentarians try to tackle the question of who Jesus was; I don’t think you’ll ever be able to answer that question if you don’t know him personally.  And for that, God has to reveal Him to you. 

As long as we’re trying to answer “who was Jesus,” we’ve lost a significant part of the answer.  Jesus isn’t long gone.  John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, and for that matter Buddha, Mohammed, Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander the Great… they’re all gone.  You can’t befriend them.  You can’t talk with them.  All you can do is put together the evidence they left behind and make your best guesses. 

But Jesus is alive and He is present.  He’s here today.  He’s with you until the end of the age.  Rather than asking who was Jesus, we need to ask who is Jesus. 

Peter, standing before the man himself, answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  You are the one all of humanity has waited for since Adam and Eve.   The one who ends the curse of sin, suffering, and death. The one whose reign will restore this entire universe to eternal glory.  You are the Son of God… and not just any god, but the one true Living God.  The God of Life, the God who is Life, the God who is alive. 

Not a homeless teacher.  Not a misunderstood holy man.  Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  But even so, He isn’t far off and aloof.  The Son of God is also the Son of Man.  He isn’t far off and foreign.  He is close to us.  He became one of us.  All of the majesty and power of Almighty God, but he stoops down to bless little children, sits at the dinner table with sinners, and embraces the leper.  He is so humble that He lays down his own life, to save ours.  So powerful that he bursts out of the grave, never to die again. 

That’s our confession.  That’s who our lips say Jesus is.  But what about our lives?  Are we shy or ashamed of this Jesus?  Is He a private thought in our minds, or have we introduced our friends and neighbors to Him?  Has the Son of the Living God made us bold or are we yet timid?  Are we patient, forgiving, and humble in His presence or are we proud and self-righteous? 

See, Jesus is who He is.  It doesn’t matter who people say He is; He’s not changing.  Once we accept that we can’t change who He is, then we’re ready for what comes next.  “Jesus, who do you say I am?” 

Notice that immediately after Simon confessed Jesus, Jesus told Simon who he would be.  “You are Peter… because you have the foundation of my church.  It is built on who I am, and your name will be a constant reminder of this moment and this confession.  When people ask who you are, you aren’t going to say ‘I’m Jonah’s son.’ You’re going to say, ‘I belong to the rock.’” 

See, when I look at Simon Peter, I don’t think rock.  I think terrier.  I think firecracker.  I think impulsive.  I think about a guy walking on water for a second, then sinking beneath the waves.  I think about a guy saying, “I will never deny you,” and then fearfully denying Jesus 3 times.  The only thing apparently rock-like in Peter is a thick skull. 

But it doesn’t matter who I say Peter is.  What matters is who Jesus says he is.  Because when God speaks, things become true.  The same Word that made the universe spoke over Simon, “You are Peter.”  And that is exactly what he became – a steadfast witness to the world of Who Jesus Is. 

What about you.  Who does Jesus say you are?  He’s seen your mistakes.  He knows your failings and weaknesses. Nothing is lost on Him.  But He calls you friend.  He calls you brother or sister – adopted children of the same Living God.  He calls you holy.  He calls you loved.  He calls you priceless. 

When He looks at you, He doesn’t see a failure or a mistake.  He sees an irreplaceable part of His family.  He sees a person uniquely equipped to glorify God with your life.  He sees what God has made you to be. 

And He calls you blessed. 

By Pastor Michael Cofer Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost Matthew 16:13-20   We live in a celebrity obsessed culture.  People want to know what actors and athletes, models and musicians, and internet celebrities are really like. Whether it’s an autobiography, a Charlie Rose interview, Twitter, or TMZ, people are fascinated with finding the “real person” behind the celebrity.  Some are complex, interesting people with colorful lives and ...

Rowing Against the Wind

August 13, 2017

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 14:22-33

Many of you know that my favorite book of the Bible is Jonah.  There’s a lot of great stuff in that short little story – and if you haven’t read it lately, I recommend you crack it open this week.  You’ll get through it way faster than the sports section of the newspaper or your Facebook feed. 

Well, even if you haven’t read it since you were a little child, you’ll probably remember that God told Jonah to go to Ninevah.  Jonah didn’t want to go, so he hopped on a boat to go the opposite direction.  But God didn’t let him.  He sent a storm that threatened to tear the boat apart until Jonah realized what was going on and gave in to God. 

That makes sense, right?  Jonah is going the wrong way.  Jonah is disobeying God.  So God uses a storm to stop the boat, turn Jonah around, and get him back on track.   

And it stands as an enduring testimony that it is foolish to run from God’s calling.  When God tells you to do something, nothing good happens when we try to avoid that call.  And sometimes, God will actively prevent you from running away and will turn you around. 

So now we know how to interpret the metaphorical (or literal, maybe) wind and waves we face in our lives, right?  They are calls to repentance and returning to God’s calling. 

Except when they aren’t.   

The gospel we read today doesn’t work that way at all.  The disciples weren’t running from Jesus.  They weren’t avoiding his call. And yet they have to face the wind and waves. 

