Sunday, September 23, 2018

More than a Hearth: Who do You Say that He Is?

Who do you say that I am? Jesus asks. The Christian tradition has a multitude of illustrations Prince of Peace, Messiah,  the Lamb of God, Redeemer, Friend. Sometimes I extrapolate some of Jesus’ parable images into him. The hen with her tremendous wing gathering in her frightened chicks. The good shepherd, the playful baker. 

In our interim time prayer (to the right) I capitalized Great Delight and I thought about capitalizing hearth, because it felt to me like something divine. A life giving gathering place of warmth and joy and light. I don’t know If the sacred storyteller of Mark is having Jesus ask us that kind of a question. A feeling kind of a question. 

Who do you say that I am? The answer that Peter gives - You are the Messiah, which in Greek is the Christ, which means the anointed leader, is not denied, but you may have noticed, it is hushed. The expectations for a stunning come from behind victory against the oppression of Empire were dense and dangerous in Jesus’ era. Messiah is in some ways a call to arms. Mark’s core interest is named in the first line of the gospel. The beginning of the good news About Jesus Christ, God’s son. Son of God is Mark’s emphasis, and it is an expression that means the epitome of, the very image of God’s self. Peter’s answer of messiah Is not wrong, but isn’t completely right. 

This is still something we wrestle with. That may be why we need so many titles and names and metaphors. Who do you say that I am is a question about this quandary. But also an invitation to consider: how does Jesus change everything, how does he save? It is ultimately a question about why Jesus matters. Because thousands of people died on crosses at the hands of Empire. Plenty of people aave been radical revolutionaries and sacred healers and even astounding rabbi’s. But I don’t know any of them by name. 

It is the self-sacrificial servanthood of Jesus that turns everything upside down. It is the love that holds fast even as it is crushed by the weight of the beams and shamed by the terror of the cross. Mark isn’t a story you hear once and then you are done with it. Mark seems to intend that you hear it again and again, and find new revelations and clues each time. So the question 'Who do you say that I am?' Isn’t about memorized answers ao much as - do you get that this is not about a superhero swooping in and making everything easy? Jesus is many many things but it is his divine self-offering that changes everything. If you claim him as the Lord of your heart he will change the ears with which we hear the cries of every neighbor. 

It sort of drives me crazy when people talk about having a cross to bear for things that are trivial. 'I have to take the trash out' - is not a cross to bear. The cross to bear is the Gut twisting love of Jesus It is the courage of martyrs, it is the conviction of artists and authors and everyday Christians across time. My lovely images of a hen’s wing or a hearth are only part of the story. Most of the story of the Gospels is about this cross bearing. About this love that stumbled in shame under heavy beams through crowded streets. 

Taking up your cross should never be about accepting abuse nor being a dormat. Taking up your cross is following Jesus into the hardest places, Where he already is. It is daring to stand up to injustice even if it leads to the loss of everything. Who does Jesus say that he is: he says that he is the one for us. To hold to Jesus as the messiah - the Christ - means to let ourselves be found in the company he would keep. He is your savior not because he is yours but because you are his. Jesus is the one who is for us. He gives us not magic tricks or exchange rates but himself. 

Who is Jesus to you is the kind of question that comes up often in ministerial job interviews. I am not sure it is something that most of you have been asked. So I wonder - who do you say that Jesus is? If you haven’t ever been asked that before - give it some time but spend some time with the question. Journal or craft or research your response. 

Another way to consider the question is this If the only way that someone knew Jesus was through the words and actions of Grace Church - what would they know? Furthermore, what does it mean that the name of this place and congregation is grace? Grace is both profound and subtle. It is many things but all of them are impactful, felt, known. What does the name of Grace say about who Grace is called to be? Called to be in Jesus name? I trust that to hold to jesus as Messiah - the Christ means to let ourselves be found in the company he would keep. 

He is our savior not because he is ours. But because we are his. Hear him ask you The question once more: Who do you say that I am?

September 16, 2018

Grace Episcopal Church

Pemberton, New Jersey

Proper 19 RCLB Track 1

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