Who Am I?

(Proper 19B, Mark 8.27-38, James 2.1-18)

September 17, 2006

 

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “But what about you:  Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8.29 - NIV)

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A couple of weeks ago, there was a message on our telephone recorder when we got home after work.  I recognized the name of the caller as an old high school acquaintance.  And the message was: Hi, this is Judy, and I am trying to reach the Paul Wehner that went to Spring Woods High School and married Sherry Smith.  If this is the right number, then please call me back so I can tell you about our high school reunion. 

Well, that is the Paul Wehner that I am.  so I called her back and sure enough, Sherry and I will be going to our 40th high school reunion this Saturday.  But now that it is only a few days away, I am not at all sure why we are going.  I suddenly feel like I look very old and fat.  And I am not looking forward to facing a large room full of people that last saw me when I was 20 years younger and 20 pounds lighter.

About the only two reasons that I can come up with to go are, 1) I suppose that everyone else will be in the same boat, and 2) I have a beautiful wife, so at least the guys will be fairly envious of me.

But still, trying to guess who these people are; and trying not to blurt out Stinky when I figure out which one is Steve; or Fat Pat when I find Patricia will also be difficult (and those were two of the nicer nicknames that I remember.) 

After all, I knew who these folks were a long time ago, but I really don’t know who they are now.

But what I do know is that my night is going to be filled with a whole lot of old people coming up to me and asking the all important question, “Who do you say that I am?”

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Who do you say that I am?  Well, at least I won’t have as much riding on my answer to that question as Peter did.

But actually, ole Peter got the question right, didn’t he?

You are the Messiah was the correct answer.  Peter did name Jesus as the Son of Man.

However, as Jesus began to tell the disciples what that meant.  How he would undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the religious authorities, and be killed, and then rise again, Peter is aghast.

That was not what Peter meant when he said, you are the Messiah.  He may have been quick to name Jesus as the Messiah, but he had something very specific in mind.  He was thinking of the previous anointed ones of Israel: men like Moses, Joshua, and King David.  Men that led the people of Israel to glory on the battlefields.  After all, Peter had always been taught that when things finally got bad enough, God would send a Messiah to literally free God’s people.

But Jesus says, you have the right word, but the wrong understanding.  I did not come to do again what has already been done before.  I come with a new covenant.  The world will not accept me, yet I will be faithful to my calling and to my Father in heaven.  And I will teach you how to do the same.  Peter, you are thinking in human terms; you need to instead think in divine terms. 

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Like Peter, I am also prone to define Jesus with terms and ideas that are familiar to me.  In my mind, I see him as the perfect person.  As the shepherd who never loses a sheep.  As the always patient teacher.  As the one who kneels down to receive the little children.  Or the one who looks out for those that are the forgotten ones of society. 

And I am sure that Jesus would listen to all of my wonderful words about his messiah-ship and shake his head and say to me, “Get behind me, Satan!” 

“Those are nice thoughts and all, but the fact is that there is a cost to discipleship.  And that cost may be your life.”

Jesus tells the disciples and tells us – that we are trying too hard to work things out on our own terms.  Jesus says very clearly to his disciples – deny yourselves; deny yourselves, take up your cross and get behind me.  Follow me. 

Deny yourselves.  In other words, sacrifice some priorities, give up some worldly values, some creature comforts, so that you might better serve your Lord and others around you. 

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Self-denial and sacrifice – carrying a cross? 

Those are not fun to think about are they?  Just like Peter, my humanity often gets in the way of my discipleship when it comes to sacrifice.  But there is no denying what Jesus is saying to us this morning.

That is that a life in Christ is not necessarily an easy life. 

Jesus tells us this morning that our purpose is to follow him.  And to put away all of the things that keep us from him.  To deny ourselves and follow him.

Carrying the cross of Christ is means being committed to him and being clear about where we stand.  Christ chose to bear the cross of death rather than compromise or give into the fear of pain or death. 

For us, it also means no compromise and no fear.  Our faith – our commitment to Christ - sets us free to be different – to say NO to the temptations of the world.  Free to change our lives to look more like him.  And if others do not see Christ in us – if our lives do not appear any different than those who don’t believe – then we are not carrying the cross very well, or very high, are we? 

If all we do is church on Sunday, then our cross is dragging in the dirt behind us.  Carrying the cross means holding it high enough for others to see that we mean what we say we believe.  Jesus says,

Those who are ashamed of me and of my words . . . . . of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed.” 

Picking up our cross and following Jesus Christ means devoting ours lives to the purpose of serving Christ.  And doing so out in the world, not in private. 

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Lives dedicated to the purpose of serving Christ.  Thinking about that reminds me of the best selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, by Pastor Rick Warren.  I looked at his website yesterday to see how he would describe this life devoted to serving God that Jesus is talking about. 

Actually, his church is so big, that there are multiple websites, but on one of them, I found an invitation to make a personal statement to commit my life to God’s purpose for me.  And that statement of commitment included the following:

Because this life is preparation for the next, I will value worship over wealth, “we” over “me,” character over comfort, service over status, and people over possessions, position, and pleasures.  I know what matters most, and I’ll give it all I’ve got. I’ll do the best I can with what I have for Jesus Christ today.

Let’s think about those tests of a Christ committed life.  Do you value,

Worship over wealth?

We over me?

Service over status?

People over possessions and personal pleasure?

And do you strive every day to keep the main thing, the main thing in your life?  I think I might keep that list by my bed and ask myself each evening how I did. 

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In his book, Warren also says this about a purpose driven life:

“We serve God by serving others.  The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige and position.  If you can demand service from others you’ve arrived.  In our self serving culture with its ‘me first’ mentality, acting like a servant is not a popular concept.”

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But that is what God asks us to do.

Jesus says it plainly.  Pick up your cross.  Deny yourself and do as I have shown you to do.

And of course, our reading from James tells us again this Sunday that faith in God will always be manifested in good works for others. 

Last Sunday, we talked about our upcoming outreach opportunities at Grace.  And many of you have signed up for one or more of our projects this Fall.  Those lists are on the table in the back of the church for you to look at and consider. 

November 6-11: we are going with St. Christopher in League City to clean out houses in New Orleans (and not just men; women also)

Sunday before Thanksgiving: Our third annual Neighborhood feast.

Friday night, December 8th: We host Lessons and Carols for the community at large.

Sunday evening, December 17th: We have invited the women of ADA House to come for Christmas dinner.

We over me.

Service over status.

People over possessions.

The life of the cross.

Amen.