August 23, 2020
Pentecost 12 (A) Proper 16
Today we are hearing a lot about a "corona". The last time a corona was in the news was during the solar eclipse in 2017. Back then, it did not refer to a virus, but to the dazzling light of the sun's "atmosphere" that is usually invisible to us, but which we can only see during a solar eclipse.
For a moment back in 2017 the world stopped, and people stepped outside to see the strange thing happening in the sky.
These days, we plan for months and perhaps years to observe solar eclipses, but the first recorded solar eclipses were quite a shock to everyone. People had no way of explaining what was happening in the sky, so they came up with their own theories: one was that a dragon was eating the sun. In response people would sacrifice animals, sometimes even humans, to try to get the dragon to leave their sun alone.
Those sacrifices "worked" every time. The sun always returned.
Eclipses are much less of a mystery to us now. We now know that there is no dragon in the sky. We know that we do not need to sacrifice anyone or anything to convince the sun to come back. We can predict the exact dates and times of every eclipse, so it's much less of a shock; they no longer change the course of history in quite the same way.
However, a total solar eclipse is still a big deal, and science has made it possible for more people to witness one. The next one, in case you're wondering, is predicted for April 2024.
In 2017, people streamed in from all over the country to get into the "path of totality", where the moon completely obscures the sun, the birds stop chirping, the land goes dark, and all you can see of the sun is the corona--the shimmer of light around the sun. I have friends in Boston who drove all the way to Georgia so they could be in the path of the last "total eclipse" in 2017.
Many people describe it as a deep spiritual experience, and on August 21, 201 the whole country stopped bickering about everything for just a few minutes to witness the cosmos putting on a show. And then, just like that, life restarted again.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus has just healed the Canaanite woman's daughter. He has fed four thousand men plus women and children and had plenty of leftovers, and He has been bickering with Pharisees. They want to see a sign that He is send from God. He had just given them a sign--He just fed a huge crowd of people out of nothing. It sure is hard to convince those Pharisees.
Then, after all that, even his disciples do not seem to understand who he is or what his mission is. It is one of those times when Jesus must have felt like no one understood him or what he is all about.
Finally, Jesus gets to the point asking His disciples, "Who do people out there say that I am?" He starts with the crowd because he knows it will be easier for them to talk about other people's feelings rather than their own. So they make several guesses. Maybe John the Baptist, maybe Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets?
Then Jesus asks his disciples about heir opinion of just who He is: "Who do you say that I am?" A disciple who has been called Simon steps up and says: "You're the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
It must have been one of those moments when the light comes on and you know something is true, it becomes real for you! This was probably like that for Simon now called Peter. All of a sudden things change, and you can see things in a way you never have before.
When Sally Mills met Jesus she said, "Now do I have to start my spiritual life all over again?"
The retired Rector of St. Peter's church in Milford said to me: "George I have been a priest for 44 years and I have never led anyone to Jesus. He felt that he had wasted his whole ministry.
When Simon sees Jesus as the Messiah he gets a new name when Jesus says to him: "Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah!...I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and all of hell will not be able to stand against it."
Down through the ages the church has made a lot of mistakes. We have tried many programs to try to inspire faith in our members. For today the simple, obvious question we all have to answer when Jesus asks, "Who do you say that I am?"
Consider that question for yourself, it will shape who you are. Sometime maybe today, put yourself in the path of a total eclipse. For just a moment, say it out loud: Who is Jesus to you? Who is Jesus to our church?
When we are in the path of totality, when everything is in focus, when there are no distractions, we can stop for just a few minutes and we all see Jesus quite clearly. Jesus may be the only thing we have in common, but lucky for us, He is the only thing that counts........