Friday, November 7, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper16

Who do you say I am?

There is an amazing cover on the recent issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
Michael Phelps
Wearing his gold medals from the Olympic Games.
Now if you don’t know who Michael Phelps is,
All I can say is that he is an amazing swimmer.

I am a Michael Phelps fan.
But not just because he is an amazing swimmer.
I like Michael Phelps because he has very candidly talked about being teased--
Actually more than teased—more like bullied and tortured
when he was growing up.

He and his sisters were raised by their mother Debbie
In a working class neighborhood in Baltimore.

Phelps had it otouch because he was taunted by other kids
About his sticking out ears, his lisp and his long arms.
He also struggled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and was put on medication for two years.

His mother Debbie said:
"In kindergarten I was told,
'Michael can't sit still, Michael can't be quiet,
Michael can't focus'.
"I said, 'Maybe he's bored'.

The teacher said, 'He's not gifted.
Your son will never be able to focus on anything'."

Then Michael Phelps discovered swimming.
And he knew that was who he really was—a swimmer.

He had a natural gift,
but he coupled that with incredible dedication
and the hard work of training.

Michael Phelps competed in his first Olympic games in Sydney
in the year 2000.
He was 15 years old.
Even as a teenager, Michael Phelps decided
that he would define who he was---
not other people.

Did their ridicule and comments hurt?
Yes, of course they did.
Cruel comments hurt all of us deeply.

Somehow, though, these past few weeks,
I don’t think anyone has paid much attention to Michael Phelps ears—
those gold medals and those multiple world records
have had the spotlight.

We cannot control what other people say or do.
We can control how we react to what other people say or do.

So what does Michael Phelps have to do with the gospel of Matthew?

Lots and lots of people have lots and lots of opinions about Jesus—
and many of them are not very complimentary.
That was true in the first century and it is still true today
In the twenty-first century.

Jesus knows who he is—
But I think he is wondering if anyone else can really see him,
Really see him for who he is.
But I think Jesus is dead serious when he asks Peter the question:
Who do you say I am?

The others have responded to Jesus by what they have heard others say.
But Peter speaks from the heart.

What a gift it is to have someone who loves us so much
that they see us with the eyes of their heart.

Peter is rash and controlling, often fearful, sometimes a hot=head.
But at this moment,
Peter’s eyes are as wide open to Jesus as they can possibly be:
And that is what he sees:
All the possibilities.
All that is and will be possible with God.

"You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!

What a gift it is to have someone who really sees us
for whom we really are.

We are each so loved by God.
God looks at us with the eyes of the heart.
Be whom you were created to be.
Use YOUR gifts.
Paul had it so right when he wrote in his letter to the Romans:

..we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.

We have gifts that differ.
But we each have gifts.

The challenge is to discover those gifts and to celebrate those gifts.
Very often gifts come coupled with a great deal of hard work.
Michael Phelps made it to the Olympics
because he was disciplined and dedicated and practiced
and practiced and practiced.
and trained and trained and trained.

Throughout our lives
other people will try to define who we are.
It is good to listen
but it is important to listen with our heart.

Throughout our lives
other people will also try to tell us who Jesus is and who God is.
They will insist on this characteristic or that.
But each of us must take the time to be able to answer
the question Jesus asks today:
Who do YOU say I am?

To see with our heart
we must listen with our heart.

To become whom God created us to become,
is to first discover our gifts,
to then discover the ways we can develop and use those gifts,
and finally to celebrate with great joy
those gifts we have been given.

To listen to God
we must first take the time,
to set aside time to be quiet, to sit in stillness and silence—
even if it is only the few minutes at night
before we drift off to sleep,
or the few minutes in the morning when we first awake.

Once Mother Teresa was asked by an interviewer,
“What do you say to God when you pray?”
Mother Teresa replied,
“I don’t say anything. I just listen.

The interviewer then asked,
“Well, what does God say?”
“Nothing”, she replied.
“God just listens too.”

We are all given the gift of prayer.
Prayer opens our hearts.
Prayer trains us to listen.
Prayer is a discipline.
Prayer is learning to be quiet, to be still.
Prayer is learning to receive.

Prayer changes us in ways we cannot ask or imagine.
Prayer is the journey which leads us to our answer
for the question
Jesus has for each of us:
Who do YOU say that I am?

God is listening.

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