The Stories of our Lives

Rochelle Rawls-Shaw preached this sermon on Sunday, September 2 at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone. A student at San Francisco Theological Seminary, Rochelle is doing an academic year internship with the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.

Matthew 16:13 – 17
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; other say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  “But what about you?” he asked.  “Who do you say I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ (or Messiah), the Son of the living God.”  Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”

Recite “Spirit of the Living God” as my prayer for illumination.

Before I begin, I must extend my thanks to several people. To your Clerk of Session, Lisa for making sure I arrived here safe and sound; to the Director of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations for recommending me and to your pastor, Andy James, for giving me to this opportunity to preach today. And thank all of you for your warm welcome and your hospitality.

Ricky Velez-Negron and Rochelle Rawls-Shaw

I arrived in NYC exactly 29 days ago and so much has happened. I’ve been inside several buildings at the United Nation complex, by myself, at least 20 times already. I have attended meetings with UN representatives and ambassadors. Every time I enter the United Nations, I represent our agency and the PCUSA. I was there at the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People only 3 days after I started. Last week I attended meetings that focused on Strengthening and Protecting the Human Rights of Older People. I can actually go into restricted areas of the UN just by scanning my ID. 

My second week I went to a 5-day conference in Chicago. This conference, Together for Justice was sponsored by the Presbyterian Hunger Program of the PCUSA. While I was in Chicago, I met and fellowshipped with people from all over the country and all over the world. I met people from countries I had never heard of or even where they were located. At the conference we learned about each other by telling our stories to one another. Then we shared the Stories of Each Other’s Lives with the other participants. It was a very powerful and spiritual experience.

I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you too much of my story. My intent is not to brag or boast or waste your time. But I feel compelled to share my enthusiasm, excitement and my gratitude With You. Because part of The Story of My Life includes the time I have spent here with you. The Story of Our Lives are now connected.

As I look into your faces, I realize that we probably have a lot in common. Some of the undisputable things we have in common are (1) all of us are somebody’s child and (2) We are here because we are believers in Jesus Christ. (Look around the room to see what else we may have in common.)

As I contemplated on today’s message and title – The Stories of Our Lives, I thought about things that may relate. First, I remembered an old commercial that seemed to tie in to my recent experiences. Does anybody remember the commercial – “The touch, the feel of Cotton – the Fabric of our Lives”? Then I thought about “Reality” tv shows? Does anybody here watch them? Now, please be honest! Am I the only person who wonders how real these shows really are? Think about this. They are pre-recorded, directed, produced, and then edited usually by someone who probably didn’t know anything about that person until someone thought of a way they could make money on someone else’s story. I just saw a commercial for a reality show spin-off from Toddlers and Tiara’s about a little girl named Honey Booboo! I don’t know about you, but most of these shows don’t seem real to me. Not at all.

There’s one more thing I want to share with you. Something else I may have in common with others in this sanctuary. I like Jigsaw Puzzles. I do jigsaw puzzles every summer. I find them relaxing and something I can do with my family. Once my classes are over, I buy a new puzzle and a new CD. As I put on the CD and begin sorting the puzzle pieces, I spend time doing personal reflection. Here are some things I think you may find interesting about jigsaw puzzles.

  • Definition – tiling puzzle that requires the assembly of numerous small, oddly shaped, interlocking and tessellating pieces. Each piece usually has a small part of a picture on it; when complete, a jigsaw puzzle produces a complete picture.
  • Images – many of them are scenes from nature; any kind of picture – a photograph can be made into a jigsaw puzzle
  • Variations – typical 300/500/750/1,000 pieces & based on # of tiles across/down; i.e. a 1000 piece puzzle = 38” x 27”; 
  • Complexity – (what makes them challenging)
    • 3D puzzle – has to be solved in a certain order; some pieces will not fit in if others are already in place
    • plain box w/no picture this was based on the board game Clue
    • 3 feet by 13 inch landscape puzzle of 42nd street that I completed before coming to NYC
  • Largest commercial = 32,256 pieces

Since I’ve been in NYC, I’ve been looking at my life and how this internship fits into what I consider my ministry. I thought about how the stories of our lives are like a jigsaw puzzle. I realize that not all the pieces are created, revealed or assembled yet. Only God knows what our completed puzzle will look like. I invite you to consider how today’s lesson from the gospel of Matthew about the relationship Jesus Christ had with the disciples may illustrate this concept.

