Toorak Uniting Church

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Don’t You Recognise Me?

St Matthew 16: 1 – 4, 13 – 20     Acts 1: 22 – 24, 36 – 38
Rev. Dr Ron Savage
23 April 2006

At a wedding one day a young man approached me. "Do you not remember me?" he said and searched my face for some sign of recognition. "You baptised me." "I think you have changed a bit since then" I told him. Once I had his name I made the connection. It was understandable that I did not recognise him from infancy but there are other much more embarrassing moments where I fail to recognise people or can’t remember their name. Have you ever been in that situation where you go to introduce someone you know well to the others but suddenly, inexplicably, embarrassingly their name won’t come! Maybe you know their maiden name, their job, where they live, but though it is on the tip of your tongue ……… no name!

You have also passed by someone who spoke to you. You look after them startled. Did you know them? They looked vaguely familiar. "Where have I seen them before? Who was that? Inevitably it comes to you about 3am making you waken with a start! Yet sometimes it works well. Walking along a hospital corridor a few years ago I came level with a man and suddenly recognised him ‘Fred Stanford’ I said. At the same instant he said my name, ‘Ron Savage.’ We had not seen one another since school days. I was surprised to discover he was a thoracic surgeon. He was even more surprised to discover I was a minister.

When Jesus returned to his home town of Nazareth and spoke to people in the street they may have wondered how this stranger knew them by name. At the synagogue he was a guest speaker. People looked hard at him as the President of the synagogue introduced him. "Isn’t that the son of Mary - you know - his father was the carpenter who died young." They could not quite get their mind round who he was, a VIP, a guest, a prophet, a carpenter’s son.

There were many such occasions as he travelled about preaching, healing and helping people telling about God, forgiving sins and upsetting the authorities. Of course there is still debate about him. He has the allegiance of about ? of the world’s population who see him as God. Others are not quite sure. Comedian Billy Connelly said he wasn’t greatly enamoured by church but to him Jesus Christ was an absolutely amazing man. Indeed he was!

Josephus a Jewish historian, around the year 50 AD wrote of Jesus "Now there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works – a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many Jews and many Gentiles."

Then and now we see people struggle with recognition of who Jesus was and is.


Some thought he was
MAD
after all he had a thriving carpentry business, inherited from Joseph his father, and his brothers made it a good going family concern. But he walked away from it to become some kind of radical itinerant preacher and healer. Although he had had resources he ended up, as he said, with nowhere to lay his head. When he wanted to illustrate something using Roman coinage he hadn’t a penny of his own to use. Also He went about calling himself the Son of Man – a Messianic term. No wonder his family arrived one day on the edge of the crowd. "Tell that daft brother of ours we are here to take him home – Son of man indeed! He is making a fool of himself - and us - with these delusions" Some thought him mad because of the extravagant claims he made - claims that made Hitler sound the most sane and humble of men, as CS Lewis said. These claims came to a climax under interrogation by the Sanhedrin. "Who are you?" the High Priest asked "I am the anointed, the Son of the uncreated God, and you shall see me appearing at the end of all history as judge of the Universe".

Quite mad they thought – dangerously mad – so they had him executed! Yet one of their number who had had a private interview with Jesus earlier, had said to him "we know you are a teacher come from God: for no one can do these signs/miracles that you do apart from the presence of God." (Luke 3: verse 2)

After the execution this same man, Nicodemus, went with a friend, obtained legal authority and took the body of Jesus for burial. He did not think him so mad at all. What do you think?

Others thought he was
BAD.
Bad not only because he was going to bring down the wrath of the Roman authorities if people went about calling him King of the Jews and hailing him as saviour/liberator of the people. But the scribes and Pharisees thought they could only attribute his healing powers – and rumour had it he even raised the dead – to some kind of sorcery. ‘He is of the devil; possessed.’

But his words are not words of an evil man, others argued, and besides can you call it diabolical to open the eyes of the blind? Some still argue Christianity has been an evil influence on the world. Others see its humanising and civilizing affect. I remember soon after I decided I should train for ministry my boss on a summer job being shocked "How can you be part of a movement that wrecked havoc through the crusades and the inquisition burnt people at the stake and perpetrated all manner of evil and inflicted pain on so many." I was flummoxed – I had no answer – I had never thought about these things – my experience had been New Testament of a kind caring Jesus and I had never heard hatred preached or sectarianism. Others condemn us as a bad influence if we preach global peace has priority over patriotism or fair trade over greed and profit margins. Mad? Bad? What do you think of Jesus and his influence?


