Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Sermon starts at 22:18 in the recording
Apologies for the odd format of the video
Gospel: Mark 8:27-38
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ 28And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ 29He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
Afterthoughts: Identity Crisis
“How you know me?”
These were the first words I heard come from Kenny Bond.
I was new to Nevada City in 1978 and all the friends I made told me about this guy who rode a yellow Schwinn bike around town.
So when I saw the yellow bike, I instinctively said, “Hi Kenny!”
This prompted a response from him
that most everyone who has met Kenny could recite,
“How you know me?”
Kenny is a legend in this town.
People that have been away from Nevada County still talk about him.
There is a “Friends of Kenny Bond” group on FaceBook.
He is known.
Although Kenny is lacking cognitively,
he is still smart and has built many relationships around town.
Like, when his bike gets stolen,
the bike shops have taken care of him to get a new bike.
“How you know me?”
This past Sunday I spoke about identity.
Identity is important.
That’s what Jesus was getting at in the Gospel reading from Mark.
Jesus: “Who do people say I am?”
Disciples: “Maybe Moses, Elijah or some other prophet.”
Jesus: “Who do YOU say I am?”
Peter: “The Messiah.”
Jesus: “Yes. Now be quiet about that fact.”
Everyone in the history of the world: “What?”
Why would Jesus want His disciples to be quiet?
Because even though they knew He was Messiah,
They didn’t know what Messiah was meant to be.
This is evidenced by Peter taking Jesus aside and correcting Him on the whole, “I am going to be arrested and beaten and killed” thing.
If you remember from Sunday,
Messiah was expected to come
and claim the throne for Israel and rule in Jerusalem.
The Savior of this earthly kingdom.
But Jesus came to take the throne in heaven.
The Savior of God’s Kingdom.
This distinction was and is important.
Jesus was God.
He was sent by the Father to redeem that which had been lost.
He wasn’t sent to restore Israel’s earthly prominence.
It’s as if Jesus’ response to Peter’s statement of who He is gets answered,
“Do you really know who I am?”
And the disciples would get it.
Like, after Jesus had been crucified.
Even though they had seen all the evidence before them through miracles and teaching.
It all spoke of who He was.
And is still.
Which I said was important for us as His siblings on earth.
If we don’t understand who Jesus is,
Our witnessing through faith will be flawed.
People come to know God through those who profess faith in God.
So, it is important that we understand who He is
and what we are called to be.
Which brings me to the other readings from this past Sunday.
Particularly the epistle reading from James.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.James 3:1-12
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue– a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.”
This is a passage about witnessing to the faith.
This is a passage that speaks to how we can get sideways
And our identity be out of alignment with God’s purposes.
There is a phrase that I have heard many a time,
“They will know we are Christians by our love.”
I might add to that,
“They will know we are Christians by our speech.”
James knew that.
It’s why he is teaching about the dangers of speech.
About what we say.
About How we say it.
About who we say it to.
Our tongues are hard to tame.
Speaking can get us in trouble.
And this can malign the name of God;
Give an impression of who God is that is not true.
It can be damaging.
For the witness of the Church.
It’s why we groan when we see clips of southern pastors during the civil rights movement defend segregation.
It’s why we are shocked at the lack of words from the clergy in Germany during the rising of the Third Reich.
I would argue that we need to focus more on our own speaking.
What do we say about God by what we say?
Certainly during the last few years, many people of faith have said and written things that are simply contrary to the character of God.
The collective, cultural speech has been to take sides and belittle “the other.”
In the way we have moved through COVID.
To see it is disappointing.
It has all but canceled out any conversation about important things.
And this is in the Church.
Which means that God is getting portrayed in a way that is false.
Kind of like when Peter (and the rest of the disciples)
thought they knew what Messiah would be.
But, clearly, they did not.
I seem to remember Someone once saying,
“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called the children of God.”
Which is why I cringe when the words of a brother or sister are not oriented in this way. And when those words communicate something about God that is not very godly.
Because my hope is always that what we say
and how we say it
and who we say it to would be life giving.
And that through these life-giving words,
Others will be changed.
The others that we may disagree with.
The others that we may not completely understand.
The others for whom we have conflict with.
Those others who may come to our worship services.
It should break our hearts that what we say might turn someone off to God.
Through things like gossip.
Or unkind speech (speech that is not helpful).
Or “othering” (creating an “us vs them” dichotomy).
Or saying things like,
“You can’t possibly love God and __ (fill in the blank).
It would most helpful for us, as the Children of God,
To remember these other words from James’ letter,
“Let us be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry.”
Brothers and sisters,
Let us be the salt, light, hands and feet of God.
Let us remember that our identity is anchored in the God of the universe who has redeemed us, not on our own merits but on His work through the cross.
Let us pursue this life of faith with reckless abandon,
Allowing grace and mercy to pepper our journey.
Let us be a blessing to those around us.
Let us love and be loved,
By God and others.