We Have Found the Messiah

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“I am not the Messiah”

That’s probably pretty obvious to all of you.  Of course, I’m not the Messiah.

But I wasn’t talking about me.

These were the words of John the Baptist as he started his ministry.

He was out there, talking to people about the coming Kingdom of God, preaching, inviting people to repent… well, actually, doing things that I typically do as a pastor.  

And people started to wonder about him.

Who are you?

Are you Elijah?

Are you a prophet?

Are you the Christ?

“I am not the Messiah” he answered.

“I’m just a voice, crying out in the wilderness, making the Lord’s path straight.”


I’ve been thinking a lot about what it might mean to make the Lord’s path straight and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s really about making it easier for people to connect with God.

If you go back to the origins of the phrase from Isaiah, the Hebrew word used in this passage actually means to clear the land… to remove the rocks and roots and everything that gets in the way so that something new can be planted, so that something new can be done.

John was someone who was called to help clear out the obstacles that prevent people from experiencing God.  To clear the way for God’s salvation.


And so in our passage today, we hear about what happens when the Messiah does show up.  John is out there, doing his job and Jesus comes to be baptized… by him!    He has this amazing experience and vision and realizes that THIS is the Messiah.  THIS is the one they had been waiting for. 

But John’s job isn’t finished. 


No, John’s role is to keep pointing to Jesus, to keep making it easy for people to come and discover the Messiah for themselves.  

And so the next day, John is hanging out with two of his own disciples.  And when he sees Jesus walking by, he cries out:  “Look!  It’s the Lamb of God!  That’s him!  That’s the one I was telling you about!”    

And so these two start to follow Jesus.  And then they reach out and invite others to come and see.  “We have found the Messiah!” they tell their friends and neighbors and siblings.  “Come and see!”


In many ways, the beginnings of the church was a pyramid scheme.

You find one person, and that person finds two people, and then those two people each find two people, and then those two people… and before you know it, there are 2.2 billion followers of Jesus Christ in the world.   


The question I want to explore this morning is how you and I are called to keep this church going.  In many ways, our job is simple.  We have found the Messiah!  We don’t have to BE the Messiah.  We don’t have to save this world all by ourselves.  We don’t have to single handedly run this thing or be perfect or fulfill every obligation.  

We have found the Messiah.  We already have someone who can do that.


No, I think you and I have two jobs.  


First,  it is state loudly and clearly to all the world that “I am not the Messiah.”

Will you repeat that with me?  “I am not the Messiah”

Let’s say it like we really mean it: “ I AM NOT THE MESSIAH.”

That might seem like a strange exercise, but the truth is, we aren’t perfect.  We are totally unworthy of this calling.  We will make mistakes all the time.

In fact, we are only 15 days into this year and I have already made a bunch of small mistakes and a couple of big ones.  But I learn from them.  I keep going.  I try to grow and do better the next  time.  That is all that we can do. 

One of my own failings is that sometimes I set the bar too high.  And I’ve heard from some of you, who are overwhelmed that you don’t feel like you are good enough or can do enough for the church.  And I’ve heard from some of you that you are burnt out and tired and trying to do all that you can, but you simply can’t do any more.  

You know what?  None of us are the Messiah.

None of us are good enough to be here.  And we all have some kind of brokenness in our lives – be it a broken relationship or our bodies are broken and letting us down or we’ve broken promises to ourselves or others.  

We aren’t perfect.  And we aren’t supposed to be. We are not the Messiah.


But we ARE here today, because we think we have found the Messiah.  

I am part of the church, not because it’s a community of perfect people who never make mistakes or let one another down, but because I believe that this is a place where broken people find healing.  

I am part of the church because this is where I hear the stories of Jesus Christ and in the midst of the brokenness, I meet Jesus all the time.

Rachel Held Evans is a Christian writer and blogger and recent talked about why people come to church. And she said:

You can get a cup of coffee with your friends anywhere, but church is the only place you can get ashes smudged on your forehead as a reminder of your mortality. You can be dazzled by a light show at a concert on any given weekend, but church is the only place that fills a sanctuary with candlelight and hymns on Christmas Eve. You can snag all sorts of free swag for brand loyalty online, but church is the only place where you are named a beloved child of God with a cold plunge into the water. You can share food with the hungry at any homeless shelter, but only the church teaches that a shared meal brings us into the very presence of God.

