12th Sunday after Pentecost
August 27, 2017
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church
Pastor Elizabeth Ekdale
On Friday evening, I attended a special Shabbat service at Temple Emanu-El- an interfaith service focused on acknowledging the sin of white supremacy, anti-Semitism and racism. The service began with a Buddhist call to prayer ringing a bell for peace. Together, we lamented over the possible presence of the Patriot Prayer Rally here in our city and celebrated the beauty and inclusivity of our Interfaith Community - we committed to stand together against hate speech and acts heard across the country – and committed our faith communities to stand together. Our worship was a living out of the vision we heard last week from the prophet Isaiah: “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” In the synagogue of Temple Emanu-El all creeds and colors, genders and orientations, gathered as one body to pray. It was a completely packed synagogue of several hundred worshipers united in spirit while embracing the diversity of creeds among us as the people of God.
Underneath the tension of why we were gathered was this common understanding - there comes a time and place when we are asked what we stand for and what we believe in. Today’s gospel reading is that time and place: “who do you say that I am?” We could describe this question as a “come to Jesus” moment in the best sense of that phrase. Just who do we say that Jesus is to us? When is the last time you’ve been asked? I think this question from Jesus is akin to What do we stand for in our lives of faith? How is our Christian faith lived out in the world? – all excellent questions which boil down to the one asked of us today, “Who do you say that I am?”
Jesus asks the disciples and each of us to articulate our response in the best way we can- being as clear as possible about who it is we follow on the path of discipleship. For some claim to be Christian and use the language of faith in order to disguise their agendas of hatred and divisiveness. They too might claim to follow Jesus. They too might have a correct sounding answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?”
Our text from Romans is helpful in our nuanced reflections on this question. Paul writes, “Do not be confirmed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Is Jesus wondering if the disciples have conformed to the world’s way of thinking? Is he leading them to be transformed in their living? Is this why he asks them to put their faith on the line? I believe so. Jesus is leading them and us to a new way of being, toward understanding that Jesus is bringing in transformation and ushering in God’s reign of peace and justice - a new heaven and a new earth – a beloved community in which all are welcome, valued, and affirmed. And we are part of it – part of creating and building community in this congregation as we discern together the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Who do you say that I am? Your answer becomes a living breathing response and is embodied at St. Mark’s through your service to the community and beyond the community. Your response is lived out in your relationships among family members, in your workplace, and your volunteer work out in the world.
Your life becomes your answer to the question - a life of service and sacrifice – a life of generosity and sacred purpose – a life of worship and praise to the One from whom all blessings flow. But it might come handy to have a verbal response – in your back pocket - for someone surely might just ask you, “What do you believe in? or Why do you bother going to church? or Who is Jesus anyway? - all variations of that one most basic of questions.
Your answer might matter a great deal to the one who is asking – a seeker, a doubter, someone who has been harmed by religion but is drawn to be part of a community. You may say something helpful - or your response may be inspired from an encounter with God you experienced in your life. The important thing is to go ahead and try to respond to the question – not only to live what you believe but say what you believe.
Who do you say that I am? Here is my response – Jesus is the divine and human child of God – a suffering servant who reveals God’s heart – a sacred heart which aches and rejoices and celebrates and loves. Jesus is the face of God – the embodiment of God’s desire to heal and reconcile and welcome and affirm.
Your response may be longer or shorter than mine – a verse from scripture, a poem, an image or music may help you put into words your response. The hymn which is the closest to who Jesus is for me is one we sing during both Lent and Easter – “There in God’s Garden”. The 4th verse for me is sheer gospel:
See how its branches reach to us in welcome; hear what the Voice says, Come to me ye weary! Give me your sickness, give me all your sorrow, I will give blessing.”
Your answer might change or evolve given your life experiences. How might you respond today? But let’s be clear – I don’t think Jesus asks us to confess who we believe he is for his sake, rather for ours – that our personal and individual response helps root us in the love and forgiveness that Jesus offers. With time, we sink deep into our words so they shape every part – every aspect of our lives. And we are not alone in this effort - we respond together – week after week – in worship through Word and Sacrament – in service – through our varied ministries. Together in community, we are shaped by the loving and living Christ in our midst – who continues to gently ask and prod us with the question, “Who do you say that I am?”
David Lose, 2014 reflections on this pericope