The Reverend Alonzo Vincent is scheduled to offer our message on Sunday, August 23. Reverend Vincent is a friend and colleague with over 50 years in ministry. Retired from the United Methodist Church, he continues in active ministry with his wife, the Reverend Elmira Smith-Vincent, at Mission of Peace Pentecostal Temple.
At this point, this Reverend Vincent anticipates sharing what God has put on his heart about a story found in Matthew’s Gospel and some wisdom from the Apostle Paul found in his letter to the church in Rome. I’ll attempt in this article to offer a little bit of background.
Each day in the news we learn about natural and human-made disasters that damages property, injures or kills thousands of people, and displace survivors. Place matters when it comes to identity. Who I say I am is connected to where we are when asked.
There was a time when Jesus asked His followers a question about His identity. According to the story, Jesus was in the region of Caesarea Philippi. This places Jesus at the base of Mount Hermon near the Jordan River. It was adjacent to a spring, grotto, and related shrines dedicated to the Greek god Pan. Now nearly uninhabited, Caesarea is an archaeological site in the Golan Heights. Today, this would place Jesus in the Village of Baniyas.
Historians refer to Caesarea Philippi as a “Greco-Roman” city. Greek culture heavily influenced this entire region. And even after the Romans conquered this region, Greek influence continued. The Greek language was prevalent among the more literate although Aramaic was more common among the people following Jesus. The city was near another ancient city called Dan, in the norther part of Israel.
One commentary noted that if you follow the Banias stream to the cliff area, there is no doubt that you are in a very unique place. In the century before Jesus was born, Herod the Great built the Temple of Augustus (Augusteum) to honor Caesar. The temple sat in front of the cave that was believed to be the gateway to the underworld, and where the Greek god Pan lived. Herod’s son, Philip, ruled over this part of Palestine, who made this city the capital, honoring Caesar Tiberius. It was believed that the waters in this area was the origin of the Jordan River.
For years, the residents of this area offered sacrifices to the Greek god Pan and other gods. The area became off-limits for Jews due to its history of pagan worship and association with satan. Don’t you find this an interesting place for Jesus to reveal His identity to His followers? Standing in a place that His followers associated with the great tempter. Perhaps the symbolism points us to an impending battle between light and darkness.
Decades after Jesus and His followers visit Caesarea Philippi, Paul reminds the community of believers living in Rome that while they live in the world, they should not conform to the ways of the world. Instead, Paul urges all believers to be transformed by the power of God’s Spirit into a new way of thinking and acting.
Paul also reminds us that each of us are created with special abilities. And our abilities are not ours to keep to ourselves. Rather, we are to work together to build a world fashioned after the kingdom ushered in by Jesus Christ.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
I sometimes imagine Jesus among us today. Sporting a Black Lives Matters t-shirt and leading a peaceful protest. Stepping up to the microphone without neither apprehension or notes, I imagine Him speaking truth to those in power. “Black lives matter a great deal to me,” He says. “This doesn’t mean that I love any one else any less.”
I invite you to join us next Sunday as Pastor Sylvia Pittman offers our message. Sylvia will wrap up our current series, we call Shameless. When scripture is used to justify oppression we need to consider whether we misunderstood the message. Join us online or in person. Be aware that we follow social distancing practices without exception. Free face masks are available and must be worn in our building.
You can join us online via webinar, through Facebook live, or you can call (929) 436-2866 and enter the meeting number — 324 841 204. We go live at 10:30 am. You can find these links along with more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
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