What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, Communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/jesus-doesnt-tweet/2015/04/30/fb07ef1a-ed01-11e4-8666-a1d756d0218e_story.html?utm_term=.14f389a46dd4)

And so our second job is to make it easier for people to come and meet the Messiah. To clear the way.  To invite our friends and neighbors and siblings to join us on this journey.  To ask them to come and see what it is that we have found here:  life in the midst of death, healing in the midst of struggle, hope in our despair, forgiveness in our mistakes.


Our Administrative Council has been wrestling over the last few months with what we want to set as goals for this church in 2017.  And part of what we have been doing is looking forward as well to what God is calling us to as a church.

We’ve had a vision for the last four or five years to “Live a life, in Christ, of love, service, and prayer”   and part of what I have been pushing them, and us, to think about is so what?  

What is going to be different in this world because we have done so?  


You know, the meaning of “salvation” is “to heal.”  It is God’s deliverance of those in a situation of need, resulting in their restoration to wholeness.  

Taking what is broken and making it whole.  

That’s the business God is in.

What if that is the business we were called to be in?

We are not the Messiah, but we are here, because we have experienced God’s love, grace, and healing power.  

So what if we lived in such a way, if we loved in such a way, if we served in such a way, if we prayed in such a way that we could clear a path for others to come and find Jesus here, too.


In a few minutes, we are going to take a moment to remember our baptism.  We are going to remember that we have been saved and healed and are being made whole by the Lord Jesus Christ.    

And part of this rememberance is being honest about just how fall we have fallen short.  We have ALL fallen short.  None of us are perfect.  We are not the Messiah.

But we will also be invited to make anew some promises to God.  

Because, we might not be the Messiah, but we, the church, believe that God can use us and use our gifts to help make it easier for others to come and find Jesus, too.  

And so our covenant prayer simply places our lives in God’s hands.  It invites us to remember that we are not the Savior, but that we are willing to let God work in our lives this year.  


I am not the Messiah.

You are not the Messiah.

But we have found the Messiah.  

Thanks be to God.


Wisdom of the Cross

Why do you follow Jesus? And how far are you willing to go?

This past week, I got to spend some time with one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century – Jurgen Moltmann. At the age of 84, he traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to come and have a conversation with the 100 or so of us gathered in Chicago.

I had known parts of his story before and I had read at least one of his books. I knew that he was the mentor, a father-figure really, to one of my most important professors in seminary. But to sit before him and hear his story in his own words was absolutely stunning.

The center of Moltmann’s theology is the hope of the cross and the resurrection. Everything else in the world is futile if we don’t see hope there. And our journey of faith must travel through the cross to the love that awaits us on the other side.

The cross is a very difficult thing, however. It has become much easier in our lives to minimize it’s importance, to minimize its call, to polish it up and paint it beautiful colors and let it become merely the symbol of our faith.

But time and time again, this statement of Jesus’ comes up in the gospels:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34, NRSV)

Why do we people follow Jesus? Are we willing to go to the cross?

Peter certainly thought he wanted to follow Jesus. As one of the disciples, sure he didn’t always get things right – but he tried. And when Jesus and his band stopped just outside of Caesaria Phillipi to refocus their mission, Peter was ready.

Jesus asked, “who do you say that I am?” And Peter got the answer right – “You are the Messiah!”

But he didn’t understand the depths of the word that he was uttering. He heard a word that was full of power and justice and victory – when Christ has a much different sort of path in mind.

And I think that is true for many of us as well. We too balk at the idea that of a suffering Christ. We like to quickly pass over the parts about his death and get to the resurrection. We, like Peter, are eagerly waiting for the victory of Jesus to be shown in the world!

And when we are focused on victory and power and success, then we get sidetracked by other things.

The cross that we are called to take up becomes a status symbol. We wear beautiful crosses around our necks… but aren’t willing to give all we have to the poor.

The cross becomes an excuse to flaunt our difference before others. We wear the cross all over our clothes on pins and hats and backpacks… but we aren’t willing to go the extra mile for someone in need.

The cross becomes excitement and entertainment as we flock to the biggest churches with the most charismatic preachers… but we aren’t willing to see the least of these on the street corner.

The cross makes us feel good and we show up for church once a month to get our fix… but then we turn back out into the world and leave our faith in the pews.

