This is the message that I gave at Walker Valley (NY) United Methodist Church for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A), August 22, 1999. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Exodus 1: 8 – 2: 10, Romans 12: 1 – 8, and Matthew 16: 13 – 20.
Well, let’s face it. The year is almost over and soon we will have to deal with the dreaded “Y2K” problem. If you haven’t heard of this problem, then you have been where there are no computers, no radio, no TV, and no cable.
To understand the nature of this problem, you have to understand a little bit about computer history. Today, we speak of megabytes and Pentium chips. A typical floppy disk of today, which is no longer floppy, contains more data than many of the first computers. Now because the operating memory for these early computers was so limited, programmers had to find ways of saving space. One way was to simply use the last two digits of the year. It was assumed that latter programmers would solve this problem.
But many early programmers failed to accurately document where they stuck the code and how they set it up. And as other problems came up, the solution of correcting the date storage problem kept getting pushed back.
So now it is 1999 and people have suddenly remembered that when January 1, 2000 comes around, many computer clocks will think it is January 1, 1900. And since no one can remember how the code was written or where the code was put in the memory and no one bothered to write down anything, many companies are faced with major problems related to the time and date.
Now, I don’t think that this computer problem is going to cause as many problems as every one fears. There are going to be glitches, to be sure, but nothing will shut down and most computers will not suddenly turn back to the end of the 19th century. But it does show us the importance of knowing from whence things come.
From the Egyptian point of view, the Israelites had become a problem. But it was a problem only because the Pharaoh had forgotten and apparently no Egyptian bothered to record why the Israelites where there in the first place.
Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us, and leave the country.”
We know that the Israelites were welcomed to Egypt because of what Joseph had done. But like the origin of the Y2K problem, we find that people tend to forget why things were done. And because the Israelites had become so numerous, the Egyptians, without knowing why they were there in the first place, began to fear them and take the repressive measures that would ultimately lead to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.
When they left Egypt, the Israelites were determined not to forget what God had done for them. That is why each year at Passover, they say
For ever after, in every generation, all of us must think of ourselves as having gone forth from Egypt. For we read in the Torah: “In that day thou shalt teach thy child, saying: All this is because of what God did for me when I went forth from Egypt.” It was not only our ancestors that the Holy One, blessed be God, redeemed; us, too, the living, God redeemed together with them, as we learn from the verse in the Torah: “And God brought us out from thence, so that God might bring us home, and give us the land which God pledged to our ancestors.” (From “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” by Marcus J. Borg. He is quoting Maurice Samuel’s translation of Haggadah of Passover. (New York: Hebrew Publishing, 1942), p. 27. Borg added the italics and the translation was slightly modified for the sake of gender-inclusive language.)
But over the years, as Israel suffered and rejoiced, these words may have lost their meaning to many of them. So when Jesus asked his disciples who the people said he was, the answers given suggest that while the Israelites knew the words, they did not understand the meaning of what they were saying and hearing every year. They forgot what God had done and what He had promised we would do. In essence, they had lost their relationship with God.
Simply hearing the words or telling the stories does not guarantee that you will believe the stories. Telling the stories about Jesus is important (Hymn #156) but sooner or later, if we are not careful, the stories will become words simply told from generation to generation.
The Greek and Latin roots for the word “believe” mean “to give one’s heart to.” Believing, therefore, does not consist of simply giving one’s mental assent to something but much more, of giving of one’s self.
At some point in time, we must take action, as Peter did and exclaim when Jesus asked,
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Believing in Jesus means more than just believing a doctrine. If we give our heart to Jesus, we find that our life will change.
As Paul notes, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This transforming changes the way we live and the way we do things. If Christ is in our life, then the words we speak must be turned into actions.
Peter was given the keys to the kingdom and so are we when we acknowledge that Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God. As Paul told the Romans, we have been blessed with many gifts, according to the grace given us. These gifts may be in the manner of teaching, or preaching, or confessing, or prophesying. But Paul also warned the Romans about taking themselves too seriously, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measures of faith God has given you.”
Paul knew that being a disciple of Christ was more than simply being a follower. Our relationship with Christ should be a personal one, but our journey with Christ, the result of the transforming of the spirit is not done alone. It is a journey that puts us in a community that remembers and celebrates Jesus.
To Paul, being in fellowship with Christ creates a community of believers celebrating and remembering Christ. Like any community, the members of Christ’s community are unique in their own skills, each having one skill given to them by the grace of God. And for the community to survive, each member must use his or her own talents in conjunction with the others, just as one’s own body is many different parts all working together.
So, while we remember the past and tell the stories about Jesus and what he did, we look to the future. And against that backdrop, we ask how will the future generations come to know Christ? They will hear the stories but will they know the meaning of the words. The answer to that question is very clear. They will know Christ because they see Christ today in the eyes and hearts of those around them in the community of fellowship with Christ.
But that is not always an easy thing to see. But it is not an impossible task either. All we have to do today is answer the question that Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” If we accept Christ as our Savior, if we allow him to come into our lives and allow the Holy Spirit to transform our lives, other people will know.
How will they know? They will know because the story of Jesus is not just a story from the past, the origin of which is lost in the passage of time but because Christ is alive and well in the community of fellowship. As hymn #310 tell us, they will know because Christ is alive in our hearts.