Lent III

Psalm 19 and Matthew 16:13-20

Remember the trend, several decades ago, of creating posters that displayed a variety of doors from a particular city? When Chris and I first married, the Doors of Ireland hung in our home. Occasionally I would stand in front of the print, and wonder what life lay behind the bright red door with its brass handle, welcome mat, and bucket of gardenia placed on the stoop.

A door is a threshold between one environment and another. Clang the brass knocker, the door swings open and one is ushered from the gloomy cold rain into a cozy living room with a fire burning. We use thresholds to signify deeper changes in our lives. A spouse carries their beloved across the threshold into a new married life. On coronation day in the imaginary country of Arendelle, Princess Anna sings “open up the gates.” Thresholds usher us into new relationships, or seasons of life.

The exchange between Jesus and Simon Peter is a threshold moment. Two questions. One answer, followed by a blessing. And with it, Jesus and Peter leave behind an initial, “getting to know you” connection for a deeper knowing; a meeting between a confessing disciple and the Son of the Living God. Until this moment, Peter has followed Jesus with his feet but held back his heart. He’s left his former occupation for life as a wandering witness, occasional assistant, but he has withheld a long-term commitment.

But something changes along the road in Caesarea Philippi. Entering a less hospitable environment and attuned to the speculation swirling around him, Jesus first asks the group who others imagine him to be. To this question, the disciples answer readily enough, linking Jesus to past prophets; familiar figures whose lives are examples but do not command allegiance now. Then Jesus asks the follow-up question, “Who do you say that I am?” It is a threshold question, because who Jesus is determines who we are and how we are to live.

Peter’s answer- “You are the Messiah, the one we have been waiting for. You, Jesus, align with the living God.” -moves Peter from that safe space of observation to life-changing revelation, from abstract concepts about God to a face-to-face encounter with God, who changes lives, transforms futures, calls persons out of graves.

There are countless Peters in the world today. Persons who have sensed a hunger in their hearts for a bigger, deeper, wider life, for meaning to their days and an encounter with God, who we all are always waiting for. Modern-day Peters might be those who slip in late to church and out before the final hymn, wanting to know more but also wanting to keep their distance. Or those who know the stories, sing the hymns, eat at the table, but harbor a resistance. “I don’t want Jesus to bring that much change into my life.”

We all are Peter, at some point, if we are honest. As David Lose says, each of us can struggle with the gap between “the words we say on Sunday and the lives we live the rest of the week.” It is a risky threshold to cross, to move from the sidelines of faith into the center of cruciform life, proclaiming we believe Jesus is God, alive and directing our lives, with every ounce of our being.

What propels Peter forward? I have to believe it is the same grace that made him abandon his fishing post and, months later, made him leave the boat to attempt walking on water. Here is grace’s invitation: to belong, to be strengthened, to love in extraordinary ways. I know the moments Jesus has met me have been spaces where any doubts about my self-worth, or worries about my future, or griefs about the world’s pain have been answered by a God who knows me deeply, loves me fully, and carries every living creature with the same powerful care.

In that threshold space of meeting, Jesus asks the question, “Who do you say that I am?” There are countless variations of the question:

  • Did you see my face in the child before you?
  • When you watch the sun set with the birds flying in formation toward its pink rays, do you sense the Spirit breathe into you?
  • Do you forgive even when it’s the hardest thing to do?
  • Did you show up when justice was perverted, to stand with the discarded or forgotten?
  • When the food pantry needs restocking and the neighbor’s kid can’t afford the camp fee, did you open your wallet, remembering your blessings?
  • Do you proclaim with your life what you believe?
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