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“THERE’S A SERMON IN HERE… …SOMEWHERE”
A post-homiletical discourse delivered by the Rev. Dr. James R. Beebe
Rector, St. Patrick’s Church, Incline Village, Nevada, August 21, 2011
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’”
This text always pops up in the middle of summer. It’s called “The Confession at Caesarea Philippi.” It’s one of my favorites, since it’s packed with great sermon material. So bear with me as I flit about on my theological wings, experimenting with this idea, because there’s a sermon in here…somewhere.
Jesus is walking down the dusty Middle Eastern road with his companions and, in an annoyingly offhand sort of way, asks them what the rumor mill has been saying about him. Hey! I could talk about rumor mills and how people tend to make pronouncements about things without really checking the facts.
I could point to a mock news item from Denver: Jesus Christ, noted Son of God and football analyst proclaimed Monday that second-year Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow lacks the pocket presence, arm strength, and passing accuracy necessary to be a starter in the NFL.
“Tim’s place is at the right hand of the other backups on the bench, and his earthly works show that he deserves to dwell there all the days of his life,” said Lord and Savior of all mankind, adding, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for Tim Tebow to complete a pass against the Cover-2.”
Christ also asked Tebow to stop praying to Him and asking to be made the number one quarterback in the depth chart, claiming “that’s never going to happen in my lifetime.”
Yeah, that’s the ticket. I could talk about checking the facts and taking personal responsibility. About multiple attestations to avoid a Shirley Sherrod do-over. She was the gal who was Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture. Some blogger took a five-second sound byte out of context to accuse her of being a racist. Without checking the facts, the Obama Administration fired her. When they saw the whole tape, however, it turned out that Sherrod’s comments meant exactly the opposite of what the blogger alleged. Oops! Embarrassed, the Chief Executive offered her a choice job in the Department of Agriculture. Which she refused. Maybe the title of this sermon would be something like: “Rumor Mills: the Warping of Reality.”
Or, I could preach about the itinerant ministry of Jesus. I might draw the conclusion that the only way we can effect healing and pass on the love of Jesus is to forsake the comfort and security of the familiar.
I could throw in a Fred Craddock story. Maybe the one about hearing President Laney of Emory University talk about his grandfather in Arkansas. His grandfather had had so much encouragement around home and in his family that some folks put together the money for him to go to Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. There he got such grades that some folks got together and sent him off with a scholarship to Vanderbilt for graduate school.
He met a beautiful young woman and they married and he graduated. You know what he did then? He went to northwest Arkansas and together they started a school for girls. She did the washing, the cooking, the cleaning and he was the principal and teacher. There he was, all dressed up with professional academic credentials from Vanderbilt. He could have made a lot of money. But he knew what a burden a gift is.
That’s the ticket. A homespun story about discipleship and responsibility in the Kingdom of God. A fully developed sermon on the theme of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Maybe I could call it, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
Or, I could preach on the question, “But who do YOU say that I am?” I could talk about the various theories people had – and still have – about who Jesus was. I could even speculate about what Jesus thought about himself. That might then morph into a sermon on the subject of identity.
I could throw in a Robert Fulghum story. Maybe the one about Fulghum’s name. His daddy named him Robert Edward Lee Fulghum because he admired the Civil War general. But the registrar of births could only handle three names, so his folks settled for Robert Lee Fulghum. Turns out, his father ending up calling him “Sonny boy” anyway….
His junior high friends called him “Beaver Bob” because of the orthodontics he sported and his first girl friend called him “Big Bunny,” which Fulghum steadfastly refuses to speculate about.
Other names throughout his life included “Fulghy,” “Daddy,” “Ensign Fulghum,” “the Reverend Mr. Fulghum,” “Ano Ne” (by his second wife, a woman of Japanese descent – it means, “Hey, you”), “Zulu Delta Ground” (his radio code name when he was ground crew at a glider contest), “Captain Kindergarten” (after his famous book), and “Robert-not-Bob” (what he used to tell people his name was, but it never worked – “Well, sure, Bob, whatever you want”).
But Fulghum’s real complaint is when a slobbering little bundle of joy who doesn’t even speak English gets your number. They start calling you “Boppa” or “Bamaw” or “Nungnung.” Then everybody starts calling you that. Don’t we get to come up with our own vanity plates?
Yeah, that’s the ticket. A homespun story about how others end up defining you. A sermon about how much of our personhood is hidden – from others, even from ourselves, but never from God. How maybe God knows who you really are. Maybe I could call it, “Who does God say that I am?”
Nope – not gonna preach on any of those themes today. But one thing does strike me as pretty important in trying to come up with a sermon idea – that the Bible is something that can be approached at lots of levels. Each level offers its own little treasure trove. Each level engages us where we live. And sometimes even provides us with an insight that will change us for the better.
Hey! Wait a minute! Isn’t this passage really about the complexity of scripture? Maybe I’ll preach on that some day….
In the meantime, who DO you think Jesus is?