Today’s sermon title comes right out of the Urban Dictionary,
under the heading “DTR.”
What does DTR mean? It
means “Define the Relationship,” and it’s what happens “when two
people discuss their mutual understanding of a romantic
For example: One cheerleader
might ask another, “Have you DTR’d yet?” meaning, “Have you and
what’s-his-name defined your relationship?”
Or someone might ask the high school quarterback, “Is she
your girlfriend?” and he might answer, “I dunno what she is.
I guess we need to do a little DTR’ing tonight.”
But defining the relationship is risky business.
I still remember the time a girl asked me if I loved her.
It was back in college.
We’d been going out for a while and I liked her a lot, but
one night she caught me off guard completely.
She said, “I love you; do you love me?”
And I didn’t know what to say.
I finally blurted out something like, “Love
is such an overused word.
We say things like, ‘I love pizza,’ and ‘I love going to the
movies.’ I hope you
would be able to tell by my actions how I feel about you.”
But on that night I think she was able to tell by my words
that we weren’t in the same place relationship-wise.
That’s why it’s so risky to define the relationship, and why
a lot of young people these days stay far away from it.
If you ask them what they’re doing they’ll say, “We’re just
hanging out,” which means, “We’re spending time together, and we’re
enjoying it, but we’re not ready to put a label on it.”
Why not? Because
one of them might label it “casual dating,” while the other labels
it a “serious relationship” and then the whole thing would be off
balance. The two of them
would be off balance.
So they don’t say anything at all.
But Jesus says something in today’s Gospel reading.
He is on the road with his disciples, up near Caesarea
Philippi, on the slopes of Mount Hermon.
It’s about as far away from Jerusalem as you can get and
still be in Israel and that may have been the point.
It was quiet up there, peaceful, the perfect place to pose
this question: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” he asks, and
the disciples fumble for an answer. “Some
say John the Baptist,” they say, “but others Elijah, and still
others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you,” Jesus asks: “Who do you say that I am?”
And there it is, right out there in the open, because Jesus isn’t
asking them to define who he is to others, but who he is to them.
He is asking them to DTR.
And it is Peter (bless his heart) who finds the words leaping
from his lips before he can catch them and pull them back in: “You
are the Messiah! The Son
of the Living God.”
Jesus is impressed.
“Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah!
Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in
heaven. From now on you
are Peter, the Rock, and on this rock I will build my church, and
the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
And can you imagine how proud of himself Peter must have
been? Peter, who was
always the first to shout out an answer, or leap over the side of a
boat, or cut off somebody’s ear; Peter, who got it wrong so much of
the time had finally gotten one right!
But think about it.
If you had been Peter what would you have said, what
could you have said? If
you had been mending your nets when Jesus called you and invited you
to come fish for people?
If you had heard him preach the gospel of the coming Kingdom, and
seen him heal every disease and affliction among the people.
If you had gone up on the mountain with him and heard him
say, “Blessed are the poor, and the meek, and the merciful”?
If you had learned to pray that God’s kingdom would come and
God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven?
If you had watched him cleanse a leper, and heal the servant
of a Roman centurion, and cure your own mother-in-law of a fever?
If you had been in the boat when he quieted the storm and
calmed the wind and waves?
If you had heard him say to a paralytic, “Rise, take up your
bed, and walk”? If you
had seen him raise a little girl from the dead?
If you had watched him open the eyes of the blind and the
mouths of the mute? If
you had heard him say, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy
laden, and I will give you rest”?
If you had heard him debate with the Pharisees, leaving them
speechless again and again?
If you had heard him tell those parables of the Kingdom, and
describe the way it was already coming into the world?
If you had helped him feed 5,000 people with a few loaves and
fish? If you had seen
him walking on the water and gotten out of the boat to come to him?
If you had felt yourself
sinking beneath the waves and felt his strong arm pulling you up
What would you say if you had had all those experiences?
What could you say
except, “You are the Messiah!
The Son of the Living God!”
But we haven’t had those experiences.
We’ve read about them.
We’ve heard others talk about them.
We may have even had a few experiences of our own.
But I’m curious.
How would you define the relationship?
I don’t mean, “Who is Jesus?”
I mean, “Who is Jesus
On his blog last week a preaching professor named David Lose
challenged working preachers everywhere to answer that question for
themselves before they asked it of their congregations.
You’ve heard of preaching to the choir?
Lose is preaching to the preachers.
And forgive me for this long quote but maybe you’d like to
hear what it sounds like when preachers get preached to.
I want us to wonder together for a moment or
two what we actually mean when we say, with Peter, that Jesus
is the Messiah, Son of the Living God. Or that Jesus is Lord. Or,
for the theologically inclined, that Jesus is the second member of
the Trinity. Or, in the words of the Creed, that Jesus is light from
light, very God from very God, begotten but not made.
You see, I think it’s really hard to align
our lives with our confession when we don’t really understand what
that confession means. And I’m not sure most of us really do—myself
included. (We can take some comfort, I think, that Peter didn’t
understand what he said either, as we’ll learn next week.) Because
this whatever-it-is that Jesus was and is…it’s really hard to put
into words that we can understand. And so we come up with titles and
formulations and all the rest, trying to get at the mystery of what
God has done in and through Jesus, and that’s understandable. But
all too often I fear that those words only keep the wild and
unpredictable God of love and grace at arms’ distance from us, and
Jesus remains inspiring and exemplary, but ultimately rather tame
and eminently safe, kind of like the prophets of old seem to us.