It doesn’t seem fair and it doesn’t seem right that the disciples would be doing exactly what Jesus asked of them, only to get nowhere.  Worse, actually, because if they had gotten nowhere they’d be close to shore.  Instead they were out in the middle of the lake. 

So, it’s possible that the first part of the trip was smooth sailing. They’re obeying; things are going fine.  But after they’ve committed to the trip and are out in the midst of the deep waters, then the wind and waves push back big time.  We aren’t talking about making the trip difficult; we’re talking about making it impossible. 

For literally hours, the 12 strained at the oars, trying to make headway.  They’re headed the right way.  They’re going where Jesus told them to, doing what Jesus told them to.  They’re doing the right thing and getting no results. 

Now, they probably could have turned the boat around and went back to where they started.  The wind would have been at their back.  I’m sure some of them wanted to.  It would have been the easier thing, and it would have been the sensible thing. 

But it wasn’t what Jesus asked of them. 

Have you ever been in that place?  It’s a difficult place to be.  You know what God has told you to do, and you’re trying but you’re getting nowhere.  Everything is stacked against you.  You can’t catch a break.  And you can’t understand why.  “Didn’t God tell me to do this? Why is He making it so hard?”   

And after you’ve been rowing all night – or maybe for months or years – it’s easy to second guess.  “Maybe I heard God wrong. Maybe I’m not supposed to do this. Maybe I should find another way, or maybe I should just give up.” 

You know what, though? The boat was right where it needed to be for the disciples to meet Jesus.  If they had made it to the other shore without incident, and Jesus met them over there… well, we probably wouldn’t be talking about it today.  We would have learned nothing about Jesus from a non-story like that. 

But instead we see Jesus, walking across the lake. He strolls along the surface of the lake like it’s solid ground.   The winds and waves are pushing the boat so hard that 12 men at the oars can’t make headway, but Jesus seems to be casually strolling against them.  What is insurmountable opposition for the disciples doesn’t phase Jesus one bit.  

Of course the disciples thought it was a ghost.  Shouldn’t a flesh and blood person be struggling?  Shouldn’t a real person be frightened?  They certainly were. 

So Jesus’ words to them are powerful. “Take heart. It’s me.” 

You’ll notice, he doesn’t say, “Why aren’t you over there?  I told you to cross the lake.” He understands why they haven’t made it.  He didn’t find them at the other shore, but He did find them obedient. 

You know, when it comes to being a disciple of Jesus… I’m not going to say that results aren’t important, but I’m confident that obeying Jesus is more important. 

See, they did get to the other shore – after Jesus met them in the boat and cleared away the opposition.  But I don’t think that arriving at the other shore is what really mattered that night.  What really mattered was seeing Jesus walk across the water, over the waves and against the wind.  Getting to the other shore was incidental; meeting Jesus on the lake at the disciples’ lowest and weakest point was crucial. 

Even when they couldn’t see Jesus, they were never beyond His reach.  Even when they felt alone and abandoned, He was closer at hand than they could have guessed. At their lowest and weakest, Jesus spoke over the wind and waves, “Take heart; it’s me.” 

You may be right there today: trying to obey, and pulling hard on the oars only to get nowhere.   Don’t doubt or despair.  Don’t be afraid.  You aren’t alone or beyond his reach. That same Jesus is closer to you now than He was to them then.  Your relief may come soon or it may be a long time in coming, but Jesus will meet you in the boat.  And one way or another, He will carry you to the other shore. 

By Pastor Michael Cofer Tenth Sunday after Pentecost Matthew 14:22-33 Many of you know that my favorite book of the Bible is Jonah.  There’s a lot of great stuff in that short little story – and if you haven’t read it lately, I recommend you crack it open this week.  You’ll get through it way faster than the ...

Feeding the 5000

August 6, 2017

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Mathew 14:13-21

Imagine that we – Hope Lutheran Church – had an unlimited budget.  Imagine that we could spend as much as we want on whatever we want and never accrue a penny of debt.  What do you suppose we would do differently? 

Stadium seating with gold plated pews… or maybe we’d go with La-Z-Boy recliners? Titantron screens? Catered brunches from 5 star restaurants every week? World class musicians playing on state of the art instruments?  A personal pastor for every member? Slickly produced services, broadcasted in primetime and streamed around the world? 

If there were no limit to our budget, how much bigger would our reach be? 

But instead we have to settle for what we have.  One lousy preacher. 40-year-old pews. And the same old Jesus we’ve been preaching for 2,000 years.  But if we just had more money… boy… there’d be no stopping us. 

Or maybe it isn’t really money that’s limiting us.  Maybe, in fact, our limited resources are meant for God’s glory.  After all, the story we read today about Jesus’ feeding the 5,000 would not have happened if they had enough money to cover it. 

I would suggest that we aren’t really limited by our finances.  We are limited by our hunger.  For that to make sense, let’s go back to the text. 

You’ll remember that the crowds have come out to the middle of nowhere to hear Jesus.  They are hanging on His every word.   So much so, that the disciples take it upon themselves to suggest that people should go home to eat. 

