First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a
4The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
5The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backward.
6I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
7The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
8he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
9aIt is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
Psalm: Psalm 116:1-9
1I love the Lord, who has heard my voice,
and listened to my supplication,
2for the Lord has given ear to me
whenever I called.
3The cords of death entangled me; the anguish of the grave came upon me;
I came to grief and sorrow.
4Then I called upon the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray you, save my life.”
5Gracious is the Lord and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
6The Lord watches over the innocent;
I was brought low, and God saved me.
7Turn again to your rest, O my soul.
for the Lord has dealt well with you.
8For you have rescued my life from death,
my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling;
9I will walk in the presence of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Second Reading: James 3:1-12
1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
Gospel: Mark 8:27-38
27Jesus 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?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31Then 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. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But 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.”
34He 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. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those 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.”
CHILDREN’S SERMON: If you were asked who you are, what would you say? Turn to your neighbor and give five titles or words that might describe you: father, friend…..
Prayer: Lord, may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.
If I were to ask you this morning who are the characters associated with these names, what would you say?
Clark Kent (wait for people to answer) (Superman),
Peter Parker (Spiderman)
Bruce Wayne (Batman),
Prisoner 24601 (Jean Valjean from Les Miserables)
And perhaps a bit harder: Sir Percy (Scarlet Pimpernel)
All these are fictional characters that we have loved. We could also talk about legendary spies, not to mention stories of people who have led double lives. Figuring out their character and their mission is always fun. Today as we look at our text about Jesus, I suspect we are challenged with similar dynamics. Mark continues in chapter 8 with Jesus working in northern Israel but heading south to Jerusalem. We know what’s coming but the disciples do not. Jesus has been doing miracles…as usual…but he suddenly changes the conversation. “Who do people say that I am?” Perhaps that is like asking, what is my public persona? When I have my act together, when I’m on stage, when my fans are applauding, how do they see me? The disciples share some of the rumors: John the Baptist, Elijah, or perhaps one of the prophets. Today we might say he is “channeling” one of the greats if not a reincarnation of them.
When we are introduced often our name is given but often attached is a role, “He’s my dad, my teacher, my boss…” We adopted two African children in Kenya so when we picked them up from school here in the States their friends would often say, “Is SHE your mother?” The cat was out of the bag and they were immediately labeled “adopted” with a past. We went through a phase when walking with us was not top priority. Jesus has been in the public eye, teaching, healing, doing miracles and in high demand wherever he goes. But who is he really, outside the limelight? Jesus turns to the disciples who know him best and have traveled with him,
“But who do you say that I am?”
Now there is a good question. How do we answer it? Peter, who always wanting to be top in the class, blurts out, “You are the Messiah.” Right answer, wrong definition! Peter for all his bluster has said the right word but probably sees “messiah” as the crowd does. The messiah was thought to be the person who would lead them out of domination by the Romans and reinstate their old glory from the days of King David and King Solomon.
-Today a girl might talk about a man as “baby daddy.” The man is the biological father of a child but does not embrace the sociological definition of caring, nurturing, or providing for the child. It does not even imply an impending marriage necessarily.
-When home schooling first came onto the American scene, I struggled with any mother being given the title “teacher” while professional teachers went through a rigorous training program. Now children go to school via zoom. The title “teacher” is hard to pinpoint.
-Many people will admit they believe in Jesus but think of him as one of the great profits like Mohammed, or a guru like Gandhi, perhaps a teacher like Confucius. “You drink your kool-aid and I’ll drink mine,” is a saying I hear from young people. The one I heard this week was, “Everybody needs something to believe in.”
Who do you say Jesus is? Turn to your neighbor and share how you might describe Jesus to someone.
