In Mark, Jesus routinely erupts onto the scene, says and does amazing things, and then disappears as suddenly as he arrived. As Mark tells Jesus’ story, it is easy to imagine people scratching their heads in wonder after Jesus leaves, and asking each other, “Who was that masked man?”
That is the great question of Mark. And in our gospel reading for this morning, that is the question Jesus asks his disciples. It has two parts. First, who do other people say that I am? And, more importantly, who do you say that I am?
According to the disciples, people are puzzled by Jesus. They know Jesus speaks and acts with the power of God. But they don’t know quite what to make of him. Maybe Jesus is John the Baptist, or maybe the great prophet Elijah, or maybe one of the other prophets.
On this first question—who do others say that Jesus is—we have the great advantage of two thousand years of tradition. If Jesus were to ask us who people say that he is, we could give a better answer than his disciples did that day.
We could say, “Jesus, our creed teaches us that you are God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” We could say, “our Scriptures teach us that you are the very Word of God who took flesh in order to dwell among us.” We could say, “our Scriptures also tell us that you are Immanuel, which means God with us.”
We could say a lot of things because our tradition is rich with ways to talk about who Jesus is. It is important that we learn from our tradition what it has to teach us about Christ.
But in our gospel reading, Jesus doesn’t leave it there. Jesus makes it personal. And you, Jesus says to his disciples, who do you say that I am?
Peter tries to answer, and he gets it partly right, and he struggles a bit. But the challenge of this passage is not in what Peter says. The challenge is to answer the question for ourselves.
I say what you probably know. It is not easy! I spent the first few days of this week working on it, without much success. And I do this for a living!
But Jesus asks the question. Worse still, Jesus asks the question in public! Peter tried to take Jesus aside to talk about it privately. Jesus will have none of it. Jesus forces Peter to speak in front of the other disciples. Then Jesus calls over a big crowd.
I take that to mean not only that we have to think about who Jesus is for us, but we have to share our answer with other people. Rough!!
Our diocese is trying to encourage us. As I hope most of you know by now, the diocese is sponsoring a revival this year. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is coming for the big event on October 21. I hope some of you will go to hear him, and I hope you will let your friends and family know about it.
But the real gift and real challenge of this revival year is not the opportunity to hear Bishop Curry preach, exciting though he is. The real gift and challenge of this revival year is working on our own answers to the question in our gospel reading for this morning: who do we say that Jesus is? How do we say, in our own words, what Jesus means to us? And then, how can we share with other people what Jesus means to us?
As I say, I was stuck at the beginning of the week. Thankfully, I got a little help at a clergy gathering last Thursday. At one of our sessions, the leader invited us to think about the question from our gospel reading—who is Jesus for me? She told us to be concrete, to tell a story about Jesus in our lives. To help us get started, she asked us, when did you feel welcomed in love?
When she put it that way, it was easy for me. For three days, I had been thinking about who Jesus is for me in the abstract, and I hadn’t gotten anywhere. But in two seconds, I could think of a time when I had been welcomed in love. I thought about my introduction to Saint David’s, almost exactly seven years ago.
Carrie and I had just moved to Massachusetts from Georgia. We were happy to be here. But leaving Georgia was hard, particularly for me. We had roots in Georgia. We had a community in Georgia. I didn’t have that in Massachusetts.
And then I came here. You welcomed me into this community of faith. You gave me a place. You became my people, my Massachusetts people. I am never going to cheer for New England sports teams. But, with that notable exception, Massachusetts has become my home, and that is because Saint David’s has become my home.
What I experienced here at Saint David’s even in those first weeks was the love of Christ. I continue to experience Christ’s love when we gather for worship or Bible study, but also when we gather for a picnic or a sixties party.
So what does Jesus mean to me?
Jesus means being a part of the community of faith here at Saint David’s. Jesus means having brothers and sisters all around the world, wherever I might go. Jesus means knowing I am part of something bigger than myself, that I am joined with other people and we are together part of something bigger than all of us. Jesus means being loved as soon as I show up, long before I have earned it.
That love, the love we share as God’s people, is the love of Christ. It is the love of Christ who brings us into right relation with God, who helps us to let go of our guilt and our shame, who helps us overcome our fears, who enables us to rest in God’s enduring grace and love. It is the love of Christ that makes it possible for us to love each other.
Christ’s love flows through us, who are the body of Christ. We block up that love in all kinds of ways all the time, of course. And yet, Christ’s love keeps flowing. And surprisingly often, we are able to share that love with each other and with a hurting world. That is what I found here at Saint David’s. That is what everyone longs to experience.
At clergy day, I told my small group partners a short version of that. And it felt really wonderful to share that bit of my story with them.
But there is nothing unique about my story. We have all been touched by Christ’s love.
And so this week, I invite you to think about that. Who do you say that Christ is? When and where you have experienced love? That is Christ at work. And then, if you can, share your story.
But for now, I give thanks to God for the love of Christ that sustains us, that brings us here, and that will accompany us wherever we go. And I pray that we can recognize that love for what it is and share it with people who need it.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.