A Pastoral Message for the People of St. John’s Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC,
by The Rev. Dennis Foust, PhD, Senior Minister, on September 18, 2022
Scriptures: Matthew 16:13-20 and John 18:33-38
This morning, I have a message for you to hear that is extremely important. This message is not new to most of you. Yet, it is so important that you must listen very closely. Please turn up the volume of your listening heart. Here is the message you must remember:
GOD DOES NOT WANT YOU TO BE AFRAID OR CONFUSED.
This is why Jesus helped his disciples face their fears with this challenge, “You believe in God, believe also in me.” DO YOU BELIEVE IN JESUS THE WAY YOU BELIEVE IN GOD?
A seven year-old retold the Sunday School Bible story to his parents at Sunday lunch. He explained how Jesus and his family were in Jerusalem for a big celebration like a state fair and Jesus got lost from Mr. and Mrs. Christ. His mother smiled and said, “Christ was not Jesus’ last name.” The confused child asked, “If it’s not his last name, why do people call him that?”
That boy’s question is a good one. Why do you call Jesus CHRIST?
When you refer to Jesus as Christ, what do you mean? DO YOU BELIEVE IN JESUS THE WAY YOU BELIEVE IN GOD? Is Jesus CHRIST for you?
When this world settles down a bit, I want to lead some of you on a journey to the land where Jesus walked. Your life of discipleship will never be the same. On two occasions, I have stood at Caesarea Philippi, 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, where this scripture passage from Matthew took place. The water trickling forth from under Mount Hermon becomes a chief source of the Jordan River. This was an ancient place of worship with numerous shrines and temples dedicated to various gods. It was atop that giant rock that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” JESUS’ QUESTION STILL MATTERS! Is Jesus CHRIST for you?
Those disciples reported, “Some say you are John the Baptizer; others compare you to Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” Then Jesus asked those who were already following him, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus still asks this question. It is a question you must settle.
Beloved, we are living in a time when there are many misappropriations of Jesus’ identity.
In her book, Jesus and John Wayne, Kristen Kobes Du Mez explains how multitudes of people, including many church members, have turned their backs on Jesus for an idol of Christian nationalism; many people think Jesus was like John Wayne. Her book is a must read for anyone who needs to understand today’s religious confusion. But I warn you, as she tells the truth about Jesus and The Way of Jesus, she also lines out the truth about the way of evil. She is not confused about Jesus; but she helps you understand those who are confused about him.
One fellow who was confused about Jesus came to me more than a decade ago in a different city. He wanted me to get the men of the church to read and discuss John Eldredge’s book, Wild at Heart. I knew that book and knew it guided men away from The Way of Jesus. Eldredge talks about men being created to be militaristic aggressors. He writes that every man must be wild at heart because God is wild at heart. Every man, according to Eldredge, “must have a battle to fight, a beauty to rescue, and an adventure to live. That is how a man bears the image of God.” You should know that Eldredge has now sold more than 8 million copies of his books which DO NOT lead men in The Way of Jesus. Some people who have influence in the church offer a reference to Jesus, but do not walk in the way of Jesus.
Beloved, this is not a time for followers of Jesus to trade our discipleship for political strategies or retreats into the past. This is a time for us to clarify our understanding of Jesus and renew our commitments to walk with God in the way Jesus has shown us. We must deepen our spiritual growth so our ministries in the world have a divine motivation and influence.
After the disciples gave responses to Jesus about how people misunderstood him, Jesus asked his followers, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter spoke, “You are the Messiah” meaning ‘anointed one,’ ‘savior’ or ‘deliverer.’ The Greek word for Messiah is ‘Christ.’ When Simon Peter said, “You are the Son of the Living God,” Jesus blessed Simon Peter declaring, “On this rock I will build my church and the gates of evil will not prevail against it.”
Simon Peter’s profession of faith was: “Jesus, you are the Christ.” For those early disciples, there was still much to learn and explore about Jesus’ lordship in their walk of faith. However, as they learned and explored how The Way of Jesus guided them into a more meaningful walk with God, they also taught others to let Jesus be Christ in their lives.
That same identity of Jesus showed up at his trial before Pontius Pilate. After Jesus was arrested, he was brought before the Roman statesman. “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. Jesus let Pilate know that his kingdom movement was not of this earth. At the end of the brief early morning conversation, Pilate pronounced, “I find no case against this fellow.” The crowds that were being manipulated by people in power kept shouting, ‘Crucify him. Crucify him.’ Eventually, they chose to have the thief Barabbas released so they could murder Jesus. Still today, multitudes choose what robs them of God’s life by refusing to walk in The Way of Jesus.
The movement of Jesus’ ministry – which we continue today – is founded upon the confession that Jesus is the anointed one of God who leads us to God. The Jesus movement is THE WAY OF JESUS; always moving into the world under the authority of Jesus as Lord with evil’s gates notwithstanding. Beloved, we must be clear in interpreting Jesus’ declaration: The Jesus movement is on the offensive. The forces of evil – racism, prejudice, hostility, cruelty, abuse, violence, destruction, falsehoods, injustice, violations against freedoms, and greed are on the defensive. Yes, Jesus is CHRIST in our lives. We do not question his teachings; we embody them.
For 100 years, through wars; financial depressions and expansions; exponential growth of our city; racial segregation and integration; local community transitions; efforts for women’s rights; shifts of political power; social efforts to increase inclusion, denominational crises, departures and deaths of members and the entrance of many new members, St. John’s has been on offense with Jesus as our Lord. Like those trickles at Caesarea Philippi, the power of our confession may seem like water drops; but when Jesus is CHRIST in us, we become a life-changing tributary. No other commitment, idea, creed, or energy is at the core of our living. We are unmasking the Living God and translating the Gospel of God. We are revealing Jesus, as CHRIST, the Lord of our active faith who has fleshed out the love of God, the will of God and the mission of God.
A few years ago, as we hosted some of our brothers who are living on the streets, we were sitting around the dinner table and one of the fellows realized I was the pastor. His posture shifted and he said to me, “I’ve got Jesus.” I smiled and said, “That is good. But I’m interested something else.” He gave me a puzzled look. Then I asked him, “Does Jesus have you?”
You see, beloved, that is the question: “Is Jesus CHRIST for you?”
Some of you have read Richard Rohr’s book, The Universal Christ. He writes,
“We need to look at Jesus until we can look out at the world with his kind of eyes.
The world no longer trusts Christians who ‘love Jesus’ but do not seem to love anything else.
In Jesus Christ, God’s own broad, deep, and all-inclusive world-view is made available to us.”
Let us join our youth to learn more about The Way of Jesus as: “Love Mercy, Do Justice, and Walk Humbly with God.”
A group of youth were once asked, “What do you think it means when you say, “Jesus is Lord.’” They answered immediately: “That means Jesus is your boss.”
My pastoral prayer is that Jesus is CHRIST for you. Amen and AMEN! May it be so!