If people were leaving on their own, this wouldn’t have come up.  No one in the story seems to be concerned with dinner except the disciples.  It’s as if the crowds were hungrier for Jesus’ words than they were for bread.  But it’s the disciples who have their minds on their stomachs. 

I wonder if, after hearing Jesus preach so often, they’ve kind of grown too familiar with it.  They’ve lost their appetite for it. And so their minds go to earthly things… specifically they begin to think about what they lack. 

And when you think about it, it’s rather presumptuous.  “Jesus, you should send these people away so they can eat.” As if Jesus is less aware of their needs than the disciples.  As if Jesus is less concerned with caring for the crowds than the disciples.  We should probably learn from their mistake here: if you ever start to tell Jesus how He should do His job, you’re probably about to say something foolish. 

From an earthly standpoint, the disciples seem to be helpless. It would take a small fortune to feed all these people.  Getting the food from town and bringing it back would be a logistical nightmare.  There is no practical way to meet the need with the limited resources they have. 

And Jesus has the audacity to say, “They’re fine.  You feed them.”   

“But Jesus… We don’t have enough.  Not by a long shot. I mean, I know that you said not to worry about what we will eat or drink.  Just seek first the kingdom, and you’ll take care of the rest. But this isn’t a metaphor.  This isn’t a teaching illustration.  These are real hungry people.” 

“I know.  I really meant what I said.  These people have sought the kingdom.  I will take care of the rest.  Bring me whatever you can scrounge up and you will have plenty to feed these people.” 

If the disciples had an unlimited budget and a bottomless pool of labor, they could have probably handled this food problem all on their own.  They wouldn’t have needed Jesus at all… and they would have learned nothing about Jesus in the process. 

Which brings me back to today.  If we had an unlimited budget and a bottomless pool of labor, how much would we lean on Jesus?  How much would we learn about Jesus? Would we seek His kingdom first… or ours? 

I believe whole-heartedly that Jesus is every bit as powerful today as He was 2,000 years ago.  I believe that there is as much need today as back then… in fact, I believe that we have a poverty right here in America that rivals any the world has ever seen.  It’s not a poverty of empty bellies or homelessness.  Even the poorest among us, by worldly measures, are some of the richest people who have ever lived in all of human history. 

But when you think about the spiritual emptiness, the broken homes, the desperation, the despair, and meaninglessness that’s in our own neighborhoods… from God’s perspective there is incredible poverty and hunger all around us.  And there is nothing that can meet that need but Jesus himself. 

And when we think that our reach is limited by our resources, then we’ve really missed the point of this story.  If a mountain of money would empower us to be the church He wants u to be, then He’d give it to us.  But I don’t think anything could be farther from the truth. 

We aren’t limited by our resources.  We are limited by our hunger.  If, like the disciples, we are focused on what we don’t have, then we are hungering for the wrong things.  If we are focused on what we want and what would make our lives better, we will never be satisfied.  But if our hearts and minds – which is to say our priorities and our desires – belong to Jesus, then he will make what we have more than enough. 

There’s a curious ending to this story, you know.  I mentioned earlier that the disciples were likely motivated by wanting to feed themselves.  Rather than Jesus feeding them along with everyone else, He instead tells them to feed others.  He didn’t have to. He could have just snapped His fingers and made a plate appear in front of each person there. But instead, He told His hungry disciples to feed others. Don’t worry about your own belly, you take care of them. 

This may seem like a bad deal for the disciples, until you get to the end of the story. When everyone was fed, there were 12 basketfuls left over.  12 baskets, 12 disciples.  Jesus hadn’t forgotten His disciples. Rather, He wanted them to see that if they put others first, they would still be provided for. 

Many churches and many churchgoers suffer from a consumer mentality when it comes to God’s Word.  They come to church only focused on what they get out of it.  “Did the music touch me?  Did the message inspire me? Did we do the things that are meaningful to me?” Consequently, these folks wind up getting less out of it.  Moreover, they are often easily offended or disappointed.  They rarely reach out to others in meaningful ways, and are the most likely to make visitors feel unwelcome. 

But what if instead of focusing on what we get out of it, we come to church focused on what we can take away to share with others?  What if we assume that the sermon isn’t just for us, but also for the people we know who aren’t here?  What if we were more concerned about meeting the needs of others than having our needs met?  Do you think that your needs would not be met along the way – and that in abundance? 

We have more than we need to feed the hungry souls around us, right here and right now.  We have Jesus, who fed thousands with a few loaves and fish.  He has more than enough to meet the needs around us, and His invitation to us is the same today as it was back then, “You give them something to eat.” 

By Pastor Michael Cofer Ninth Sunday after Pentecost Mathew 14:13-21 Imagine that we – Hope Lutheran Church – had an unlimited budget.  Imagine that we could spend as much as we want on whatever we want and never accrue a penny of debt.  What do you suppose we would do differently?  Stadium seating with gold plated pews… or maybe ...

You can find a full listing of our sermons on the sermon archive.