Wednesday, September 21, 2011

When God Asks the Questions: who do you say that I am?

I am quite late this week in joining with Michelle at her lovely "Graceful" blog, hooking into her weekly invitation to "Hear It on Sunday/Use It on Monday." And the soli deo gloria sisterhood at Jen's blog, "Finding Heaven," where the community is thriving. I'm late because we left CA this a.m. on a 12-day trip, landing in Nashville tonight for a 5 day stay with some long-time friends. Then to San Antonio for 3 days of sight-seeing, then to Laity Lodge for the writer's retreat there and home again on Sunday, October 2. 

As always, the ideas you find here spring directly from the pastor's fine preaching, sifted through my memory and life experience. This week, Don Johnson brought the word.

We jumped to the New Testament on Sunday, to the 8th chapter of Mark - the very center of this gospel. Up to this point, the rapid story-telling of Mark has been focused on the things Jesus did in his ministry; now the focus zeroes in on who Jesus IS. He gives the disciples a bit of a mid-term exam at this point, asking them a string of difficult questions, most of them centered around this idea: "Hey, do you guys get it yet?" 

The question under the spotlight this week is actually about question #11 in this chapter - most of them indicating a bit of impatience, even annoyance. There is an all-too-familiar feel to this line of questioning, leading to a rather paradoxical conclusion: those who profess to know Christ the most often significantly misunderstand him. 


Have you seen this happen to others? To yourself? A developing rigidity of thought, a desire to keep God in a box of our own design? If so, then this question is of central importance to you. The answer might well determine the trajectory of your entire life:

Who do you say that I am?
Holy and anointed One.
Risen and exalted One.
"Honey on my lips."
"Water to my soul."
A lamp unto my feet.
A strong and mighty tower.
A shelter like no other.
My light.
My salvation.
God's only Son.
Binder of broken hearts.
Counselor of the confused.
"I will be who I will be"
These are some of the names for God we offered in worship this past Sunday - 
 in song, in prayer, in scripture.
But the question of the hour truly remains:
"Who do YOU say that I am?"
As Jesus began to ask his closest followers about what they were learning 
about him,
about the kingdom of God,
about the purpose of the life they've been living with him,
he asked first:
Who do PEOPLE say that I am?
And the disciples were at the ready with some great answers!
"Some say John the Baptist,
some say Elijah,
and still others, one of the prophets."
Not bad, right?
A prophet, a teacher, a powerful speaker of truth, 
one who calls others to repentance.

Jesus pushes in a little harder, doesn't he?
"So...who do you say that I am, friends?"
As he is often prone to do,
Jesus gets up-close-and-personal,
cutting to the chase,
and putting his friends on the hot-seat.
And Peter - bless him! - Peter
has a moment of astounding insight,
a rare ability to immediately 
come up with the best of all  
possible answers to that question!
"You are the Messiah!"
The chosen one,
the anointed one,
the one sent by God,
the one promised of old,
the one with true authority,
the one who shows us God.

In that moment of divinely inspired speech,
Peter lays it out there.
You, Jesus - you are the ONE.

But here is the rest of that reality:
Peter - and the others with him -
do not yet understand what it means to give Jesus this title.
Their ideas of "Messiah" are miles away 
from who Jesus truly is,
why Jesus came to this earth.
They haven't a clue what is coming for him - and for them.

So, from here on in Mark's gospel,
Jesus is very intentional about showing them,
teaching them, living with them, modeling for them
what God's Messiah looks like.

And they don't like it.
Not one little bit.

Suffering is coming?
Ah no, Jesus, that can't be right!
Peter - the very one who spoke such beautiful truth - 
  pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him!
And that's when the famous line,
"Get thee behind me, Satan!" 
flies from Jesus' lips as he looks at his disciples, 
focusing particularly on Peter.

A cross?
And an empty tomb?
Nah, Jesus - that's just lousy marketing!
Let's jazz it up a little, talk about defeating those Romans,
create a high profile.

And Jesus will have none of it!
"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves 
 and take up their cross and follow me."

Jesus wants so much more from us than pretty words and classy titles. 
 He wants so much more than pat answers, 
 attendance at weekly worship services, 
paying of a regular tithe.
He asks faithful, thoughtful discipleship.
Openness to the brokenness of this world.
An embrace of the difficult and the troublesome.
A willingness to make the hard choice because it is the right choice.
A desire to go deep,
deep in the Word,
deep in prayer,
deep in service,
deep in devotion.
No matter what. 

 Because that's what he did.

He lived a life of prayer, 
he left healing and wholeness in his wake, 
he came to show us how to live outside the box,
and inside the fellowship of the Triune God, 
connected at a soul level with others 
who are on the same road.
Jesus came to be our Savior, oh yes, he did.
But Jesus also came to be our Lord.
To be the one who counsels us on how we
spend our time
spend our money
spend our lives.

So, I guess the question to me (and to you) is this:
are we willing to step both outside and inside with Jesus?
Outside the box we too often build around our understanding   
of who he is and what he asks of us,
and inside the eternal fellowship of our God,
 learning what it means 
to wrestle it out,
to lean hard into life,
to take the teaching of Jesus, 
the living of Jesus,
the suffering of Jesus,
the rising of Jesus,
the intercession of Jesus at the right hand of God,
all of it! -
to take all of it, embrace it with abandon,
smile inwardly and shout loudly,
"Ah, yes, THIS, this is living."

Who do we say that he is?