Sunday, September 16, 2018
Lectionary 24

Prayer of the Day
O God, through suffering and rejection you bring forth our salvation, and by the glory of the cross you transform our lives. Grant that for the sake of the gospel we may turn from the lure of evil, take up our cross, and follow your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 50:4-9a The servant is vindicated by God
Psalm 116:1-9
James 3:1-12 Dangers of the unbridled tongue
Mark 8:27-38 Peter’s confession of faith

 Sermon

Title: Answers for Jesus, Challenges for Us

It’s a big question Jesus is asking his disciples.  It’s not like he is being an insecure, pre-teen asking their friends if people like them.  It’s not Jesus asking his disciples to be like the over- eager campaign volunteer asking if their candidate will get your vote.  He’s not even the desperate contestant on a dating show asking what his chances are of being the one selected for a relationship.  His question is simply “who do people say that I am?”  He knows who he is.  But, he is asking who do people say that he is.

We have a record of how people of his time identified him.  How the powerful and the powerless answered this question.  The gospels themselves give witness to what was being said about him.  The names, the labels, the indictments.  He was a teacher and a heretic, a miracle-worker and a blasphemer, a prophet and a law breaker, a rebel and a troublemaker.

But his question of “who do people say that I am” is not just a question for that time 2,000 years ago when he was walking the earth, performing miracles, teaching with unmatched wisdom, welcoming with unrestrained mercy and grace.  It is a question for today and for as long as his name is mentioned, as long as there are actions taken and words spoken in his name, as long as there are people who consider themselves his disciples, his followers, his body in the world.  Who is this guy? Perhaps it is more important that the current temperature be taken, the present populous be asked this question.  Rather than just look into the past and its people.

As you look around our country, our world, the church, the media, what answer do you come up with for Jesus?  Who do people say that he is?  (Since Jesus is invites responses from his disciples – he was not asking a rhetorical question – shall we take time to answer this ourselves? In the spirit of the disciples listing all the wrong answers for people in their time, let’s think of the wrong answers of our time.  Open discussion)

Strict Gatekeeper – making sure only the most faithful (in our eyes) are welcomed in.
American Patriot – in agreement with all our nation’s concerns and efforts
Cheerleader to the Successful –
A wise man but not to be taken too seriously or too deeply

And while all that is interesting and frustrating and challenging, the more important question was and is the second question that Jesus asked.  The one that he asks directly of the disciples- then and now –  Who do you say that I am?

In the same way that we identify Jesus by how others speak about him, speak for him, and act in his name, so it is with our witness.  We answer the question of “who do you say I am” by the way we live as Christ’s body in the world.

So, let us turn our critiquing eyes on ourselves and answer as honestly as possible:  Who do we say that Jesus is?  These answers might me regenerated by individual witness, and our collective witness as a diverse community of faith that strives to share the love of Jesus with all creation in this time and place.  From what we do and say – “Who do we say that he is?”  (Open discussion)

Welcoming host, Redeemer, Forgiver, Challenging leader, An open door to all people, Compassionate friend, Open heart of God

Peter, of course, sums it all up with his answer – “You are the Messiah.”  And yet, it is such an umbrella title, that there is disagreement just what that title means.  In the Hebrew scriptures, the Messiah was often times seen as the one who was going to restore the throne of David and free God’s people and their land from whoever occupied them at the time.  And they had a variety of occupiers.  But that’s not who Jesus was.  As the Messiah, it’s not what he did.

For some, the Messiah would bring down the wrath of God like Moses brought the wrath of the plagues on Egypt.  Displaying God’s power on anyone who was considered the enemy.

Certainly, Peter’s vision of the Messiah was robed in power and victory.  Because when Jesus started to tell him about what happens to a true Messiah, Peter protested and tried to present an alternative narrative.  And Jesus, in his incarnation that brought together humanity and divinity, must have found that picture of power attractive, at least to his humanity.  Because he has to use some pretty strong language to silence Peter and not let him draw him away from living out who he truly was.

And living that out, meant proclaiming God’s kingdom, even if it meant being led to the cross.  More than any other symbol or event, the cross defines who Jesus is.  And since it is our cross as well.  Perhaps we need to add a third question to the conversation for today: “What is the cross? What does it mean for Jesus, and thus, what does it mean for us?”  (Open discussion)

Sacrifice, Trust, Grace, Forgiveness, Withholding nothing, Courage

 Complex and confusing Jesus bears the ironic and paradoxical cross.  With the eyes of faith, what do we see?
Our friend’s greatest shame, our greatest glory
Our champion’s perfect surrender, our most celebrated victory
Our redeemer’s undeserved condemnation, our unmerited forgiveness
Our shepherd’s great challenge, our truest comfort
Our God’s seeming death, our unquestionable and unending life

Jesus, keep us near the cross.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

 

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