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More or Less Church

Joanna Depue "DJ/Deacon J" writes original songs and liturgies, does daily Farm office work and records Barbara's eMos on The Geranium Farm. A singer and dog trainer she utilizes healing touch in her private massage practice. PLEASE share YOUR original ideas for worship, special liturgies, prayers, songs, sermons and noteworthy blogs right here.
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Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Focus: Q and A

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 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, and after three days rise again.  He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?  Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?  Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  Mark 8:27-38

In this week’s gospel Jesus offers us a verbal Rorschach Test. He asks: Who do you say I am? And the answer to his inquiry tells us more about the respondent than it does about the questioner. For the Pharisees and scribes the reflexive answer is that Jesus is a clever fraud. But in their hearts they know that Jesus is a powerful threat to their spiritual monopoly. For the curious, Jesus is where the action is. He’s a wonder worker and a spell-binding speaker. Who do they say he is? Maybe he’s John the Baptist or how about Elijah. What difference does it make? He’s new; he’s exciting; he’s provocative, he’s entertaining.

Trust Peter, with his far from towering intellect, to blurt out right from his heart the precisely correct answer. In four words Peter says it all: You are the Christ… a simple shorthand formulation that acknowledges his friend and teacher as the promised one of God, the Messiah. The answer tells us exactly who Jesus is; but it also tells us what Peter himself is becoming. It tells us that Peter has the faith to filter through a deluge of contradictory input to find the essential truth. Like all the faithful of his day, Peter had waited for a son of David to smite their enemies and rebuild the empire of Solomon. Yet here was Jesus, a miracle working carpenter with no crown and no army, reaching out to gentiles, conversing with women, contemptuous of ritual, confounding authority, preaching and practicing a message of love. But Peter has the grace to see the Messiah through it all.

And what reward does Peter get for this affirmation of faith? Jesus tells him to keep it to himself. And that’s not the hardest part. Jesus gives Peter a glimpse of tougher days to come…of his rejection by the priests and elders and then of his death and resurrection. This is more than even faithful Peter can process. He begs his friend not to talk that way, only to be sternly rebuked: Get thee behind me Satan! Then Jesus launches into talking about denying yourself, taking up your cross and giving up your life. Peter’s reaction is not recorded, and can only be imagined. But at the end of the day, no doubt confused and troubled, Peter continues to hang in there with Jesus. And despite his later three denials, he would hang in right through Calvary to rejoice with the risen Christ.

Through this gospel, Jesus asks us today: Who do you say that I am? The question calls for much more than a rote answer from the catechism. It calls for an honest response that clearly tells what Jesus really means to us, what part he plays in our daily lives, in our hopes and aspirations.  Is Jesus a casual acquaintance, first met in Sunday school and visited only rarely at our convenience ever since? Or is Jesus a distant, formal figure addressed exclusively in communal, ritual prayer; a Sunday and holiday presence, put aside before we’re even out of the church parking lot. Perhaps Jesus is our help-line of last resort, called on only in panic when all else has failed? Once again, the answers tell more about us than it does about Jesus.

Jesus does not need us to define him. He is God and man, our brother, our redeemer. In acknowledging him as such, we define ourselves as the beloved of God, the focus of all creation. That’s the way Jesus sees us. And that’s the reason he wants to be a constant presence in our lives, guiding us home to his Father and ours. Talk it over with Jesus. Ask him what he wants to be in your life and what he expects from you. Don’t expect instant answers. These are the questions of a lifetime, and only a lifetime of prayerful conversation with Christ provides the answers.

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