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Date:9/16/18

Series: Ordinary TIme

Category: 2018 Sermons

Passage: Mark 8:27-38

After Morgan was born, John and I began attending first United Methodist Church in Portland Oregon. Most of our time at that church is a bit of a blur to me now, with the exception of one meeting. I brought Morgan with me to the Pastor’s office and Morgan wiggled around on my lap as I said something like; “I’ve always been comfortable with God and Spirit, but I’ve never really gotten Jesus.” At that point in my life Jesus was a name spoken by people who pounded their fists on pulpits, warning people to be saved. The name came with a kind of warning label that didn’t fit my experience of an all loving God, so I had never been able to reconcile the two. 

In this morning’s scripture, Jesus starts by asking the disciples, Who do people say that I am? What are you hearing about me? When I walked into the Pastors office, it was if I was answering that question, here’s what people are saying, here’s what I’m witnessing about how others are using that name. It was expressed with power and confidence. And what I had witnessed was an exclusion. Exclusion of all the people who didn’t believe as they did, those people were to go to hell, the rest would be saved. That wasn't all I knew about Jesus, but those voices were the prominent ones, making their way into media, into stories and books, and I wanted no part of it. Fast forward today. That’s what we face. There’s a lot of lousy theology out there. And maybe that’s why the better question, is the second question Jesus asks. Who do you say that I am…Who do you, the ones who have been living with me, walking with me, sharing meals, the ones witnessing miracles…A lot has happened in the eight Chapters of Mark’s Gospel, So the question to those who have been in intimate witness of all that’s happened is different from those who have heard about it, “Who do you say that I am?” 

It’s a much better question. And at 30, I was just beginning to ask the question.  I couldn't answer it. But at 8 years old I would have.. Before all the voices of the world entered in, I was pretty clear. By 8 years old I had received my first holy communion, Jesus was God’s son. That was all I needed to know then, and I would call him up on the imaginary telephone next to my bed, cause my parents wouldn't let me have a real phone, Stephanie Issler had a real phone… so I’d call and say…, Hello God, it’s Nicole I’d like to speak with Jesus now. And I can’t tell you what we talked about, I don’t remember. But we talked. At around 8. Eventually, we left the Catholic church, and I left behind my imaginary telephone and my relationship as I knew it with Jesus ended. Fast forward to that meeting with the Pastor in Portland, and I can only tell him about the Jesus I didn’t want to know based on what other people are saying about him…and the Pastor, said this; 

“Ask for Jesus to reveal Himself to you and He’ll do the rest. All you have to do is ask.”

He might as well have been speaking to the 8-year-old child who would call up and ask to speak to him. Just ask. What the pastor knew but didn’t say, was that we come to know Jesus through our experience of living with him.

So how many of us are living with him? Asking him to reveal himself to us. Are we, as disciples, in a relationship with him, listening for him, eating with him, following him, being with him and allowing the many questions we have to be gateways into our imaginations, not because imagination is a form of pretend, but because imagination leads us to universal truths unleashed through stories. And this, our greatest and most revealing story of God in Christ, is the foundation for our lives as Christians. Not because we have answers, but because through the story of Jesus, his life, his death, and his resurrection… moves us towards each other- into ways of being both human and divine, allowing us to live together into possibility and hope, exposing our frailty, but deepening our interdependence. That’s what will save us, and it lives in the story of Jesus Christ. 

SO who do you say that he is? Maybe the best way to answer that question, and maybe all the questions when it comes to God, is to ask a question in return. 

How we relate to God, our theology shapes our lives. So how we live into this question of who Christ is in our lives, lives itself out in everything we do, every way we think, and all the ways we show up in our relationships, both personal and worldly. 

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There’s a story about WC Fields. One day someone walked in on him in his dressing room and found him reading a Bible. Everyone knew that the bible was not his usual reading material. And Fields was embarrassed two be caught with it, so he turned to his visitor and said, I was just looking to see if there are any loopholes.” 

I imagine that’s what Peter was doing when Jesus revealed God’s plan. First Peter had an answer to the question. A definitive, end of conversation kind of answer that we all have as well. Like the 8-year-old child that learns in Sunday school, Jesus is the son of God, the Messiah. We have to believe that because how else could we sing Handel’s Messiah at Easter?

