Acts 2:42-47 (NRSV)
South Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship of Faith – May 14, 2017
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
Mark 8:27-29 (NRSV)
27 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?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”
Well, this is quite a day of celebration here, isn’t it? Mother’s Day AND a commencement celebration all in one.
Our reading today is from the book of Mark … the first written of the Gospels. The first time the oral traditions were written down in order to preserve them. And THIS story appears there, so we know that it is one of the ORIGINAL statements about who the disciples believed Jesus to be.
This question that he ASKS … “Who do people say that I am?” is where he is sort of taking the temperature of those around him. It’s a first century version of the Gallop or Harris or Quinnipiac polls of politicians today. Some people say one thing … another group says this.
But THEN it becomes very personal, doesn’t it?
“But who do YOU say that I am?”
We don’t know if the others answered him or not. All that’s RECORDED is PETER’s answer. And HE says that Jesus is the Messiah.
Now remember … this is in Chapter 8 of Mark’s Gospel. It’s half-way through. Jesus has not yet been crucified. This is NOT a post-resurrection sighting of him.
And this is PETER. The same Peter who would deny him three times on the night of his arrest.
Today, though … Peter GETS it.
And it made me wonder: What would *I* say if Jesus showed up and asked ME that today?
What would YOU?
I want us to parse this question a little bit this morning by looking at four different parts of it.
FIRST: “WHO do you say that I am?”
Not WHAT do you say that I am, but WHO.
In other words, Jesus is saying that he’s not an IDEA or an IDEOLOGY … he’s not just a title or a figurehead. No matter what definition you look up for the word, “Who,” they ALL have to do with a person or a GROUP of people. So this question reminds us that we are talking about a real, concrete entity, not an abstraction.
There is nothing ABSTRACT about Jesus.
He is (or at least WAS) a person in corporeal form.
He is not an inanimate object … nor is he an apparition.
He is real … concrete … and was fully HUMAN as well as divine.
SECOND: “Who do YOU say that I am?”
Now, this is an interesting word to put the emphasis on, isn’t it?
PETER said he’s the Messiah.
Kinda makes you wonder what John, the Beloved Disciple, might have said. “You are my BROTHER?” … or Matthew: “You are my TEACHER?” … or maybe you are like Teresa of Avilla and you experience him as your LOVER. She lived and wrote in the 1500’s. Boy, SHE was ahead of her time, wasn’t she?
How about JUDAS? How would HE have answered that?
Just as an aside for a minute – if we believe that God is total LOVE, then we know that God forgave even Judas, right? So think for a minute about Jesus and Judas meeting up in heaven.
Who would Judas have said at THAT point that Jesus was?
I mean it could be argued that Judas was NOT a traitor but that he did just exactly as he was meant to do in order to bring about the Resurrection that would save the Universe. Perhaps he was the FIRST to die for what Jesus taught them all.
. . . I’m just sayin’ … it’s something worth thinking about.
The question for each one of us, though, is who do I … who do YOU say that he is?
And I think the answer CHANGES, doesn’t it?
Sometimes we probably relate to him one way and then when other things are happening in our lives we relate to him in another way?
Sometimes we might relate to him as our BROTHER … other times when we think about Mary, we might relate to him as our SON.
There are times when I see him totally arraigned in glory with the golden light shining out from behind him … he’s the Messiah ascending to heaven. There are other times when I see him in cut off jeans and a T-shirt talking with me in a cabin in the woods or on a California beach.
He’s different things at different TIMES … brother … carpenter … Prince of Peace.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Each one of US is different things to different people – and sometimes different things to the SAME person.
When my child was little, I was definitely – “Mommy.” Then it became “Mom” and now it is becoming more equal as she grows. When she was in junior high or middle school I made it clear that I was NOT her friend, I was her MOTHER. But now that she’s about to turn 20 in December, we find ourselves WORKING on that whole “friend” thing.
Many of YOU have been through that with your own children. Relationships change.
So my question for you today is REALLY … “Who do you say that he is for you RIGHT NOW?”
How are you related to Jesus in your OWN life TODAY?
As a PERSON or just as an idea … a THING to be worshiped?
The THIRD part of the question is “Who do you SAY that I Am?”
