Sunday Sermon – Pr. David

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY OF PENTECOST

Year B, Lectionary 24

September 13, 2015

Mark 8:27-38

Pastor David Tryggestad

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church

Virginia, Minnesota

“Who Do You Say That I Am?”

Our youngest son got engaged this past Monday. He called from Minneapolis later that evening and said, “Dad, I proposed to Emily tonight and she said Yes!” My wife, Lynn, and I have hoping and praying for this day for a long time. More than once we’ve told our son, “Soren, if you don’t marry Emily, we’re going to disown you and adopt Emily!” The question, “Will you marry me?” is one of the most important questions we can ever answer.

I wonder if the question Jesus asks his disciples—and us—is even more important: “Who do you say that I am?”

But before we take a look at that question—the second question Jesus asks the disciples—let’s look at the first: “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples respond: “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” As Jesus’ ministry progressed, more and more people began to ask, “Who is this, who heals the sick? Who is this, who forgives sins? Who is this, who raises the dead?”

“Who do people say that I am?”

Thirty years ago, Jaroslav Pelikan, one of America’s leading theologians, a teacher at Yale, published a book entitled Jesus Through the Centuries, in which the author lifts up major images or understandings of Jesus through twenty centuries of scholarship and art. Pelikan identifies 18 different notions of Jesus and devotes a chapter to each. Some of them include: “The Rabbi,” “The Turning Point of History,” “The Light of the Gentiles,” “The King of Kings,” “The Cosmic Christ,” “The Son of Man,” “Christ Crucified,” “The Bridegroom of the Soul,” “The Prince of Peace,” “The Liberator,” and so forth. No doubt we could all add to that list. From my own pietistic background and from my own personal experience, I would add, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.”

Now to Jesus’ second question, the one he asks of each of us: “Who do you say that I am?”

I believe that this question is one of the most important questions each of us answers in our lives, perhaps the most important question, even more important than “Will you marry me?” I believe that the way we answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?,” influences every aspect of our lives, each and every day.

Jesus’ disciple Peter got the answer right: “You are the Messiah.”

But while he got the answer right, he got the meaning all wrong. As we see, Jesus went on to tell Peter and the disciples what it would mean for him to be Messiah:

“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 . . .”

Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Jesus. We can hear him protest, “No, Lord, this can never happen to you! No, Lord, this is not what it means to be Messiah! No, Lord, this is not what it means to be the Son of God! No, Lord, this is not what it means to be my Lord!”

This is the same Peter who protested that Jesus should never wash his feet at the Last Supper: “You will never wash my feet” (John 13:8).

“Who do you say that I am?” Peter got the answer right: “You are the Messiah.” But he got the meaning wrong.

Here at Our Savior’s we kicked off the Confirmation program this past Wednesday. Youth Director Meagan led young people grades five through ten through an engaging evening of fun getting-to-know-you activities as well as some introductory teaching about what Confirmation is all about. Poke your nose around any Confirmation program in any Lutheran church anywhere across the world and you’re bound to learn something about Martin Luther, particularly his Small Catechism. Even if you don’t remember much at all about the Small Catechism, even though you may have memorized it cover to cover when you were in Confirmation, no doubt you remember the question he asks over and over: “What does this mean?”

Peter got the answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” right; but he failed Martin Luther’s question: “What does this mean?”

It seems Peter had other ideas about what it might mean for Jesus to be the Messiah, ideas that had nothing to do with suffering and death. We wonder if Peter’s notions of Messiah were in part grounded in self-interest. If Jesus as Lord were going to deny himself and suffer, then perhaps those who follow him might be in for some of the same.

Jesus knows what’s on Peter’s mind, so he makes himself quite clear: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

During our Wednesday evening worship service this past week, Leighton, one of our young Confirmation members was present. I made the comment that when I was his age, I thought I had wanted to become a medical doctor when I grew up. But then, as I grew older and started to have biology in high school and began to dissect animals and reptiles, some still alive, I decided that I didn’t like the sight of blood. I wanted to be a doctor, but I misunderstood what being a doctor meant. I had not asked the question, “What does this mean?”