So here’s what I want you to do, [preachers].
I want you to spend a little time before composing your sermon
trying to say in plain and simple words what you mean when you
confess Jesus is the Messiah. How would you describe Jesus, that is,
to someone who never heard of him before? To a child…or adult…or
friend…or stranger who happened to ask you about Jesus. And then,
when you’ve given some thought to that and when you’ve found words
that, even if they still don’t feel adequate are at least concrete
and reasonably clear, share that confession with your people.
I know that can be a little scary, so I’ll go
first. I think Jesus is God’s way of showing us how much God loves
us and all people. God is so big that I think we have a hard time
connecting with God. And so God came to be like one of us, to live
like one of us, in order to reveal just how God feels about us. In
this sense, Jesus revealed God’s heart, a heart that aches with all
who suffer depression and think seriously about ending their lives,
a heart that is upset and angry when a young black man is shot dead
for no explicable reason, a heart that is torn up in grief at the
desperate situation and violence that rips apart the land we’ve
named Holy, a heart that loves us like only an adoring parent can
and so not only wants the best for us but is always eager to welcome
us home in grace, forgiveness, and love.
But it’s more than that, too. I think Jesus
also came to show us what’s possible. And so rather than give in to
the threat of disease, Jesus healed. Rather than surrender people to
demons, Jesus showed compassion. Rather than let people starve
because there’s not enough to go around, Jesus fed people who were
hungry. Jesus refused to be satisfied or limited by the status quo
and invites us to do the same, because if Jesus’ life and death show
us how much God loves us, Jesus’ resurrection shows us that that
love is more powerful than hate and fear and even death. Jesus shows
us, in short, that God’s love wins.
So there it is. Not perfect—there should
probably be more about forgiveness—and shaped by some of what’s
going on in the world. And a little too wordy (the peril of the
preacher!), and I can imagine it changing a bit as I do. But at
least when I formulate it this way I have an easier time imagining
what it means for me to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Because I
think it means that I try to live filled with and sharing God’s
love, aware of the brokenness of the world but even more aware of
God’s grace and the power of the resurrection. It means, I think,
that I look at all of my life—my time, my relationships, my hopes,
dreams, finances, and all the rest—through the lens of both the
power and possibilities created by seeing God’s heart laid bare in
That’s not bad, is it?
As I tried to think about my own response to that question I
remembered something Brian McLaren once wrote that resonated with me
at the deepest level. He
wrote, “As a pastor and as a human being, I have had one lasting
obsession: the fascinating, mysterious, uncontainable,
uncontrollable, enigmatic, vigorous, surprising, stunning, dazzling,
subtle, honest, genuine, and explosive personality of Jesus.”[iii]
“Yes!” I wrote in
the margin. “That’s how
I feel, too!” Because I
often hear people talking about how grateful they are for what Jesus
did for them on the cross, and how his death makes possible the
forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.
“Yes,” I say.
“Yes! I’m grateful for
all of that.” But even
more than his death I am fascinated by his life, by the things he
did and the things he said and the way he did and said them.
That’s what draws me to Jesus; that’s what makes me want to
grow up to be just like him; not his death but his life.
So if you ask me to define the relationship, if you say, “Who
is Jesus to you?” I might say something like this:
He is the One: the One who has shown me what a life full of God
looks like; the One who has revealed the heart of his heavenly
Father; the One who has given himself completely to the will and the
work of God. He is both
the bravest and the freest person I have ever known.
He is the One who inspires my dreams of God’s Kingdom, the
One who calls me into deeper relationship with him, the one who
challenges all my previously held assumptions and knocks the props
from under my existing prejudices.
He is the One who helps me see the world that has not yet
come and to pray for the day when it will.
The one who looks at the world as it is through the eyes of
God’s love. The One who
looks at me through those same eyes.
He is the One who loves me, saves me, and sets me on my feet
again, the One who sees in me something worth redeeming even when I
am covered in sin. The
One who looks at me with a twinkle in his eye and says, ‘Come,
follow me.’ The One who
makes me think I could walk on water.
The One who lifts me up when I am sinking down…
That’s just a start.
I could go on and on.
But I also see how that is my confession of faith and not
preacher, a woman, answered that same question in a more intimate
way by saying, “Jesus is my Lord, my beloved, my confidante, my
redeemer, my friend, my helper and savior, my companion, the one I
can count on and pour my heart out to, the one I worship and adore.”[iv]
You might answer the question more like that, or you may have
an answer that is uniquely your own, but whatever it is the answer
is important. It may be
the rock on which Jesus will build his church.
It may be the key to the Kingdom.
After giving his own answer David Lose writes: “Perhaps we
can end the sermon there, inviting our people to come up with a
sentence or two that describes what they believe about Jesus and
then ask them to let that confession shape their lives more fully
this week. Because the
thing is, I don’t think Jesus asks us to confess who we believe he
is for his sake, but rather for ours, that we might be caught up in
the power of his love and life.”[v]
Did you hear that?
Jesus doesn’t ask us to confess who we believe he is for his sake,
but for ours, “that we might be caught up in the power of his love
and life.” And that
would be my prayer for you: that you would take some time today to
define the relationship, to answer the question of who Jesus is to
you, so that you might be caught up in the power of his love and
life, not only for the rest of this week,
But forever and ever,
Urban Dictionary, an online dictionary of contemporary
slang written by and for its readers.
Brian McLaren, The
Secret Message of Jesus (Thomas Nelson, 2006), p. 5.
From a comment on Lose’s blog by a woman named “Ruth.”