Meditation: Open our eyes that we may see You, and know ourselves to be Yours. Amen.
Pauls’ letter to the Philippians has a thought-provoking phrase. Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who, in God’s own generous purpose, is at work in you, giving you both the intention and the powers to act.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling… and do so knowing that God is as work within you already. And Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do you think I am?”
Just before this, Jesus had asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” And the disciples popped up with answers they had heard: John the Baptist, come back to life. Elijah, the great prophet of God who supposedly never died but was carried up to heaven. Some other prophet of God. That’s what everybody else was saying.
But to be honest, Jesus wasn’t really interested in what everybody else was saying; Jesus wanted to know what they thought. Who do you say that I am?
Confirmands! These are your marching orders as you enter into your Confirmation year. Who IS Jesus? Who is Jesus for you? And as you struggle with this question- when you work out your own salvation with fear and trembling!- know that God is already at work in you, working out God’s own purposes in your life.
And just in case you think you have to get this all done in a year, rest assured that it will take the rest of your life to come to a deep wisdom about this question. “Who do you say that I am?”
Adults, I want a living testimony for my confirmands. Raise your hand if you’ve got that question all figured out. Now keep them up. Confirmands, stand up and look around the congregation: who has this this Jesus-God thing all figured out?
Each and every one of us has to take on this task for ourselves. No one can do it for us.
I read a story awhile back about a man who lost his beloved grandmother, who had lived with him for all of his life. When his parents died, she moved into his home. When she died, Jack felt like his heart had been ripped out of his chest. He wanted to feel close to her. More than that, he wanted the faith that she had had- that deep abiding trust in God that had taken her through life and past death.
Marian had been a devout, pious, faithful person; her Bible was worn out from use. One night, missing her so badly, he went to sit in her chair. Then he picked up her Bible, and put on her glasses, and read passages that she had underlined. But nothing happened; her faith could not enter into him. This was a task he had to undertake for himself.
It’s like that old spiritual:
You’ve got to walk that lonesome highway;
You’ve got to walk it by yourself.
Oh, nobody else can walk it for you;
You’ve got to walk it by yourself.
Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.
When I was in seminary, I loved to study church history. I still do. I loved to follow in the thoughts of deep thinkers, of faithful disciples- people who were a lot smarter than I would ever be. Maybe, if I could just understand their interpretation of scripture; maybe if I could enter into their prayers, their conversations; maybe I would come to know God deeply, intimately, personally within myself.
And so I immersed myself in Augustine and John Calvin, looking for Jesus. But I was looking in the wrong spot. As much as Augustine and Calvin challenged my own thinking, they never got me closer to Jesus. “Who do you say that I am?” is a question that only I can answer, out of my own life, out of my own prayers and understanding.
It is a question that only you can answer, out of your own life, out of your own prayers and understanding.
Scripture is profoundly helpful, and I encourage you to come to Bible study. Reading the thoughts of other faithful Christians is very helpful, and I encourage you to read about others’ experiences. But in the end, it’s only you, diligently seeking the face with God, which will answer that question.
In the Gospel of Mark, when Peter is asked that question, he pipes up, “You are the Messiah, the Christ!” Good answer, Peter! Now, what does that mean?
The conversation that follows shows that Peter was talking out of his hat. When Jesus says that He- the Messiah- needs to suffer, endure humiliation, and die, Peter shouts out, “No, No, No, Jesus! That’s not what Messiahs do!” Peter doesn’t want to be part of the losing team. He doesn’t want to be associated with someone executed by the state for treason.
And Jesus turns to Peter, and rakes him over the coals harder than anyone else he’s ever castigated. “Get away from me Satan! You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Satan? The very epitome of the accuser, the betrayer? That’s harsh. But Jesus doesn’t stop there.
He says that if anyone wants to follow Him, they have to go all the way and carry a cross just like He’ll be carrying a cross. They’ll have to suffer as He suffers.
And then, if they follow Him to the end, they will be raised out of their death, out of their fear, out of their suffering by the very hand of God. Just like Jesus.
So, dear friends, this question is not a summer’s day in the hammock kind of question. It’s a fear and trembling kind of question. Who do you say that I am? Because the answer to that leads to another question: Are you willing to follow?
Am I the God of justice and compassion? Am I the God that stands up for the poor and the stranger? Am I the God that will not let go of this precious world until My purposes are brought to fullness?
And if I am, what does it mean for you to follow Me?
It’s a question of integrity and no small degree of courage. Who do you say that Jesus is? And are you willing live that knowledge, knowing that, as Philippians says, “it is God who, in God’s own generous purpose, is at work in you, giving you both the intention and the powers to act.”
In the Name of the One who will never let us go; even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Scripture for Sept. 16, 2018 MARK 8:27-37
Jesus and His disciples headed out for the villages around Caesarea Philippi. As they walked Jesus asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say You’re John the Baptist. Others say that You’re Elijah, and others say You’re one of the prophets.” And then Jesus asked, “But you- who do you say that I am?” Peter spoke up, “You are the Christ, the Messiah.” Jesus warned them not to breathe a word of it to anyone. Then He began explaining things to them. “It is necessary that I go through great suffering, be put on trial and found guilty by all the elders and high priests, be killed, and then three days later rise up alive.” But Peter grabbed Jesus in protest. Turning and seeing His disciples wavering and wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. “Peter, get out of my way! You’re acting like Satan himself! You have no idea how God works!” Calling the crowd to join His disciples, Jesus said, “Anyone who intends to come with Me has to let Me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat: I am! Don’t run from suffering: embrace it. Follow Me, and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way… My way… to save your true self. What good would it be to get everything you want, and lose your true self? What could you ever trade your soul for?
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.