A new look church

By Jen Flanagan

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Who do others say that I am?’

The answer – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jerimiah, or one of the other prophets

The ‘others’ think in terms of the past- they see Jesus as a prophet, just like in the past – they have no new vision for their future – it’s like they are living in the past – yearning for what has already gone – and have no interest in anything new or different

So, Jesus asks his disciples, ‘Who do YOU say that I, the son of man am?’ He’s actually putting the disciples on the spot.

Simon was spokesman for the other disciples – probably because he spoke first & thought afterwards – possibly not giving the others a chance to speak – and after his declaration, the others would not have dared disagree!!

‘You are the Christ – the son of the living God’ says Simon – This may have been an idea that Simon had been thinking about for some time, maybe slowly growing in his mind – or it may have been a sudden ‘lightbulb’ moment – we don’t know, and it doesn’t matter.  Jesus said that God had given Simon the insight – that’s what counts.

The Christ – Christos – meant ‘anointed’ – people were anointed to set them apart for their work – maybe as prophet, or priest, or king – anointing indicated that God had chosen them for that role

‘You are the Christ’ – Simon was declaring that Jesus was the one that Israel had been waiting for – Someone like King David of old – someone to ‘make Israel great again’ – sound familiar???

Someone who would save Israel from the Romans – someone sent from God to build up a great army and lead a rebellion against their oppressors

By this time, the disciples had spent quite some time with Jesus, after leaving their lives when Jesus first called them.  They must have learned a great deal by then – all new and with an emphasis which was foreign to their previous thinking – and yet they were still waiting for the great & glorious day when Jesus would lead an army to overthrow the Romans and set himself up as king.  They believed that the uprising was imminent – and they were ready to stand with Jesus – especially Simon. 

They, too, were living in the past – despite the teachings, the miracles, all the different ways Jesus had been showing and demonstrating, the disciples were still looking for the King David-like warrior king.

This story is set in Caesarea Philippi – gentile territory – and they were probably surrounded by lifeless idols. So, when Simon says Jesus is the son of the living God – he may have been comparing the God of Israel with the gods in the area.

Simon and the disciples may have been wrong about their beliefs for the future of the Kingdom of God, but by declaring their allegiance, they were stating that they were willing to fight with Jesus for the cause – Simon, and the other disciples are ready to give their all in Jesus’ service – they may have misunderstood – but they were committed

So, who do YOU – my fellow congregation members say that Jesus is? We’ve all heard many words, and names to describe Jesus – some biblical, some lay, some personal, some communal. Words like:

Lord and Saviour.

The Son of God,

God incarnate,

Cousellor

He’s my life,

brother,

friend,

rock,

the way, the truth, the life

comforter,

teacher.

guide

I’m sure you could add more – we sang some in the song a few moments ago

Peter was known for jumping in and speaking first and thinking later (or maybe not thinking at all) – a bit like a bull in a china shop. We might laugh condescendingly at Peter’s attitude, but are we really any different? Do we ever glibly say ‘Jesus is my friend, saviour, guide brother etc, etc., without thinking about what we are really saying – what it really means?

Jesus, however, thinks out his answers carefully – and responds to Simon’s declaration with a commitment of his own. You will be Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church. And we know, with wonderful hindsight that on the day of Pentecost, it was Peter who stood up and preached so convincingly that thousands turned to Jesus that day – and that was just the beginning. We know that the church was born that day, and that it has grown and developed and changed over the centuries since, through times of trials, persecutions wars, and through times of peace and ease.

But who do we say Jesus is today:

It’s easy to see Jesus in:

But how are we Jesus’ hands, feet, smile in our world of people full of fear, illness, separation, loneliness, depression.

Jesus renames Simon to Peter, and predicts he will build his church on that rock.  That rock and the words Peter spoke ‘You are the Christ, the son of the Living God’. And we are part of that church. A church that has changed and morphed many times over the centuries. Often forced to change by outside influences, like persecution and war

And we, as that church, are being forced to change again – due to another outside influence – the restrictions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. So, what does it mean to be the church in 2020? What will it mean to be the church in 2021, 2022 and on? How are we fulfilling Jesus’ mission today?

Jesus mission:

How can we set the captives free when we feel that we are captives in our own homes and our venturing out into the world is limited? How can we lift up the oppressed when we need to stand 1.5 metres away from them? How can we heal the broken hearted when our hearts are broken?

How do we continue to do all that Jesus has commanded of us when our lives have been turned upside down by an invisible but extremely infectious enemy – something we can’t see, yet we know is real and dangerous. When we have trouble staying afloat – how do we share Jesus’ vision?

I suspect that it is in the sharing, the doing, and the being that we will be saved from ourselves and our loss, our depression and our loneliness. I know that we are all doing something, which is great – our congregation is very busy caring for others. However. we also need the being. The being with Jesus. The giving of Jesus. And we need to receive

Sometimes it is easier to be busy doing and giving – and we don’t stop to allow Jesus to give us what we need in our spirit and in our minds. Our Romans reading today spoke of the spiritual gifts. We need to learn to use the gifts that God has blessed us with – it’s not good to waste what God has given us- I believe that our church has never needed us to use our gifts more.

However, in these new and unexpected times, maybe some of our gifts are not as useful as they were? – after all, we don’t need to arrange flowers in the church right now (this is fine with me – I have absolutely no creative talent and arranging flowers was never my forte) we need to look to God to see if God will provide or has already provided other gifts we haven’t recognised or used yet. Maybe this time is a time of developing new gifts, as well as developing new ways of worshiping God.

We are coming to recognise that we may never worship again as we have in the past. This is not necessarily a bad thing – God believes in renewal – and this time can be a time of renewal, and of growing – of leaving our past and our traditions behind and trusting in God to teach us to be the church that God wants us to be, instead of a church where we are comfortable consumers of what has always been offered.

Jesus said he would build his church on Peter, and on Peter’s words. Our church is still built on those words. Jesus is still the Christ, the son of the living God. What new skills, new gifts is God offering you to use in the new-look church God is building?

Photo of Jen Flanagan

Written by Jen Flanagan

Jen is a lay preacher in training at TUC. As well preaching, Jen often assists with leading the 10:30am service and is a member of the Thursday Community Fellowship ministry team.

More from Jen Flanagan