Perhaps you think of him as
SAD.
A sad case with a sad cause and a kind of a killjoy. In a memorable scene this grown man, this crowd catcher, this potential leader is caught weeping over Jerusalem. He stops overlooking the city and cries for it. Some think this unmanly and pathetic. His disciples expected great things from him. Brothers James and John asked for special places when he established his Kingdom one on his right and one on his left – chief ministers in his administration. When villagers turned them away they asked "will you call down fire and brimstone on them?" Tough talk. They could not understand it when supporters wanted to make him King and he said it was not his time and anyway his Kingdom was not of this world. When it came to the crunch was he only a weakling? If he was all he claimed what would he do to his tormentors in the Sanhedrin and to Pilate the Roman Governor. Sadly he would hardly speak a word. He never even made his case when they took him in for interrogation. Yet he upset the governor didn’t he? Pilate tried to wash his hands of him – and many have tried to do the same since. That is because there was power there! Holy power. The power of freedom and truth and divinity. Dostoevsky recognised it. In his novel "The Idiot" he presents a Christ figure as an epileptic prince. No adequate control or care for that in his time. Quietly, mysteriously this sad figure, Prince Myshkin moves in the upper class circles of Russia exploring their hypocrisy and also illuminating their lives with goodness and truth. A sad but powerful figure.

The 19th century poet A.C. Swinburne (born 1886) saw Jesus as a sad figure too in his poem ‘Vicisti Galilee’ mourning the passing of old gods when Christianity is proclaimed as the faith of the Roman Empire. "Thou hast conquered O pale Galilean the world has grown grey from thy breath". There is nothing grey about most contemporary Sunday worship, Church Summer Schools or Sunday Youth Fellowship evening worship. Indeed there is nothing grey about most of the worship and fellowships, discussions and service projects of our congregation - there is Christ inspired vibrancy, excitement, laughter and love.

Some forms of Christianity are grey and drab. They suck the vitality out of people. But. But remember one of the accusations of Jesus was that he was a friend of publicans and sinners a wine bibber and glutton. You see, he loved to party with friends and people of all kinds not least those the righteous rejected. Read between the lines of the New Testament and you can hear gales of laughter when the 12 were alone with him and often as he told parables to the crowd. The Son of God was vulnerable – but sad?? What do you think?


Would his followers recognise any of these descriptions? Was he Mad, Bad or Sad?
or
GOD!
Come to that scene at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus and the disciples had an amusing discussion about people who think they recognise in him John the Baptist: the fiery, eccentric desert preacher of repute, or Elijah: the greatest of prophets who overthrew Jezebel’s corruption of religion and state, or Jeremiah: the great hope maker when Israel was invaded and thousands deported, the temple in ruins, or prophet souls. You can just hear the laughter with each comparison and them thinking of how he could live up to it. Then came the shock. "And who do you say? You recognise I am not John, Elijah or Jeremiah, who am I then?" Boom! Boom!

They thought about his wisdom, his truth, his faultless character, his goodness, his miracles, his prayers, his presence, his insight, the way he spoke to God and of him. There was no one else like him!

"You are the Christ Son of the living God". Simon Peter spoke it out!
"My Father in Heaven has helped you recognise me for who I truly am" said Jesus. "But don’t any of you tell anyone else this – yet". Later they would tell everyone and do so without regard to the risk or cost.

Surely anyone who contemplates seriously who Jesus is will be astounded. Moslems revere him. Even Jews who are now beginning to claim him as one of their great prophets - in fact I’ve read that more Jewish books have been written about him in the last 50 years than ever before.
Here is what Napoleon wrote: ‘Everything in Christ astonishes me. His spirit overawes me, and his will confounds me. Between him and whoever else in the world there is no possible term of comparison. He is truly a being by himself…. I search in vain in history to find the similar to Jesus Christ …. here everything is extraordinary."

Peter would reply and millions of others: That is because he is God! And should we agree we move into the Kingdom of God and into joyful service of that Kingdom on earth and in Heaven. Our little ambitions, plans and purposes become part of something much, much greater. Something indestructible, irresistible for
‘The gates of Hell will not prevail against it.’

Have you recognised him as God?
Many pretend not to.
But for those who do there is, added to the wonder of it, inexpressible joy and a sense of exhilaration.


© Rev. Dr Ron Savage, 2006


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