Wisdom cries out in the streets; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34, NRSV)

Peter needs to be shown another way. He needs to have his simple story of success and victory with little or no cost altered. He needs to hear the truth. We need to hear the truth.

This week, I believe I heard the truth.

Jurgen Moltmann decided to follow Jesus as a Prisoner of War during WWII. As a young man, he had sort of found himself joining the Hitler Youth movement – not really for any good reason, and then he was drafted into the German Army. During his time of service, he witnessed the Allied bombing of his hometown of Hamburg – where over 40,000 civilians were killed – mostly women and children. He saw his best friend torn to pieces by a bomb right next to him. The two questions that lingered in his mind for years were, “Where is God?” and “Why am I not dead like all the others?” He was later captured by British soldiers and sent to a POW camp in Scotland.

It was only there that Moltmann began to hear about what had happened in the concentration camps. It was there that he began to be wracked with shame and grief and agony. And he had absolutely nothing from his experience that could get him through his pain and suffering. He had grown up in a secular home, and humanist philosophy had no words to describe his loss and guilt and grief.

But in Scotland – as a prisoner of war – as a German soldier and as a man who carried upon his shoulders the guilt of a nation – he found grace. The guards in Scotland looked at them as human beings, not demons or enemies. One of the chaplains handed Moltmann a bible – and with nothing else to do, he began to read.

Moltmann talks about how his life was completely desperate and desolate – that all the prisoners in the camp were trying to conceal their wounded souls with this armor of untouchability. But as he read through that bible from cover to cover, he was deeply moved by two things in particular: The psalms of lament and the death cry of Jesus – “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” He found in these words a fellow sufferer who understood what true sorrow was like.

Moltmann dove into the study of scripture and theology because God was the only thing that could save him from his despair. And out of his experiences and out of the scriptures, he shares with the world a new understanding of the cross.

While we tend to emphasize the cross as this cure for our sins – this simple and singular act that washes us clean, Moltmann began to see it as a complex and messy and passionate and painful understanding of the cross.

At the intersection of the cross all sorts of separate things fight for one another: live vs. death, hope vs. despair, the godforsaken and the godless collide.

And Christ bears these tensions – all of them, and takes all of these struggling forces to the cross and comes out on the other side with only victory: there is only life, there is only hope, there is only God.

But first, God suffers with us.

We look at the sin in our own lives, and yes – that needs to be dealt with – it needs to be redeemed by God. That happens on the cross, as Christ takes our place on the cross, and in doing so, brings us through to the resurrection.

But Moltmann also talks about Christ suffering with us. Because while there needs to be forgiveness for the sinner, there also needs to be justice for the victim. The victim needs to find peace also.

In his experience, this happened as the stories of the victim were presented to those of the perpetrators.

After the war, Moltmann said, we listened to the stories of survivors of concentration camps- because we didn’t know what happened in the death camps. We listened to their stories and looked into the eyes of the survivors and became aware of who we the Germans really were. Same took place in the truth commissions in Africa – the victims must tell the stories, perpetrators must listen to the stories, or they can’t become aware of their guilt. Sacrament of repentance! Confess the truth, change your mind, make good where you have done evil as you can”

What does it mean to take up this cross of Jesus? To really take it up, to really follow in his footsteps.

Moltmann says that we must not become apathetic. He said that we shy away from love because we believe it will only bring us pain. “If you love no one, you will feel no suffering – if you don’t love yourself you will not feel your own death b/c you don’t care. I saw soldiers who became so apathetic that they don’t care about death b/c they were completely resigned and no longer in service of life, but in service of death.

If you love life again, you risk disappointment, you must be ready to suffer on behalf of your compassion for another person and you must be ready to feel their dying.”

When Christ asks us to take up his cross, he asks us to go to those places where life and death meet. He asks us to go to those places where the victim and the perpetrator meet. He asks us to go to those places where the rich and the poor meet. And we are to listen to their stories. We are to heal their wounds. We are to love them. And by loving them, we open ourselves up to feel their pain. We open ourselves up to be hurt. But we also open ourselves up to God.

A is for Acceptance

I told all of you last week that we were going to spend this fall exploring what the scriptures tell us about how to be the church. And so today we start at the very beginning – just like all of those kids heading off to kindergarten for the first time, we are going to learn our own ABC’s. And this morning we start off with A – A for Acceptance.