But Jesus says, don't tell anyone. This shroud of secrecy in Mark is a reminder that Jesus has a plan. It’s not time yet to reveal what Peter has said, the disciples have to wait. Mark’s gospel has a lot of that. Waiting, in fact, happens all over the Bible. And our liturgical seasons include waiting, waiting in Advent, in lent, in the wilderness, at the cross….There’s still so much that has to happen before we get to sing Handel’s Messiah on Easter. Jesus lays out the plan, one that includes suffering, rejection, and death. And Peter has a different plan in mind… he’s looking for a loophole. Peter just hailed him as the great messiah and is probably feeling a little embarrassed and maybe pulls Jesus aside; Jesus, what are you doing? You are the Messiah, the anointed one, who will deliver us from an oppressive empire. We’ll get you a stallion and some purple robes and crown you king. 

And then this, and this is maybe my favorite part because it’s one of those human moments of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t calmly correct Peter, or sit him down and give him a history lesson on Isaiah’s prophecy about the suffering servant… 

He yells at Peter. And I can’t think of a harsher thing to say back then, but get behind me Satan. If I tried to come up with today’s equivalent of harsh things to say to your good friend when you got really mad, I’d be fired. For Jesus, to be like Satan is setting our minds on worldly things, human things, not divine ones. 

How many times do we fail at that? If you’re like me, all the time. How many times in our lives, do we get it backward caring about things that at the end of our life hold no value. 

Life is tough, suffering is built into the design. Jesus knows that. Peter hasn’t quite wrapped his head around it. So Jesus continues this time to those around him. 

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 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.

David Lose (one our Bible study go to’s says this) 

We need to slow down a minute here, because we all too often view Jesus’ language of cross-bearing and denial through the lens of Weight Watchers. You know, have a little less of the things you like, don’t over indulge in the things that make you happy, cut enjoyment calories whenever possible because they’re not finally, I don’t know, Christian. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about at all. I think instead he’s suggesting that the “life” that has been packaged and sold to us (in our culture) isn’t real life and we need to die to those illusions to be born into the abundant life God wants for us. 

Here’s the thing: we tend to think that life is something you go out and get, or earn, or buy, or win. But it turns out that life is like love, it can’t be won or earned or bought, only given away. And the more you give it away, the more you have. In fact….– only when you love others do you most understand what love really is. Likewise, only when you give away your life for the sake of others do you discover it. Somehow in thinking about how to fulfill others needs your own deepest needs are met. Call this the mystery of life and the key to the kingdom of God.

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That is what lives at the center of our life. The man, the son of God, the one who gave up his life for the love of humanity, for the love of what we can be if only we would realize it. God begins it, asks it of us, but it’s up to us to realize it. Just ask for him to reveal himself to you and he will do the rest.

~~~

The man who taught me that, the Pastor whose office I entered that day had a name. His name was rev Laron Hall and he knew first hand what kind of abandons life Christ calls us into. Diagnosed with aids in the 80’s Laron lived most of his life as a Minister in a kind of fear filled hell, afraid that as a Gay Pastor he would be stripped of his ordination because the UMC had a policy against it. But eventually, years after his diagnosis, Laron stopped hiding and it changed his preaching and his life. Some left the church, but others rallied around him, and in his book, Titled No Darkness at All, he wrote this towards the end of his life; (and hold in your mind's eye, Jesus, who asks who do you say that I am)

I have tried to explain to several people in the last few weeks what life is like for me right now. And I have to admit that these are the worst of times. I’d give almost anything not to be going through them. But this is the wonder and the beauty; these past few weeks have been the best of times, the very best. I’ve told people that and some look at me as if I were speaking in riddles.  But some nod their heads in understanding.  They know, from their own experience, what I mean. They know how the sovereignty of God is made known in those desert places of the soul, how raging fears are soothed so mysteriously, how comfort that is so much greater than sorrow comes to ease the heart. It is still a wonderful world because it’s in God’s hands and blessings break in the stormiest times.  

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Jesus is that blessing….and he is still asking….Who do you say that I am…He’s not finished asking, and we should never be finished answering as we live with him and die with him. His words shape our lives, his story becomes our story as we listen for him. 

Just ask…He’ll do the rest. 

Amen.