If we were just talking and I asked you that question seriously, my guess is that you would worry about my mental health. But it is an important question and we should take it seriously.
There are lots of things you might say about me that are true.
I am Harvey. I am the priest at Saint David’s. I am the husband of Carrie and father of Benjamin and Nicholas. I live in western Massachusetts. I am, shockingly, fifty years old.
Those things are all true, and they are all important to me. But Jesus is looking for something more than that kind of thing in our gospel reading, and the disciples know it.
Jesus is asking them to look deeper, beneath the surface things of life, beneath even important personal relationships. Jesus is asking them to say who he is in God.
Outsiders identify Jesus with the prophets, with the people who proclaim the word of God. The outsiders are not entirely wrong, but Peter sees deeper still. Peter sees that Jesus himself is the Word of God. As Mark quotes him, Peter says, “You are the Messiah.” Matthew quotes Peter even more expansively. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (16:16).
That is who Jesus is, the only begotten Son of the Father.
And everything else follows from Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. When Jesus works a miracle, it matters because the Son of God is working the miracle. When Jesus teaches, it matters because the Son of God is teaching. When Jesus serves and suffers and dies, it matters because the Son of God is serving and suffering and dying.
What Jesus says and does and experiences matters because Jesus is the Son of God. That is who Peter says he is. That is who we say he is.
So what about us? Who do you say that I am? Who do you say that you are? What is our deepest identity, our identity in God?
We are not the same as Christ. We are not God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.
But we are Christian. We are Christ-like. We may not be the capital S Son of God. But we are beloved children of God, little s sons of God, little d daughters of God.
We are created in God’s image, redeemed by Jesus Christ, and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. That is our deepest identity.
And, at least in theory, everything else follows from our identity as children of God. When we work or pray or relax, it matters because a beloved child of God is working or praying or relaxing. When we sin, it matters because a beloved child of God is sinning. When we suffer, it matters because a beloved child of God is suffering. When we die, it matters because a beloved child of God is dying.
What we experience matters because we are beloved children of God. That is who we can say that we are.
I wish I could hold that truth in my head all the time and live like it. But we forget that we are beloved children of God. Or maybe we cannot quite bring ourselves to believe it in the first place.
But this is the heart of the good news. We are God’s children. God loves each of us so much that God gave his only begotten Son so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.
I wish we all could know, all the time, that we are, right now, fully beloved children of God. We botch it sometimes. But that is OK because God loves us anyway. As Paul says, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39) because God is love and because God loves us with an unbreakable love. Thanks be to God.
That is our deepest identity. That is who we say we are.
And how about all the people out there?
This is welcoming week in the Episcopal Church. This week we give thanks for immigrants and refugees in the United States. This week, we ask the question, who do we say that they are?
I think particularly about all the refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq, seeking asylum, trying desperately to get to the relative safety of Europe. A few thousand will be coming to the United States next year.
Who do we say those refugees are?
There are literally millions of them. The articles I read said more than four million. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Europe, and thousands more arrive each day. Apparently it is the worst refugee crisis for Europe since World War Two.
I wish there were an obvious solution to the crisis. I wish that the war in Syria would end, and a stable, peaceful, democratic government would emerge. That is not going to happen anytime soon.
I wish the refugees had a safe place to go and the resources to get there safely. But for now the refugees stuck in Lebanon have no place to go and a food allocation of $13.50 per person for a month. Some of those who manage to get out have died on the way. Others are basically trapped in southern Europe.
I wish there was something meaningful that we could do. But the fact is, we cannot make this problem go away.
But we should at least acknowledge that the poor people doing their best to escape ISIS are our brothers and sisters and that they are beloved children of God. When they suffer, it matters because beloved children of God are suffering. When they die, it matters because beloved children of God are dying.
What those refugees experience matters because they are beloved children of God. That is who they are.
And I ask again, who do we say that we are? Because if we simply turn a blind eye, if we totally ignore the human tragedy unfolding even as we gather to worship God this morning, we are turning a blind eye on beloved children of God. And that would betray our own identity as beloved children of God.
So what can we do? Probably not much in the way of tangible help to our suffering Syrian brothers and sisters. But we can pray for them.
And we can commit to doing what we can for people a little closer to home, people in need in our immediate communities. We can participate in the ACTS program to make sure Springfield children get the help they need in school. We can participate in the backpack and coat giveaway to make sure that children in our area have school supplies and decent coats. We can participate in Church without walls to make sure hungry people in our area have a decent lunch on Sundays and the opportunity to worship God in a place that feels safe to them.
We can pray and we can work on behalf of our brothers and sisters, who are, like us, beloved children of God. That is one way we can live as the beloved children of God that we are. And that may be the best way to answer the question, who do we say that we are?
In the name of Christ, who came that all God’s children might have abundant life. Amen.