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Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Who Do You Say I Am?

There is a story about a Lutheran minister, a Catholic priest and an Anglican priest who dies and arrived at the Pearly Gates at the same time. When they arrived, St. Peter was on his lunch break, so Jesus was on duty at the Pearly Gates. He decided to test the three men of the cloth, so he asked them, “Who do you say I am?” The Lutheran minister was first in line, so he spoke up first and said, “The Bible says…” Jesus interrupted him and said, “I don’t care what the Bible says. Who do YOU say I am?” The Lutheran minister replied,”I don’t know…” Now the minister was standing on a trap door, so when Jesus pulled a lever, the door opened up, and the Lutheran minister was on his way to hell.

The Catholic priest was next, and when Jesus asked him, “Who do you say I am?” the Catholic priest replied, “The Pope says…”  Jesus interrupted him and said, “I don’t care what the Pope says. Who do YOU say I am?” The Catholic priest replied, “I don’t know…” Jesus pulled the same lever, the door opened, and the Catholic priest was on his way to hell. The Anglican priest stepped up and Jesus asked him the same question. The Anglican priest replied, “You are the Christ”. Jesus was very pleased, so he threw open the Pearly Gates. When the Anglican priest started to step forward, he said, “But on the other hand…” 

You have to feel sorry at times for Peter. His intentions are often for the best, but like most people he often ends up putting his foot in his mouth. For example, he cut off a man’s ear with a sword when he tried to prevent Jesus’ arrest before his crucifixion. He also wanted to build houses when he saw Moses, Elijah and Christ together on the mountain at Christ’s Transfiguration. When Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Peter did the right thing when he said “You are the Christ”, but when Jesus mentioned his upcoming trials and crucifixion, Peter tried to rebuke Jesus for what he said. Peter’s intentions were noble, but he was ignorant about what it really means to be a Christian.

Like many of us, Peter didn’t really understand the true nature of Christ’s kingdom. Knowing Jesus is key to understanding the Gospels. Ignorance about what it really means to be a Christian is a second, central key to Mark’s Gospel. When Christ asks us to take up our cross and follow him, we have to be prepared to pay the price just like he did. We must be prepared to face scorn, ridicule, ostracism, etc. We must be prepared to embrace the will of God, whatever it may be and whenever he decides to reveal his will. When we become a Christian and take up our cross, we must do four things:

1.      Embrace Christ voluntarily

2.      Renounce all prejudices, sins, etc.

3.      Submit willingly to Christ’s will

4.      Be faithful, even unto death

Mark’s view is that knowing Jesus is important, just like it is for us. It allows us to trust him, to transform our way of thinking, to tell others about Christ and to take our identity from him. Our faith in God and our belonging to Jesus Christ are the foundation of our comfort, strength and courage to face the battles of this world.

God doesn’t promise a life free of suffering, trouble, problems, persecution or danger. These forces can and often do bring us pain and suffering, but when we endure them in faith for Christ, he will be with us always, for as Paul wrote in Romans 8:39, “…neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus”. No one knows why God allows suffering and pain, but we do know that when we believe in him by faith, he identifies with our suffering, because Christ suffered and died for our sins. If we believe in him and acknowledge him as Christ, He will give us strength in times of need, even to the point of carrying us through the deep, dark valleys of life. 

Our answer to the question, “Who do you say I am?” can reveal our struggle as to what it means to be part of a Christian community of faith. If we answer, “You are the Christ” like Peter did, our answer reveals two things:

1.      A view of a life of compassion and justice as a vivid experience

2.      A deep trust in God through Christ

Our lives have to be lost so that they might be saved. Preoccupation with saving life is a sure way to lose it. Fulfillment is found in denial of ourselves. Doctrinal knowledge of Christ is not enough to save our lives. We need to have a personal encounter with, and a vivid experience of, the crucified and risen Lord. This only happens when we receive the spirit of the Lord. Belief is necessary to know Jesus. We have to accept his words by faith. Jesus asks us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him. His suffering led to God’s peace. Anyone who refuses to suffer for doing God’s will loses the very life they cherish. Those who willingly suffer for his sake will save their eternal life and soul.