Perhaps Peter didn’t like the sight of blood.

During the time I served as pastor in Duluth, our congregation hosted a monthly evening worship based on the practices of a Christian community in Taizé, France, including prayer, reading of scripture, singing simple and repetitious songs, and incorporating silence. In addition to lighting scores of candles throughout the sanctuary, we placed an icon of Jesus front and center, in order to help us focus our hearts and minds on our Lord. One evening I had placed a large hand painted reproduction of an ancient icon depicting Jesus on the cross, with blood flowing from his head, his hands, and his feet. His face shown of despair and agony. It was a graphic depiction of suffering. Afterward, one of the leaders of the planning group protested that she didn’t like looking at the painting, that it was too depressing, that it was too graphic.

“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 . . .”

“Who do you say that I am?” How do you answer that question? And we can follow with Martin Luther’s question, “What does this mean?”

I was in conversation with someone near and dear to me just a few weeks ago and we were talking religion and faith. She said something we’ve been hearing a lot recently: “I’m spiritual but not religious.”

Martin Luther would ask, “What does this mean?”

I wonder if being spiritual but not religious means that I can make up whatever I want and believe whatever I want. I wonder if being spiritual but not religious means making Jesus into our own image—or making God into our own image.

The problem with Jesus, as far as Peter was concerned, is that we cannot make Jesus into our own image. Rather, it’s the other way around. One of the hymns we sing during Lent is “On My Heart Imprint Your Image.” The Apostle Paul admonishes us, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus . . .” (Philippians 2:5).

So what does it mean for us as individuals and as a congregation that Jesus says to us: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

One thing it means is that Jesus sets the example; we don’t. Jesus sets the agenda; we don’t.

A number of years ago a story circulated among all the pastors and all the congregations of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod. It was a story about a congregation that took Jesus’ example of self-denial and servanthood seriously. It seems that this particular congregation had been the victim of some significant vandalism. The perpetrators were later apprehended, but rather than pressing charges, this congregation offered to embrace them, to bring them into their midst, to engage them in meaningful ministry, to include them in genuine community. This congregation chose to risk being vulnerable.

This congregation is you.

This past Wednesday, I was welcomed by the quilters. They fed me without my having to do anything! I didn’t even have to wash the dishes. Our quilters make 200 quilts a year to give away. Hospitality and generosity.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

This past year has been one of transition for all of you. No doubt there are many and various notions of what it means to be the church and what your future might look like. We might all answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” the same way Peter did: “You are the Messiah.” At the same time, we might have among us various answers to the question, “What does this mean?”

Going back to the laundry list of titles of the chapters that Jaroslav Pelikan assigned in his book, Jesus Through the Centuries, one jumps out at me: “The Crucified Christ”—or “Crucified Messiah.” To the disciple Peter, “Crucified” and “Messiah” were an oxymoron. To be Messiah could not possibly involve being crucified. For one thing, it might have implications for those who follow Jesus. It might have implications for us.

We worship a Crucified Messiah. He asks each and every one of us: “Who do you say that I am?” It is perhaps the most important question we will ever answer. And Jesus asks it of us every day of our lives.

A word about our song, “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High.” I learned it 20 years ago on a mission trip to Monterrey, Mexico. We were among the poorest of the poor. We visited a worshiping community at the outskirts of the city dump. We saw a newly-wed couple rummaging through scraps of refuse to pull out discarded wooden pallets and corrugated metal to assemble their new home. The streets were dirt; the floors were dirt; and the only running water was a spigot of cold water from a public faucet at the end of each street. Yet these very people came together to lift their voices in worship and praise: “Lord, I lift your name on high . . . you came from heaven to earth . . . from the earth to the cross . . .”

“Who do you say that I am?”

Thanks be to God!