The following message was used Sunday, Sept. 13 at St. Paul’s UCC in Eureka. I know that what I said was not exactly the script and there were times that I was so off, I jumped at getting myself back onto it, but this was the script and the intent, and I was off only because I had it in my head well enough to know the story I was trying to tell. Hope it makes some sense to you. I wanted to share Melissa’s story of helping out a woman and her child, but I knew that I couldn’t relate that even on a generic level without showing too much emotion. I have enough trouble as it is with that business. I did have a moment when I spoke of the refugees. I seriously was sitting in my kitchen looking around, I saw our extra fridge, our box of individual sized chips on the top of it and all the tomatoes we are needing to throw away because they have spoiled and I think of people going hungry. It isn’t right. When we have such hordes of stuff, it isn’t right. So here is the message.
The scripture used was: Proverbs 1:20-33, James 3: 1-12, and Mark 8:24-38. The title was “Who do you say Jesus is?”
When I was a junior in college, way back in the late 1970, I took a class called History of Eastern Religions. I still have the book and the notes from that class. It is a good thing I kept them because I really don’t remember many specifics of what we learned in it. I do remember that we met at 2 p.m. in a crowded room on the third floor of Tabor Hall. It was warm, and I was usually early to get my favorite seat about three rows from the front and beside the wall so I could lean my head against the chalk board if I felt myself dozing off, and I did doze off more days than not. You can prove it by my notes that got smaller and smaller until you couldn’t read them. The worst was I realized those were always the notes I needed to know for the test. Perhaps the professor was watching when I dozed off. Amazingly, I did ok in that class, and even now when there are questions about some of what I learn there in a trivia game or on Jeopardy, I somehow know the answer, though I couldn’t tell you how I know, it is just stored there some place in that sleeping part of my brain.
Mainly what I remember is one afternoon there was a guest speaker who was part of a “new” religion that was just getting started in Jamestown. I guess it never got off the ground because I haven’t ever heard of it since. It was a group that tried to believe in all religions at the same time. They believed that there was one God, and all of the prophets were real and had been sent to different areas at different times to different people to bring them all to the one God. Even Jesus, according to them, was just another prophet. Jesus was in their belief no different that Mohammad or Isaiah or Confucius or Buddha. What a thought.
I guess it is a nice thought if you want everything to be tied up together in one nice little package, but we know this concept of if Jesus is just another prophet doesn’t quite work. It isn’t exactly something we can accept, because there is this big, this huge difference between Jesus and those other prophets. They might have been on earth and taught people about God, but they weren’t the Son of God, they weren’t the Messiah, the Savior as Jesus was, as Jesus is.
I contemplated if we should include all of the scripture from the lectionary today. I finally decided we would read it and think about it, but mostly I want to look at one question from the gospel, and without even going into the history of this question, I want us to think about the present fact of this question, as if Jesus had come into the building right here today, and we brought him up front to stand right here in the center of the stage and we listened to him ask us that one question. “Who do you say that I am?” I want us to think about this question for us personally, intently and seriously for our lives. Who do we say that Jesus is?
This passage starts with a story about how Jesus healed another blind man. There are lots of healing of blind, lame and deaf not to mention those with diseases and demons, so why do we need another story with this question? I think that Mark puts this story here, and the lectionary keeps it with this passage so we can understand that we need to open our eyes to who Jesus is. This particular healing story took two attempts before the man’s vision was corrected completely. There is an indication that the healing wasn’t perfect in the first attempt because of the man’s inability to fully believe in what or who Jesus was/is. “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter must have had a moment or perhaps a culmination of many moments when he was able to answer, “You are the Messiah.” But just a few verses later Jesus has to call Peter out and tell him to “get behind me Satan.” Peter believes who Jesus is, but he isn’t willing to allow Jesus to do what needs to be done to bring about the salvation for the world. Peter wants things to continue as they are; Peter isn’t willing to endure the hardship for Jesus or for himself. Peter knows who Jesus is; Peter believes in Jesus; Peter wants to follow Jesus, but he just isn’t willing to go that extra.