While that may seem like a strange place to start, the truth is that if we are going to be Christ’s church in this world – the hands and feet and voices of Christ to the world, then we had better figure out who it is that we are following! And as we learned just a few minutes ago – names matter!

We have seven or eight young people starting confirmation this fall and they are going to be learning what it means to Claim the Name Christian. What it means to follow someone named Christ. And what we are going to learn over and over again is that saying you believe in Christ and actually accepting and claiming that name are two very different things.

Accepting Christ means that we not only believe Jesus is the Messiah, it means we take on that identity ourselves. To accept something means that we take what is offered and we receive it willingly –our lives begin to look like the name that we have accepted.

This morning, our scriptures readings go hand in hand as we learn not only who Jesus is, but what his title, “The Messiah” means for our lives, and how then we can accept that name as a church in the way that we live.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is having a conversation about identity with his disciples and he starts off by asking them a simple question. “Who do people say that I am?” After the disciples spouted off the answers of the crowds, Jesus asked the tougher question, the deeper question – “Who do you say that I am?”

For months, Peter had walked alongside Jesus and witnessed first-hand the miracles that took place. His own mother had been healed. Demons had been cast out. Hungry people had been fed. Sight was restored to those who couldn’t see. While the world was still struggling, the hopes of the prophets were beginning to be fulfilled. And Peter was blessed enough to have a front row seat to the glorious coming of God’s Kingdom. And so without hesitation, he answered Jesus question – “you are the Messiah.” And Jesus blessed him for having given this answer.

You are the Messiah – What exactly is “Messiah” supposed to convey anyways? We wrestled with this Tuesday night at our roundtable gathering and it’s a hard question. Messiah or masaich is simply a Hebrew word that means “the anointed one.” The interesting thing is that Messiah and Christ actually mean the same thing – one is just a Hebrew word and the other is Greek. When we think of children or boats being “christened,” they are being anointed, or have something poured upon them. Throughout the Old Testament, Messiah was used to refer to priests, prophets, kings of Israel and even foreign rulers who were anointed by God – set aside for a special task. Eventually the idea of “the Messiah” came to mean many things.

Especially in the prophetic writings, the Messiah was a long awaited king that would rule with divine authority – the one who would be anointed to “uphold the justice and righteousness” of the kingdom, a future King David. But when Israel comes under the authority of foreign rulers – first in exile and then later under Rome, some start to lose hope in a new king for Israel. Others take the idea of a Davidic king and claim that he will return at the end of days, the end of time. Some began to hope not for a political king, but a spiritual leader who would reform the people. As Peter walked and talked with Jesus all of these ideas and more would have been floating around. There really was no one Jewish understanding of what the Messiah would do or look like, when or even if the Messiah would ever come.

So although Peter called Jesus, the Messiah – we don’t really know what kind of Messiah he was looking for. Except that it was very different from what Jesus had in mind. As Peter comfortably felt he had figured it all out, all of a sudden, he began to hear Jesus say things that his Messiah would never say. Suddenly suffering, rejection, and death were swirling through his head and Peter stood up abruptly and motioned for Jesus to come and share a quiet word with him.

You see, Peter, just like we often do, already had his mind completely made up about who Jesus was and who the Messiah was supposed to be. But perhaps none of us have been slammed back into our places as fast as Peter was when Jesus looked him straight in the eyes and said, “Get behind me, Satan!”

When Jesus asked the question, “Who do you say that I am?” technically, Peter gave the “right” answer – he correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah. But what that name might mean for the ministry of Jesus was entirely unclear. Peter’s own preconceptions and his personal attachment to this man – his teacher – overshadowed his ability to fully accept that Jesus had set his face towards the cross. While the name was right, Peter’s expectations for the Messiah were not.

The question really is not about a name or a title, but about what we mean by it and how we use it. And so Jesus has this conversation with his disciples and with us, so that we can get past our false expectations and get to the heart of who Jesus really is.

Barbara Brown Taylor describes in her book, The Preaching Life her own doubts and struggles about the identity God, and sees those doubts and mistakes as opportunities for growth. She writes:

Did God fail to come when I called? Then perhaps God is not a minion. So who is God? Did God fail to punish my adversary? Then perhaps God is not a policeman. So who is God? …every time God declines to meet my expectations, another of my idols is exposed. Another curtain is drawn back so that I can see what I have propped up in God’s place – no, that is not God, so who is God? … Pushing past curtain after curtain, it becomes clear that the failure is not God’s but my own, for having such a poor and stingy imagination. God is greater than my imagination, wiser than my wisdom, more dazzling than the universe, as present as the air I breathe and utterly beyond my control. That is, in short, what makes me a Christian.

