Mark 8:27-38 • “Trying to Be Someone Else is Not Who You Are.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
Let’s take a minute and try something. I’d like us to tell someone in worship today who we are. Or at least, who we think we are. I know that this is a Lutheran church, so I’m asking you to do something that is WAY outside of what is supposed to happen during a Lutheran worship service, but most of you should know by now that I’m going to do it anyway. I invite you to stand and walk around for a few seconds. Get up and go to 2 or 3 people and tell them who you are.
Very good. Thank you for that. You can go ahead and have a seat. I’m going to try and guess what just happened. Some of you made the decision not to leave the seat you are keeping warm. Some of you did stand and greet people and maybe even shared your name – first name only of course. A few of you probably described who you are by sharing what you do – I’m a teacher or a cook may be what you said. A few of you went a bit deeper and maybe said that you are a father or mother; a sister or student. My guess is that none of you said that you were the Messiah. And I would also guess that only a very few of you said that you were a child of God or even more directly, a follower of Jesus Christ. I could be wrong, but that’s my guess.
Our gospel reading today from Mark comes at a pivotal point in his telling of Jesus’ story. In what literally is the midway point in this first gospel, Jesus begins to shift the focus in his ministry from that of doing things – like healing and feeding – to that of identification. In particular identification that points him directly to the cross. It is the first time in Mark’s gospel that Jesus offers insight into his future – “That the Son of Man must undergo great suffering,” as verse 31 states strongly. That is the opposite of who the disciples have just told Jesus he is. They have just finished glorifying him with descriptions that would inflate even the most humble of egos.
You see, the exchange between Jesus and his disciples at the beginning of today’s gospel reading seems harmless enough. Jesus and the boys are walking along and he says, “Who do people say that I am?”. In other words who do others in the places that they have been, in the communities that they have already visited to this point in their journey say that he is? Remember, the Jewish community knows the scripture well. The disciples’ responses support that.
Then Jesus presses a little further. “Who do you say that I am?” You, who are my closest friends, who am I to you? Our text doesn’t tell us everything that is said in answering this question, but Peter doesn’t seem to bat an eye at saying that Jesus is the Messiah. This is the first time in Mark’s gospel that this claim has been made. Jesus is the Messiah.
You would think that the next thing to do would be to go everywhere you possibly can and proclaim Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. The Son of Man as Mark calls Jesus. To shout it out from every mountain top and valley and street corner.
But Jesus tells them to do something that is completely opposite of what the disciples think they should do. Jesus sternly orders them to tell nobody. The disciples can’t tell their families. They can’t tell people in the neighborhoods that they have already been to that have seen firsthand Jesus’ healing and feeding. Jesus sternly, as verse 30 points out, orders them to not tell anyone about him.
Maybe that’s part of the struggle we have. We are so eager to tell others about Jesus that we often fail to say anything. When Jesus asks us who he is, he’s not asking us to give him some fancy new title in order to inflate his ego a bit more, he’s asking us to lose our lives. To put aside all that distracts us in life. To see firsthand that God is present in all that we say and do and are. To not be ashamed to follow this Jesus who is headed to the cross.
This past week, I walked with two families as the life in this world of dear loved ones came to an end. By simply being together in the final moments of life in this world for these beloved children of God, we experienced rest in the sure and certain hope that death is not the final answer in our identity as children who belong to God and God alone.
At the beginning of this week, pastors from across the western North Dakota Synod, including Pastor Tim and I, gathered in Medora to wrestle with the incredible change that North Dakota continues to experience and what role congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America may serve in that change. I don’t think you’ll be seeing any Lutheran pastors handing out bibles or holding tent revival meetings in the oil field anytime soon, but you will see thousands of Lutherans laying down their life in order to support affordable housing projects that Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota is developing in that part of our state. Lutheran Social Services is the largest nonprofit organization addressing affordable housing issues that struggling families are facing in the oil field today.
On Wednesday evening Good Shepherd celebrated the beginning of another year of confirmation and church school. Through ministries like these we learn that life in Christ is a never-ending journey. A never-ending discovery that by losing our lives we don’t need to prove to God that we are successful enough or good enough or smart enough in order to experience his love in communities of faith.
On Thursday I was invited to preside at a renewal of vows ceremony for a couple that celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this week. Through scripture and prayer; family gathered and a renewed commitment of love between two people – we witnessed a delicate moment that caused all of us to lay down everything that had consumed us that day and celebrate the love that God has for us in relationship with other people.
Needless to say, the question that has been on my mind and heart a lot this week is, “who am I?” That’s a great question isn’t it? Who are you?
In addition to having a cool last name, philosopher, theologian, and doctor Albert Schweitzer once wrote, “Jesus comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside. He came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow me!’ and sets us to tasks, which he has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts and the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and, as a ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who He (Jesus) is.” [Quest for the Historical Jesus, McMillon Press, 1945, pg. 403]
Brothers and sisters in Christ, take up your cross and lose your life for the sake of your savior Jesus Christ this week. Experience who he is and never forget who you are. A follower of the risen savior Jesus Christ. A child of God. Amen.
- Mark 8:27-38 “Who Do You Say that I Am” JUMC 20120916 (mysundaysermons.com)
- Jesus the Christ, the Son of Man, and the Suffering Servant (insightscoop.typepad.com)