I have to admit before I start this next piece that I am a skeptic. I have more than one suspicious bone in my body, and I use them frequently. I won’t pick up a hitch-hiker because that is far too dangerous. And I certainly don’t want to be in a position where I need help from a stranger. I had a flat tire many, many years ago on 281 north of Aberdeen heading back to Jamestown, and I was so thankful that no one stopped to help me because I would rather change the tire myself than have to talk to someone who might not be trustworthy. I think I was scared silly at a very young age by my grandmother who refused to stop at a rest area because she said they are nothing but “hippie-traps” and all that would happen is someone would grab you when you went there.
All that aside, I am also somewhat suspicious when celebrities or professional athletes give interviews and thank God for their good fortune. They may be perfectly sincere and honest in their answer, but I am suspicious. I want to know why they are mentioning God and Jesus after a victory or an honor. I need to get over those thoughts; I need to understand that they are likely honoring their relationship with Christ.
I guess my main problem is that I have a hard time with the evangelistic/ no let me restate that, the over-zealous person, I won’t even say Christian, just over the top person who doesn’t just share their faith and belief but picks it up and shoves it at you like putting a pie in your face. To me there is this fine line big difference between a sincere Christian who is willing to share their relationship with Jesus, and the person who says you have to believe it the way they believe it, and there isn’t any other way to interpret or see it or understand. I can’t be that person. Yet when I look at the other part of this question I am concerned, I am worried that perhaps I need to get off my proverbial comfortable couch and away from behind this safe, secure pulpit because Jesus is asking me that other question and I don’t have an answer.
The second part of this question that Jesus asks is not printed in the lesson for today, but it is certainly implied. Question 1:“Who do you say that I am,” and question 2: “What are you going to do about it?” After Jesus rebuked the devil trying to work his way into the group through Peter, Jesus looked at the entire group of followers and he tells them what it will take to be his followers, to be his disciples. He says it to them and he is saying it to us today: Jesus says, (Read vs 34-38 again.)
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. [Note he says—their cross, not my cross.]
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.”
Jesus poses the question, but he also gives us the acceptable answer. He is letting us know in no uncertain terms that we are to not just believe, but to follow and to do what is asked of us: Take up their cross. Take up OUR cross. Those are some pretty big orders.
And the other piece that he gives us about being willing to lose our lives for the sake of the gospel. We are so lucky to be where we are in this world today. We should be thankful each and every day that our ancestors were willing to make the struggle to bring us to an area where we have the opportunity to be bodily safe and free from struggles, but that doesn’t get us off the hook. Just because we are here in this safe little town in South Dakota doesn’t mean that we can ignore what is happening around the world.
But what does it mean when he says lose our lives? With the acts of terror and the wars around the world, there are Christians losing their lives because of their beliefs. Today as we are worshiping here, more and more refugees are crossing borders trying to find safety. Christians not all, but Christians among those fleeing to other countries to try to find a better life, a safer life. All that they own in life is what they are able to carry with them on foot. They are giving up their lives, not physically in terms of life and death, but physically in terms of possession, safety, security, and certainly emotionally.
As I was sitting in front of my computer reading the news in my kitchen yesterday, in the middle of two batches of tomato canning (we did 13 quarts/figured I was 1 quart low). I looked up and contemplated all that was surrounding me. There wasn’t any room to set another thing on the counter. I was wondering what to eat and not because of lack of food, but because I was trying to decide which item to eat and what to let spoil because there is too much setting around to consume it all. We tried to stuff Paulina’s car as full of food as possible to share with Jessica and Tony and her, and we were told to quit. Jess said the pantry is full and they don’t need to eat like that. Our three cats have more cans of food setting on the counter than some people likely have.
I don’t think we have to worry or talk about answering: “Who do we think that Jesus is?” I think we need to think about the other question: “What are we going to do about it?” We need to think about who Jesus is for us today in our time in our culture and world. If Jesus is so important what can we do? What part of our lives are we willing to give up, to lose to be his follower, his disciple?
This isn’t an easy question: What are we willing to give up/to do to be the followers that Jesus asks us to be? I know that there is much more I can do, and I would like to challenge each of us to contemplate what it is we can do to answer that implied question. We know who Jesus is, but what will we do to share who he is, to show who he is, to live who he is? Food for thought…
Who do you say that I am? Amen!