This is what is going on with Peter. He was looking for a Messiah who would save him here and now, who would elevate him, who would give them all liberty without the struggle. And to be honest, in many ways that is how we have painted Jesus in our culture today – just say these simple words and believe.

But accepting Christ is so much more than that! Accepting Christ is to take his life and make it our own. And that is why this conversation with the disciples was so important.

Jesus knew that he had been anointed by God to redeem all people, to bring the Kingdom of God here to earth… but he also knew the only way to get there was through the cross. This conversation was a reality check for their ministry. The moment that Jesus begins to speak of suffering and death marks a radical shift in the lives of these disciples, as they are asked to leave behind their prior conceptions and expectations. They now find themselves following someone who will be a failure in the eyes of the world. And yet they are asked to follow anyways.

As a church, we are called to accept that name for ourselves. We are called to take up our crosses and follow this Messiah who asks us to give up everything – our lives, our pasts, our expectations – give up all of our lives in order to take on, in order to accept the new life that Christ offers. The question of Jesus’ identity is not a riddle from the past, but it is a calling for any who wish to be disciples of Christ. His identity must come to shape our own.

And perhaps what is even more difficult is that his name should shape our lives more than any of the other names we identify ourselves by. More than our family names, more than our race, more than our nationality. Christ’s name should guide our actions… if we truly accept it.

As Paul writes to the church in Rome, that is the question of the day: How should we live now that we have accepted Christ? Last week we heard him say that as the body of Christ, as the church, we should not live lives conformed to the world around us but that we should be transformed by the mind of Christ, and then he gives us this beautiful and challenging list of ways to do so. Things like “love from the center of who you are – don’t fake it.” “Don’t quit in hard times, pray all the harder.” “Bless your enemies, don’t curse them under your breath.” “Don’t hit back, discover the beauty in everyone.” “If you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, if he’s thirsty, get him a drink.” (all from the Message translation of Romans 12:9-21)

Almost every single one of those things are unbelievably difficult. They fly right in the face of everything that our society tells us, every way that our world believes we should live. And yet maybe they are the cross we are to bear as a church. As our roundtable group discussed, we realized that these ways of living require us to give up our instincts toward revenge and getting even, force us to let go of a dog-eat-dog mentality. They represent a fundamental friction between the ways of the church and the ways of the world – whether it’s business or politics or education or even family life.

As a church, maybe the cross we have to bear is to so live our lives after the example of Christ that we ourselves run headfirst into that friction. We take risks and put our lives on the line for the Christ that we have accepted.

One example of this is the act of simply taking someone in to care for them. As four women gathered around the table Tuesday night, we talked about how risky that is in today’s world. To love as Christ loved and without question allow someone in need into our home is not something society would tell us is safe or smart. We’ve heard on the news a hundred stories about people who extended hospitality to strangers and who were later found murdered on the side of the road. But extending hospitality to strangers is exactly what Christ did and what he calls us to do. Too often we allow the fear of what might happen, or even what will happen, keep us from accepting the way of Christ.

In college I was a speech and rhetoric major and so I have been very excited about all of the political conventions. And so Monday night, I listened to Michelle Obama speak and I heard her say

And as I tuck that little girl and her little sister into bed at night, I think about how one day, they’ll have families of their own. And one day, they—and your sons and daughters—will tell their own children about what we did together in this election. They’ll tell them how this time we listened to our hopes, instead of our fears. How this time, we decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming.

This time, we listened to our hopes instead of our fears. This time, we decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming. Take those words out of the political context and just think about them… This time we listened to our hopes instead of our fears.

We have to stop being afraid of what will happen to us if we truly accept Christ and follow him and we have to hope that if we truly follow Christ, the world will be transformed. We have to stop letting our fears and our doubts get in the way of the gospel. We have to put it all out there, take risks, and together step outside of these walls as the church. The let the servant church arise, a caring church that longs to be a partner in Christ’s sacrifice, and clothed in Christ’s humanity. Amen.