Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I can never hear this passage about Peter declaring Jesus be the Messiah without thinking about an incident that happened a couple of years ago. It was during a continuing education event for pastors in their first three years of ministry.
A couple friends of mine had their two year old daughter along with them, and one day during worship this passage was being read. The preacher was very passionately telling the story and when she said, “And who do you say that I am,” little Eve very confidently, and loudly, replied: “I say Cookie Monster.”
And that poor preacher never quite got everyone’s focus back after that. Eve maybe was hungry—this was right before lunch—and so she replied with what she hoped the preacher would be. She can be excused, if only for being two.
But how often do we do the very same? When faced with the question of who Jesus is—how often do we fill in the blank with who we wish Jesus was? It’s happening in our gospel story among the crowds—some say he is a prophet, some Elijah, some John the Baptist. They don’t understand who he truly is, and so they pick who they want him to be.
Peter then answers the question for himself, and even he doesn’t truly understand. In next week’s gospel, we’ll see that although Peter declares Jesus to be Messiah, he doesn’t really know what it means to be a Messiah. But still, I think one of the important take-aways from Peter’s answer is that he even speaks up in the first place.
He doesn’t have all of the information, but when asked to take a stand for his faith, he speaks up anyway. To be the church, to be the people of God, involves speaking up and acting up, even if it’s not perfect. Even if we’re unsure or feel out of our depth.
And that’s what we have happening in this great story in our first lesson, from the first couple chapters of Exodus. It’s usually read as an origin story for Moses who will become the leader of his people. But I think the supporting characters are even more interesting.
The Israelites have been in Egypt for a few generations now, and a new king comes into power. A king who does not know Joseph. Remember Joseph? He’s the Israelite who found favor with the king and saved Egypt from years of famine. This new king doesn’t remember that.
Wishing to solidify his political base, he identifies a common enemy, a scapegoat to blame for Egypt’s problems. Like so many times throughout history, he chooses the Jews. And he orders all male Hebrew babies to be killed immediately. That’s when we’re introduced to these two awesome characters of the Hebrew midwives: Shiphrah and Puah. The king never gets named, but these women, we know their names.
They are in a seemingly powerless position, facing down the king of a powerful nation. They have not obeyed his commands to kill the boy babies and instead of backing down they play on the king’s own xenophobic fears to explain themselves—the Hebrew women simply give birth much too quickly, and there is nothing they can do. It is a courageous act of civil disobedience.
Shiphrah and Puah choose, in a moment when they could have easily said nothing or done nothing, they choose to speak. Choose not to be silent, choose not to accept this king and his un-Godly actions.
Later, after Moses is born and set into the river, it is his sister Miriam who chooses to speak up. To take a chance. And by speaking up she brings Moses home to their own mother—at least for awhile. In this story, whose main purpose is to introduce us to Moses, these women all have important parts to play.
This is, in fact, what Paul is describing in our Romans reading today: “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” We may have different gifts, different purposes, but we all have a part to play. The body itself is not complete when we neglect the gifts any one person has to offer.
As we welcome one more member into this body this morning through baptism, we recognize that Paige too has gifts of her own. And we are incomplete without them. Right now, her gifts probably feature bringing joy and love to her family, and those gifts will grow as she does. We all have different gifts, but the same potential for God to use us to make real differences in the world.
Like Puah, and Shiphrah, and Miriam, we all have moments that will call upon our gifts and our courage. The things we do, the actions we take, the words we speak—they ripple out with unforeseen consequences, for good or ill, for the health or the damage of the world. Every day, we testify to who we believe Jesus is, with our words and our actions. We may not feel ready, like Peter, we might not yet grasp the whole picture.
And yet, the question is whether, but what we will do that will ripple out into the world. What will we do this week to make a difference in the world? Some of these actions may be big, bold, and courageous. Others may be small, hardly noticeable. And yet they all have the potential to ripple out, affecting countless lives.
We speak and act in ways that are possible only because we are empowered not by flesh and blood, but by God. It is God who gives us gifts of grace, wisdom, diligence, compassion, cheerfulness, and generosity. And it is God’s gracious Spirit, given to each of us in baptism, that uses our gifts to bring about change and healing in the world.
May we never fail to recognize our opportunities to speak to who Jesus is in our words and actions—big and small. And may we always give thanks to God for the gifts and ability to do so. Amen.