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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 09/16/2018

“Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?” At just about the exact mid-point of Mark’s gospel, Jesus poses these questions. He was concerned about who people thought he was which, when you think about it, is a very human thing. To one degree or another we all worry about what other people think of us, the opinion of some people being more important to us than that of others. What people think of us affects our relationship with them and as Jesus poses these questions, they are as much about relationships as they are about his identity. It’s not only a matter of deciding whether or not to follow him either, it’s not just about being a disciple or not being a disciple. It can be that, but it can also be a matter of how we follow.

In Jesus’ time, if he was thought to be a political and religious rebel and zealot ready to take up arms in order to overthrow the Romans who occupied and ran the country, which was what many were hoping for, then following would mean enlisting and being ready to die for the cause. If Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet announcing that the end of the world was near then following would mean renouncing all worldly pursuits and just waiting for the end.

If Jesus’ goal was to form an ascetic, monastic community devoted to prayer similar to others that were out there at the time, then his followers should separate themselves from the world and live in prayerful isolation. If he was seen as a great moral and ethical philosopher, then his followers should be teachers of that philosophy along with modeling it in loving care and service to others. Different answers evoke different responses. Then and now, how one answers the “Who do you say that I am?” question, does make a difference.

As answers to Jesus’ questions are proposed, what also has to be asked is, “Is there only one right answer?” Think about the responses Jesus got; as he heard them you might picture him thinking, John the Baptist? Wrong. Elijah? Wrong. One of the prophets? Well, maybe, but incomplete. Then you get to Peter’s response, “You are the Messiah,” and Jesus says “Right,” only to have that followed by the great rebuke, “Get behind me Satan,” as Peter had the right answer, but he had the wrong idea about what it meant.

Then there are the other responses I proposed; to them Jesus might say, a political rebel? Wrong. An apocalyptic prophet? Not exactly. Founder of a monastic movement? No, but for some that could be a response. An ethical and moral philosopher and teacher? Right, but again, incomplete.

On both lists then, there are some wrong answers, some incomplete answers, and only one answer that was right, but still misunderstood. At the same time we’re reminded that back in chapter one, verse one, Mark has already given the right answer when he says, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” For us, that answer and that identity of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, gets worked out further in the words of the creed, especially the Nicene Creed that we will use as our confession of faith after the sermon. For Lutherans, the right answer gets worked out even further in our confessional documents, especially the Augsburg Confession which, when it was written, was intended to provide evidence that those who were part of the Lutheran movement were not heretics but that they were in line with the right answer provided by scripture and the creeds.

For most of us then, if we were asked, “Who do you say that Jesus is?” we would probably fall back on words we have learned from those creeds and confessional statements. My opinion concerning what I think about the adequacy of such an answer has changed.

When I’ve preached on this before I know that I’ve said that using words from the creeds or confessions to answer “Who do you say that I am?” actually amounts to giving an answer to “Who do people say that I am?” I’ve suggested that we should try to put in our own words who Jesus is to us. I’ve changed my mind.

As I get older, I find myself increasingly appreciative of the words the tradition has given us. I appreciate and am thankful for the vision given to the apostles and evangelists and church fathers and others that, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, enabled them to see more in Jesus than the normal channels of observation and logic and reason might reveal. I’m thankful and appreciative of the right answer that they have given us concerning Jesus as part of the God we call the Trinity, thankful and appreciative that I don’t have to improve on what they said. Their words are sufficient for me, sufficient for you, words concerning Jesus that are words of grace about us and our salvation, words that represent hope and new life out of brokenness, hope and new life that we don’t have to earn but which is a free gift of God.

Accepting that the right answer to “Who do you say that I am?” is some version of “You are the Christ, the Messiah,” we’re still left with the question of how to respond. To get at that, we perhaps have to consider a follow up question that Jesus might have asked which is, “Who do you say that you are?” Obviously there are many ways any of us might answer that question, many right answers, but I’m going to give you the Lutheran right answer. The Lutheran right answer is that you are a baptized child of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever.

Baptism was central for Luther and he has a lot to say about what it means starting with forgiveness of sins. He also talks about baptism as dying with Christ and being raised to new life with him. Another way to think about that is to say that in baptism we become part of the right answer we give about Jesus, the right answer found in the second article of the creed. We might sometimes think of those words as just an outline of life events for Jesus and they are that to some extent although a lot is left out. Even more though, what the creed’s right answer provides is hope, hope concerning eternal life, yes, but they are also words that, through the person and life of Jesus, describe a hopeful and hope filled world where new life and new possibilities are available even out of the most broken of situations.

That is the reality into which we are baptized and it represents a vision, the alternative vision of Jesus, a vision that upsets the expected order of the world, a world where evil and brokenness and death don’t have the last word. In baptism we sign on to that alternative vision and in faith being a baptized child of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever becomes our primary identity, our answer to who we say that we are.

With that, part of what we are called to do is to respond with the love and compassion and welcome and self-giving that Jesus modeled. But there’s more. You don’t have to know Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, to live that way. Another part of our calling then is to proclaim and teach the tradition that has been handed on to us not just because Jesus the teacher and moral philosopher offers good advice on how to live your life, but because to know him as the Christ, changes who you are. It makes you part of that right answer, part of that alternative vision that sees the world with Christ at the center and with Christ at the center it is a much more hopeful world.

It is a somewhat risky and daring proclamation, one that isn’t real popular these days in a skeptical world that questions anything that can’t be perceived and proved by human reason and intellect. It’s a world full of things, many of them good things, that become idols that are worshiped even if those who worship them don’t realize that’s what they’re doing. To accept the proclamation of a 2000 year old tradition that can’t be proved strictly by reason and logic, in part requires the denial of self that Jesus talks about; it requires a denial of ego and accepting that there are things that are true even if they’re beyond my comprehension.

In doing that, accepting and giving thanks for the Spirit guided vision and imagination and proclamation of those who were able to see more than we can, we are changed and the world is changed. We see ourselves differently, as part of a divine mystery that embraces us and adds a different dimension to life, one that is part of being fully human, a dimension that is sadly lacking from the lives of many. It doesn’t make them bad people, but they are missing something.

So, in whatever ways we can, we continue our proclamation because if we don’t do it, it won’t get done. We proclaim what we know to be true, we live what we know to be true and we pray that hearts and minds are opened to receive the more that is offered by Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, the right answer to “Who do you say that I am?”

Rev. Warren Geier

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”


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