Scriptures: James 3:1-12 Mark 8:27-38
LET US PRAY: Holy, still speaking God ~ open our ears to listen closely to Your Word; open our hearts and minds to gladly live out Your message. Amen.
In Shakespeare’s tragic play, Romeo and Juliet , Juliet tells her lover: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Which is true … well, up to a point. We could call that beautiful creation a generic flower … or give it a fun, new name like “Aromatic, Furled-Petal Beauty” … and it would still have that same wonderful aromaAND still be a beautiful creation. BUT, as we all know: names have a much deeper meaning for us as individuals.
Our names are an important part of who we are. They identify us as a member of a particular family … and set us apart from the rest of our family. Think about your own name …
- Were you named after a relative … OR is your name the whim of your parents?
- Does your name carry on a family tradition OR are you the ‘first’ in the family with your name?
- Do you go by a nickname … or a middle name to distinguish yourself from your relative by the same name?
Our names center us in a family system that gives us unique values, history, and traditions. And, no matter where life may take us as we grow and mature … we are always grounded by that history and those traditions. As many of you know, a long time ago I traveled to Europe and wound up living inGreecefor 4 years. While there, I spoke Greek; my home was typical of the area where I lived; I cooked and ate traditional Greek foods. In essence, I lived and acted just like any of the native Greeks. Yet, deep down inside, I was still the same Patti with the same ideals of my Register clan, with roots inNorth CarolinaandPennsylvania!
Today, we recognize the importance of our names and our heritage. In just a short time, we will celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism for Carson Scott Benner … the youngest brother of Mason, Loganand Dylan … the 4th son of Kathleen and Eric … a youngun who will grow up steeped in the traditions and history of both the Benner and Graver families.
AND, in the midst of celebrating this Sacrament, we will bestow on Carson 1 more name … “Child of God ~ Member of God’s Family” … a name that all of us carry … a name that grounds and centers us into the most important family of all.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus addresses this issue of connectedness and what it means to be a Child of God with His disciples. This crew of 12 had enjoyed front row seats to the controversy surrounding a man whom some called prophet, some Messiah, some revolutionary … and, some, a blasphemous heretic.
Here, at the exact midpoint of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus turned to the disciples as they traveled from town to town and asked 2 key questions. The first was merely a point of clarification: “Who do people say that I am?: IOW: What have you heard on the street and in the fields about me?
The disciples had some good answers: they had been listening to the people in the crowds and now repeated what they heard. They named Elijah, John the Baptist and the ancient prophets, thus passing their first test with flying colors … since the opinion polls of the day showed these as the 3 top perceptions about Jesus.
But Jesus was not finished with them. The next question was more personal and hard-hitting ~ moving from description to confession. “Who do YOU say that I am?” Jesus asks them. And, my friends: THIS is the foundational question for all people of Christian faith! Who IS Jesus Christ to each of us? And, what differences does He make in our lives?
Our Muslim brothers and sisters recently celebrated Ramadan … a month spent in fasting and in focusing on the 99 perfect names and attributes of God ~ or Allah ~ found in the Qur’an … which is the printed version of revelations from God to Muhammad through the angel Jibril (Gabriel). Some of those names are:
The Compassionate, the One who has plenty of mercy for believers and blasphemers
The Subduer, the Dominant, the One who has perfect Power
The Subtle One, who is kind to His slaves
The Aware, the One who knows the truth of things
The Reckoner, the One who gives the satisfaction
The Self-Subsisting, the One who remains and does not end
You get the idea. Imagine spending even 1 month each year, meditating on the beautiful qualities of our God. But, I also wonder: IF we were to try and list all the wonderful attributes of God ~ what would WE include? What would WE name?
As the boldest of the disciples, Peter immediately responded to Jesus’ question: “Who do YOU say that I am?” with: “You are the Messiah!” Messiah ~ a Hebrew word translated into Greek as Christos ~ translated into English as “The Anointed One.” With his answer, Peter had essentially hit a bulls-eye!
Yet something was missing. We know this because the rest of the story is so odd … so hard to follow … so counterintuitive. Instead of congratulating Peter on a simple and direct answer to a tough question, Jesus silenced him … and then began to predict His own suffering, death, and resurrection. This is another one of the moments in the Gospels ~ the Good News stories ~ that leave us feeling torn and a bit confused. Peter confesses his faith in Jesus as Messiah ~ and Jesus responds with ominous words of pain, rejection, death.
It is as if Mark wants to communicate two things at once: YES, Peter was right: Jesus was the Messiah. BUT, Jesus was not the Messiah that Peter expected or desired. And Jesus made this point at the end of this chapter as He warned His followers to NOT be ashamed of His life and words.
After scolding Peter, Jesus turned to the crowds that surrounded Him and issued a challenge: IF you want to become my followers, deny yourselves … take up your cross and follow me. It’s not just enough to confess Jesus as Messiah. We must be ready to embrace THIS Messiah ~ the one who will question our deepest allegiances and demand absolute discipleship … the one who requires us to move from selfishness to generosity, from fear to love, from hatred to compassion, from the narrowness of self-righteousness to the wideness of mercy.
IF we want to follow THIS Messiah, it’s going to take more than acceptance and assent, more than a moment of decision. It’s going to take a change in habits and assumptions and actions. It is going to take a personal confession of faith.
The earliest Christian confession of faith was 3 simple words that meant everything to our ancestors in faith: Jesus is Lord. Think what a powerful confession this statement is: Jesus is Lord. In these 3 simple words lies our affirmation that there is no one person and no one thing more powerful ~ more important ~ more central to our very existence ~ than Jesus. No one else is Lord … not the emperor or the chief priests for Jesus’ first disciples … and certainly not the gods of theUnited States or any other country OR the idols of our own creation.
This creed changed the world because those who professed it lived as if it were true. Peter tried to shush Jesus when He spoke about suffering, rejection and death simply because this kind of talk made Peter feel uncomfortable. AND, for us on this beautiful late summer morning … Jesus’ words force us to ponder more closely where our path of faith will lead us … and how we will accept Jesus AND the cost and joy of discipleship.
This morning, we celebrate Carson’s Baptism and welcome him into the Body of Christ. May this joyous celebration also be a vivid reminder of our own Baptism, of how we have opened our hearts to Jesus, and how our lives proclaim Jesus is Lord each day.