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Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church Budapest, Hungary

Exodus 1:8-2:10; Psalm 124; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

“Who do you say that I am?” Little Christopher Stanley, son of Christina and Stanley Ghouri of our parish community, was baptised here at Saint Margaret’s just this past June; quite possibly the first of our Baptisms held in this our new church building, which is for us actually not so new anymore. If you were with us on that beautiful occasion, or if you have ever attended an Anglican Baptism in recent years, you may recall that an integral part of the Baptismal service includes the recitation of the Creed. After all, the Creed and the faith it represents is what Baptism is all about. Except that in the case of the Baptismal rite, the Creed is typically not exactly a recitation. That is, unlike at our usual Sunday Eucharist, including today’s service, in which we reel off the arcane precepts of the Nicene Creed, one might almost say by rote, the Creed at Baptism comes in the form of question-and-answer, forcing us in a sense to stop and think. The priest or celebrant asks the parents and godparents, speaking of course on behalf of the child, and asks us by extension, “Do you believe in God, the Father?” “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?” and “Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?” And, in each instance, we respond or answer the question, in a somewhat ritualized formula or fashion, to be sure, but we respond in the form of a dialogue. And, this is important. For, the Creed, our expression of faith, is after all not a simple register or inventory of beliefs expressed in somewhat stilted or esoteric formulas. The Creed at its most basic is always interactive, sort of like the Messenger app on Facebook, in which at least two people must participate for it to work at all. Now, scholars assure us that this was in fact the original way in which the Creed was always proclaimed in the early Church. And, for good reason. For, dialogue in a sense forces us to look another person in the eye and respond to their question or challenge; to answer to someone for who we say we are. And this marks as well the beginning of Christian community. This is in other words where Church starts: with faith that is shared among people of like mind. This is probably also why the Church some years ago changed the wording of the Sunday Creed from the simple personal declaration, “I believe,” to the communal proclamation, “We believe.” Faith almost never happens in isolation. Faith at its heart is about conversation and community. “Who do you say that I am?” asks Jesus of his disciples in our account this morning from the Gospel of Matthew. He too seeks dialogue and an expression of faith. His is an openended question, to be sure, though also with some sense of expectation or purpose and perhaps even vulnerability behind it. Unfortunately, it has come to be seen over the centuries in some quarters, wrongly I think, as a kind of final exam for the disciples, an exam in which Peter gets first-class honours and therefore goes on to become first pope. But clearly, there is more to it than that. First, there is a disarmingly human element to Jesus’ question. “Who do you say that I am?” Though none of us might phrase the question in quite such a direct and transparent fashion, this is a question which concerns us all at some level throughout our lives. How do you perceive me…? Do you really know me…? What do you really think of me…? And, that is Jesus’ query of his closest disciples. No doubt he is also seeking affirmation that he is getting through; that the disciples understand. He is challenging them and us to faith, to creed in other words. Some mystics and religious leaders even today believe that it is easier to say what God is not than what God really is. An interesting approach to Creed. German-born New Age guru, Eckhart Tolle, for instance, suggests that in seeking God, in saying who God is to us, we make first a list of everything we know for sure that God is not. What is left, says Tolle, is that which God truly is. The disciples suggest a similar tack in answering Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Not John the Baptist, seems to be one answer. Not Elijah either. And not Jeremiah or one of the prophets. What is left ultimately, it seems, is that which Peter more or less blurts out in arguably Christianity’s first creedal expression ever. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” And it is here upon the rock of Peter’s faith that Jesus proclaims, “I will build my Church.” So, there you have it in a nutshell. Church is dialogue, a response to another person’s challenge of faith; that person being of course Christ. As Christians today, our answer to Jesus’ question, our own creed, begins to emerge when we too come to recognize Christ at work in our lives; when we say with Peter, “You are the Son of the Living God.” I may be wrong, but I believe this is the first time in the Gospel of Matthew that we find Jesus actually named or labeled as the Son of God, something we now as Christians take for granted. So, this is then another of those seminal passages in Scripture which serve as focus and turning point in our understanding of Christ and of ourselves as his followers. Jesus is the Son of the living God and is for us the “Church’s one foundation,” as we shall sing together later in this service. The Church’s one foundation, the bedrock of its faith, is indeed Jesus Christ her Lord. Amen. The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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