Jesus turns to the disciples and begins to lead them into a deeper understanding of “messiah.” Interestingly he identifies himself as “Son of Man.” “…the Son of Man must undergo suffering…” Jesus brings to the forefront of his discussion his humanness. Human leaders, even if they are a messiah, must die. Humans are mortal. He is quite clear that he must suffer, be killed, but then will rise in three days. It does not make sense for they have not lived it. Probably it would seem that he has gone from “now” to death and skipped the middle of the story, the part where he becomes “messiah” and restores the kingdom. Likewise, I suspect for many of us, we want God to take us to the healing, to spiritual maturity and just skip that messy in-between stuff like trials. We want our stockings filled with the things we want and the trials are not on our wish list. Nor do we consider trials as coming from God for like Peter and the Jews at that time, the Messiah was thought to be the “person” who would restore happy-ever-after. We believe Jesus is “true God” and could snap his fingers and fix our lives. It’s true but then we would be robots and he a controller. Perhaps we could say that the Messiah does not save us from trial but walks with us through trials, the horrible, painful, ugly trials of life. Jesus will illustrate that with his life. The Son of Man will walk through death with his creation. Who is Jesus? Son of Man and as such must die.
“I object!” Is that not what the attorneys yell in court. Peter takes Jesus aside and tries to present a course correction. Peter rebukes Jesus. Could it be that Jesus has misunderstood or skipped a couple chapters? Jesus turns to Peter in-front of the disciples and says, “Get behind me Satan!” Ouch. Satan does not want Jesus entering his kingdom, the kingdom of death. I talk about that little voice sitting on our shoulder and whispering to us, “Eat that cookie, God wouldn’t want you to be hungry.” It is the voice that encourages us to chew on the perceived slight and offense of the other. It is the voice that points out how strangely the foreigner dresses. Yes, we know that voice that comes from Peter and that tempts us too to avoid the cross.
That little voice whispering will try to shift our focus from honoring God and doing life his way to focus on self and our wants and needs. In the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus responds to Satan with scripture. Now the temptation in this moment is not to manipulate God’s promises but it is a temptation to disobedience. This is not tempting Jesus to change a rock to bread but it is to avoid the cross. Jesus responds with a total dismissal, “Get behind me Satan.” Sometimes we just need to tell Satan – get lost. We call it spiritual warfare. When I get the woe-is-me-s, my-life-is-horrible, bargaining no longer works. I must dismiss Satan and turn on music, read Scripture, pray, or call a friend. I must take decisive action to focus on God.
Jesus continues, titles are also explanations of relationships. I am not a teacher if I do not have students. I am not a baby father unless there was a woman willing to engage with me. Jesus cannot be Messiah unless there are people that come into relationship with him. So the title “Messiah” has social implications for the lives of those he has come to save – not from Rome, but people who will grow a relationship with Jesus, as “his body.” These followers are entering a life of service even as their leader, their messiah has. Jesus says that his followers will also take their cross as they follow him. It is not Christmas presents for believing but a lifestyle of discipleship.
The title “Messiah” is not a call to health, wealth, and prosperity. Hmmm. Many are healed, but not all. Many are rescued, but not all. Some will be persecuted. And many die as martyrs. Jesus is calling people to follow him, to discipleship and to a lifestyle reflecting relationship with him, not to the good life. What do we gain, you ask. Eternity!
“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”
So where does that leave us today? What do we take home to feed our souls during this week? Jesus closes this text with a serious question. What do we gain if we get all the goodies of life but loose our eternal soul? We all have titles or names that locate us in time, history, family, and society. Those names, like Messiah, give people a window into who we are and what they may expect of us. But those names and titles have layers of meanings that become clearer and clearer as we live into relationship with others and better understand ourselves and them. Peter probably thought Jesus was going to be the “Messiah,” a savior of Jewish society then but Jesus points us to a deeper understanding. The messiah came to save humanity and walk with them even through death. We have the blessing of walking with the Messiah through the trials of this life but also he will welcome us into eternity. The cross is real and trials will come but Jesus will be walking with us and he understands. That relationship that is implied by the title is reciprocal. Messiah is not just something that happens to us but it describes a relationship he has with us, we with him and with others. We too walk in his footsteps.
What title do we give ourselves and Jesus today as we dig deeper? What do those titles mean to you today? Let us not gain the world and loose our souls. Amen.