As our Evangelism Coordinator is fond of reminding us … it’s not enough to THINK about Jesus and God. We are commanded to SAY something about him … to BE his presence in the world.
That was Peter’s whole problem on the night of the arrest, wasn’t it?
He couldn’t (or wouldn’t) SAY that he knew Jesus.
He DENIED him three times. He couldn’t even OWN his relationship with him.
But there’s a part in the Gospel of JOHN … AFTER the Resurrection … after Peter has already denied him … where Jesus meets up with the Disciples on the BEACH and eats with them. This is a post-resurrection appearance, and in the course of the fish breakfast, Jesus asks Peter if he LOVES him. And all three times Peter says yes so Jesus gives him the direction to “Feed my Sheep.”
That story of them meeting Jesus on the beach is sometimes called the REDEMPTION of Peter. He DENIED him three times the night of the arrest … and later, on the beach he had three opportunities to RECLAIM him.
That tells me that even though there are SOMETIMES when I might fall short in saying who he is … I’ll get another chance and I HAVE to bring myself to where I can CLAIM him in front of others. Right? That’s his COMMAND to us … “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in my way of life …” (Mt. 28:18 – MSG).
“Who do you SAY that I am?” is what determines whether or not we are Christian. Who IS this guy to us?
And only you can answer that for yourself. You and the Holy Spirit.
But LASTLY … “Who do you say that I AM?”
There are a couple of things to notice about these last two words … the “I AM” part of the question.
The FIRST is to notice that it is in the PRESENT tense.
Who is he – right NOW. Who is he to you (or to me) in our lives RIGHT THIS MINUTE?
Who is he in upstate New York … or in the Midwest … or in Washington state? Who is he in Bangladesh … in Afghanistan … in Iran … even in Russia?
Who IS this guy who calms the seas … and plays with children?
Who IS this carpenter who repairs broken lives?
Who is this PERSON who called these two women to give up the lives they’ve known in order to go off and STUDY … to endure GRUELING tests … to uproot EVERYTHING just to say “YES” to him?
That’s ONE part of “Who do you say that I am?” but the OTHER part takes us back to Moses on the mountain when he encountered God in the Burning Bush. He needed a NAME for this force … this ENERGY … this PRESENCE … this … this GOD!
He was going back to Egypt to free his people and he KNEW all the names of the EGYPTIAN gods because he’d been raised with them. He KNEW that Pharaoh and his priests would ask the name of HIS God …
And the name God chose?
“Tell them that the I AM has sent you.”
That was God’s NAME … “I AM.” Or, it can also be translated from the Hebrew as “I will BE who I will BE.”
Our God is a present and FUTURE God … the great I AM. An ACTIVE God, not one who sits around waiting to be worshipped.
So I believe that by asking “Who do you say that I AM?” Jesus is also asking a THEOLOGICAL question … it was their own little ORDINATION exam, in a way. “Who is the I AM to you? – Who is GOD to you?”
Research has shown that MOST of us form our earliest impressions of God from our relationship with our parents … either because we see God as a SUPER parent where everything about them is MAGNIFIED in our concept of God … or because we had such a DISMAL relationship with them that God becomes the ANTITHESIS. God becomes what we needed and never received. God is the answer to our PRAYERS in that sense.
“Who do you say that I am?” is directly linked to that prayer that we often say together here: “Put me where you want me, and show me what to do” because if the answer to the FIRST part isn’t someone that we TRUST … we will NEVER be able to whole-heartedly pray the second part.
So it becomes IMPERATIVE that we figure out how we are going to answer that question: Who do you say that I am?
Who do YOU say … Bruce … Nancy … Ruth????
Who do you SAY … either by words or by DEEDS … Gordon? … Andy? … Mary Lee????
Who do you say that I AM? … Marilyn … Renee? … Jan???
And as you look at where you are being led … and TRUSTING that you ARE being led after all these years of hard work … Katrina and Summer: “Who do YOU say that I am?”
It’s a question that we answer all of our lives.
And if we’re really honest with ourselves … it’s a question that has many DIFFERENT answers throughout our lives.
May God help us to listen CAREFULLY enough to know – deep within our hearts – the answer to that question every day … and in every circumstance. Amen.