The gospels, especially Matthew, allow us to look at the life of Jesus. Before we get into the lesson of today’s scripture, let’s take a look at what happened in the previous chapter. In chapter 14, Jesus fed the multitudes following him with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Afterwards, he dismissed the disciples and went up the mountain to pray by himself. He made the disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side. The boat encountered a storm. Even though he was someplace else praying, Jesus knew about the storm and the trouble it was causing the disciples.  Jesus walked on the water after calming the sea and to calm the disciples. He even invited Peter to walk on the water to join him. We know how that turned out.

After witnessing these events, the disciples made their first assessment to who they thought Jesus was. There were more pieces of the puzzle of Jesus coming together, being revealed and assembled. Scripture tells us that those who were in the boat came andworshiped Him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

In Chapter 15 Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees and Sadducees about his disciples’ behavior because they didn’t wash their hands before they ate and he points out their hypocrisy. He explains to his disciples the consequences of the “blind leading the blind.”  Then Jesus feeds another crowd of followers; this time with 7 loaves of bread and a few small fish.

In the beginning of chapter 16, Jesus is tested by the Pharisees and Sadducees. He admonishes his disciples. He questions their faith because they appeared to be clueless about what was happening.

Then, in verse 13, Jesus wants to see if the disciples have put the pieces of the puzzle together about who he really was. So He quizzes them. He asks “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They were able to answer the question because they had been listening and watching… and something else was happening. Something beyond what they could see about Jesus was becoming clearer to them. More pieces of the puzzle were being revealed.

The text doesn’t say specifically who answered this question. They all replied “Some say John the Baptist; other say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Jesus was probably satisfied with their response. But he wasn’t finished yet. He asked, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”  It’s not clear from the text if the “you” in this question was plural – like all of you – everybody within the sound of my voice or if it was specifically directed toward someone.

When Jesus asked these questions, did the other disciples stop to look at each other or think about them? Did they think these were trick questions? But Peter responded. Peter knew the correct answer. I wonder if Peter stepped forward boldly or did he hesitate? The text say “Simon Peter answered, You are the Christ (or Messiah), the Son of the living God.”  This was the answer Jesus was looking for. Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. Jesus knew that they’re eyes had been opened. Jesus knew that he could reveal more pieces of the puzzle of the life he was destined to live. The prophecy he was to fulfill for us.

As I draw my sermon to a close and contemplate on the lesson contained within the text, let’s review the pieces of the puzzle about Jesus revealed in this text:

1)    Jesus was a Provider – he provided food for the thousands of followers who gathered to hear his message.

2)    Jesus had the ability to see people, the church leaders and disciples, for who they really were.

3)    Jesus was Powerful, so powerful that he could calm the stormy seas.

4)    Jesus was a Teacher; he taught the disciples what they needed to know so that they could continue to share to message of the kingdom of God.

5)    Jesus was an Encourager; he encouraged his disciples to trust each other and to trust God.

6)    Jesus was a Prophet; he knew what his ministry would reveal about the kingdom of God.

7)    Jesus was a Savior—Our Savior. He died to save us from our sinfulness.

I continue to think about and wonder what the pieces of the story of MY life reveal about me – how I live, what I believe, how I treat people and value all God’s creatures. I encourage you to do the same thing. Our puzzle, the story of our lives won’t be complete until we transition from this life. 

As Christians I’m sure we can all agree that Jesus Christ is a Very Important Piece of our life. THE Most Important Piece especially as it relates to our salvation. We know this because it has been revealed to us through the Spirit of the Living God. Jesus Christ is with us. His story, His ministry, the life He lived, the reason why he died is revealed in the Word.

I recall a plaque that I saw on a wall of the United Nations complex during my first visit. It said, “The UN was not created to take humanity to heaven, but to save it from hell.” Isn’t it wonderful, isn’t it Good News to know that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior has that job! That Jesus has already taken care of everything! That everything has already been worked out by a God who loves us! He IS God’s answer to the question about our humanity! Jesus is the Answer to our salvation!


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