Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 17, 2006
The Gospel: Mark 8:27-38
Sermon: "We Have to Answer the Question"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
We Have to Answer the Question
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 17, 2006
On a recent TV commercial the staff of the company is gathered in the boardroom. The president tells the staff they have to find ways to cut costs. The youngest member of the board makes a suggestion to save money through its shipping practices. The room gets quiet. Then the president says, "What do you think of this?" Then he repeats the exact words that the young man has just said. The only thing he adds is some particular hand motions. Everyone suddenly agrees with the president. The young man is quite disturbed. He says, "Wait a minute! You just repeated what I just suggested. The only thing you did was add a few hand motions and he waves his hands differently than the president did. The other staff member sitting beside him says, "No, he didn't. He waved his hands this way and that makes all the difference." The young man can't believe his ears, and the look on his face is one of incredulity. After all, he offered a valid solution to the issue and his idea was taken away from him because of some hand motions. The people around him would not recognize him as a valued member of the staff.
We all laugh at these commercials. However, we have all been there on both sides of the staff meeting. People won't recognize our abilities or our talents. They don't see us for who we are. They don't understand what we have to offer. Sometimes we don't recognize the abilities of others. We don't see who people are and what they might have to offer. We see only part of the whole person and some part of that person doesn't fit with us. We don't understand their way of doing things. Therefore, we don't get a clear picture of the whole person.
Today's Gospel reading from Mark bears evidence that this is not a modem issue. In fact, this issue of identification is very prevalent where God is concerned. Jesus is walking with the disciples and he asks what appears to be a very innocent question, "Who do people say that I am?" It is a simple question of identification. The answers are extremely varied.
Some people believe Jesus is John the Baptist. John was killed and somehow John comes into Jesus while Jesus is alive and walking around. Others think Jesus is some form of reincarnation of the prophet Elijah. Yet, Elijah did not die according to legend. Finally, some people believe Jesus is a prophet. He has been given a message from God to deliver. The prophet is God's messenger.
Then Jesus gets down to brass tacks. He asks the disciples, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter responds, "You are the Messiah." Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone.
Jesus is not having an identity crisis in this statement. The next thing Jesus does is teach the disciples about the role of the Messiah. He tells them the Messiah must undergo suffering, be rejected by the powers of authority, be killed, and after three days rise again. Jesus tells them what he is going to do. Peter goes orbital.
Peter goes orbital because Jesus is not going to do what he understands the Messiah is to do. Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. The student goes to the teacher, the master, and rebukes him. Peter is like the young man in the TV ad who gets annoyed at the president stealing his idea. Peter's idea of the Messiah is nothing like what Jesus has described. Peter will not agree with it. Peter doesn't understand the fullness of Jesus' mission. He doesn't understand the real identity of Jesus. Here Peter is walking with Jesus and he doesn't fully understand who Jesus is.
Since the resurrection humanity has questioned the identity of Jesus. Throughout the ages people have questioned the validity of the Christian story. Scholars have attempted to determine what Jesus said. They have tried to determine how the Bible was put together. They have tried to trace the exact path of Jesus' earthly journey. I suppose what they are looking for is some solid shred of historical evidence that states unequivocally that Jesus existed as defined in scripture. Oral tradition is good but scholars and researchers want evidence.
We now live in what is called the postmodern world. In our world the question of Jesus' identity is still being. Some people still believe he was just a teacher. Some believe he was just a good man. Some might even call him a prophet. Then there are others, some within the church, who do not believe many aspects of the Gospel. For them the entire thing is just a story. It is a story that sometimes brings out the best in people. They also believe that the story causes people to hurt one another. They believe it causes separation and hurting in the world's populace. In some cases they believe the story is the cause of some pain.
Now, I will agree that the Bible, like any book, can be misinterpreted. Some people take many parts of the Bible out of context. They take a piece of scripture and blow it out of proportion. The saying, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” comes to mind. How about the proverb that says it is better to be on the roof than in the house with an angry woman? These phrases are all present in scripture and if they are taken out of context they are dangerous. Because these phrases can be used to hurt then some people say the whole book is not helpful. The story of Jesus couldn't be true. God can't create a child, a human being, without a man and a woman. A person can't heal someone through prayer or a touch. People can't suffer for the sins of others and offer forgiveness. No one can be dead and brought back to life.
Yet, in these modern times we create people whose life begins in a test tube. We have witnessed remarkable healings through prayer and prayer alone. People suffer everyday because of the sins of others and still they offer forgiveness to their persecutors. People die everyday and are brought back through the ministrations of doctors and nurses or just someone who knows CPR.
What do we believe about Jesus? Is Jesus just a teacher, a prophet or Elijah? Or for us is Jesus the Son of God? In just a few minutes we are going to baptize Debra. She will make promises that we ourselves have taken concerning our belief. We will all say together the oldest creed in our prayer book. The beginnings of this creed date back to the year one hundred. Are we just saying the words because it is what we do in church at a baptism or do we mean them?
The funny thing is Jesus knew the people did not understand. He knew quite frankly that the disciples, particularly Peter, did not understand. Yet, Jesus went to the cross anyway. He took the road to Jerusalem with the disciples. He did suffer and he was rejected by those who were learned and in authority. He was killed. He did rise again. Even though the people did not understand, Jesus still fulfilled his ministry to God and us as the Messiah. As we say the words of the creed to day I hope we will struggle with that reality. I hope the question of Jesus, "Who do you say that I am?”, resonates in our hearts and in our minds. I pray we will be bold and answer the question for ourselves and for this community of faith.