Jesus was the model of courage. He had the courage to face a difficult task of suffering, rejection, death and resurrection. He is the source of our courage and competence when we believe in him by faith. Christianity is also the means by which courage is demonstrated. Christian courage seeks opportunities to put life and faith on the line. Christians have the courage to always seek loads or crosses to carry. Christian courage also means fighting the desire to avoid pain. Pain is sometimes necessary in order to follow Christ. Change is necessary and sometimes painful, and often involves short term pain for long term gain, but the process can and often does result in something bigger and better that fits in with God’s plan.

Christian courage also means accepting the power God gives us to change the world. When we accept him as Christ, we are called by God to live as people who can make an impact on others by spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. When we use the gifts he gives us to make a difference in the lives of our families, friends, communities, churches, schools or community groups, we are showing Christ’s love while at the same time acknowledging that Jesus really and truly is ‘the Christ”.

German theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer is a good example. He was a Christian dissident in Nazi Germany. He was tired of both Nazi persecution and colleagues who compromised with Nazi philosophy. He decided to go to the United States to escape the Nazis, but he returned when he believed that God called him to be involved in the reconstruction of Germany once the Nazis were defeated. He felt that he could not take part in the process unless he shared the trials of the people-just like Christ shared our trials during his lifetime. Dietrich Bonheoffer paid the ultimate price when he was hung from the gallows at the Flossenberg concentration camp-just like Christ paid the ultimate price on the cross.

This story reminds us that our struggles with ourselves are often more dramatic than our confrontations with others. We are designed in the image of Christ, but we are also marred by the stain of the original sin in the Garden of Eden. We are often torn between our desire to obey God’s will and our own human weaknesses. The only way this struggle will end is for us to submit to God’s higher calling.  

Jesus asks the disciples to tell him who others confess Jesus to be. We should consider their answers carefully, for we can apply them to what people confess concerning Jesus today. We need to know who he is in order to follow him and continue his work. The importance and necessity of Christ’s teaching and the proclamation of Christ are derived from our understanding of modern answers to the question “Who do you say I am?”

Those who refuse to acknowledge Christ by not attending church at all without good cause, or by only attending church on special occasions, or who refuse to attend when the Eucharist is not being celebrated, or when the service is not from the Book of Common Prayer, or when the service is not from the Book of Alternative Services, or because they do not like the celebrant are in effect stabbing the church and Christ in the back. When we come together in humility and humbleness in public worship, we admit that we are not better than God. We are all part of God’s family. When we submit to him, we do so in the same way we submit to our parents’ authority, or to another authority figure. When we say, “You are the Christ” we acknowledge God’s authority. If we run away from him by not attending church, we are in effect running away from him and his family.  

There are two sides to Christ. One side represents Christ’s love for us, and the other side represents his wrath when we refuse to accept him and submit to his will. This might seem like a contradiction. After all, how can a God of love also show fierce anger? It’s simple. God does love us, but that doesn’t mean his wrath isn’t real or that he lets us get away with sin. There is a price to pay when we don’t take him seriously. All one has to do is remember the stories of the Great Flood, or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, or the drowning of the Egyptian army after Moses parted the Red Sea, and one will realize what happens when God unleashes his wrath. We need to know the fierceness of God’s wrath in order to understand the wonder of his love. He showed us his love by providing a way out of our sinful ways-namely, Christ’s death on the cross.

A more down-to-earth example of the two sides of Christ is to remember a child’s relationship with his or her own parents. The parents love the child like Christ loves us, but when the child misbehaves or does something to make the parents angry, they unleash their wrath through various forms of punishment. God is the same way. He loves us because he is our heavenly Father, but when we displease him and refuse to accept and acknowledge Christ, LOOK OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  

The church is where we can devote ourselves to the apostles’ teachings. These teachings will provide us with the answer to the question, “Who do you say I am?” They teach us about who Jesus is, what he did and what he taught. They teach us what it means to follow Christ is our own life and congregation. Those who substitute attendance at worship services with listening to radio or TV evangelists do not receive the benefit of this “local touch”. People who go to church are not perfect, and even the celebrants are not perfect, but when a church member faces the tough times that all believers will sometimes face when  they take up Christ’s cross, the entire church pulls together to share the burden.

Those of us who remember Christ’s words from the Sermon on the Mount will remember the phrase “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”. This phrase refers to those who are humble, those who recognize the incompleteness or poverty of human resources, and those who realize their utter dependence on God. If we humble ourselves to God, and if we put our trust in God’s plentiful resources, and if we put our trust in him, he will reward us with eternal life and a place of honour in his heavenly kingdom.

 

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