Transcribed from the audio.
Please pray with me. Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our collective hearts be always acceptable in Thy sight. O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
“Who do people say that I am?” Jesus is asking his disciples who have journeyed with him throughout his public ministry, 24/7. He obviously is gathering some attention because the crowds are starting to follow Jesus. So midway in Mark’s Gospel, he poses the question, what’s the word on the street? “Who do people say that I am?” And they respond: “John the Baptist;” others—“Elijah;” others—“one of the prophets.” But then Jesus turns and makes it personal. But you, you who know me best, “who do you say that I am?” It wasn’t meant as a trick question or a rhetorical question. Jesus is asking, who am I to you and what difference does that make in your life?
It’s understandable that the people who’d heard about Jesus, and maybe even experienced him on the road, would have impressions of him because there was much in Jesus’ ministry to that point that was reminiscent of John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the prophets—those who’d gone before. But when Jesus makes it personal, Peter and the disciples respond, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus wasn’t just some of those things. Jesus was so much more and the “more” makes all the difference in the world—changed the course of human history.
You see, the distinction in those questions and answers relates to knowing. German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner once wrote that “Knowing God is much more important than knowing about God.” There’s a real difference between knowing about someone and knowing them to the core of your being. That’s what Jesus asks the disciples and that’s what Jesus asks us. Do you know me and does that make itself manifest in your life?
Now, if you were asked that question today, who am I to you? What would your response be? Well, if you’re like me, the answer to that question sometimes changes a bit, depending on our own circumstances and where we find ourselves in time and space. I will tell you that some years ago when I was getting treatment for breast cancer, I was afraid. There’s something about facing your own mortality that focuses your prayer life; it becomes much more intense. What happened in that process, as I began to embody the promises of Christ that he would never leave us or forsake us and would be with us to the end, was I became peaceful knowing because I knew that what Jesus said was true. That no matter what happened to me, I was going to be okay and my family would be okay. You see, I fully shifted, at least on my good days, from not just knowing about Jesus, but knowing him, embodying him.
There are times in our lives when we feel that we’re called to do something for the Kingdom of God and we may be timid or feel that we don’t have all the tools in our tool kits to go forward. Ask Jesus to give you what you need to touch and transform lives in the here and the now. If there are times when you feel alone and afraid, invite Jesus more deeply into your life, remembering that you’re never alone, that Jesus and God are as near as your next breath. Always.
Sometimes, I think what God calls us to can feel super human in a way. When Jesus, at the end of that passage that you heard this morning, says that you must lose your life in order to save it, and he talks about the cost of discipleship—what it means to follow him and take up the cross and go where he leads, we feel that it’s beyond us, that it takes sort of super human Christians to go and to do. But if you look, you will see evidence of that all around you: people losing their lives and saving them in the process. Look at what’s happening today in the Carolinas with the Cajun Navy going, with the Maryland Taskforce One going, firefighters, first responders. Why are they there? They feel led to be there and God and Jesus Christ have put compassion and courage on their hearts. Jesus says, go and they go, risking their lives, saving others. Sometimes it can be a call to share and mentor that which you’ve experienced in your own life with a young person. One of the programs at the Cathedral that does that is our Cathedral Scholars Program—mentoring another, giving the gifts that you’ve been given.
This summer I read a beautiful piece of historical fiction. The name of it is News of the World by Paulette Jiles. She obviously had done a lot of research and had the history down in this beautiful story set in 1870 in Texas. This is post-Civil War and it is a rough and tumble and dangerous and ugly time in our country’s history. There are two main characters in the story. One is an older man, he’s 71. His wife died five years earlier. He has two grown and married daughters who live far away. He had to sell his business in order to make ends meet and he has essentially become an itinerant, going from town to town, gathering up the news items and putting posters up around town and renting a hall where people pay a dime to come hear about the news around the country and around the world. Think pre CNN and Twitter. There was a time when news was difficult to come by! Now, we might think of him as itinerant, but I tend to think of him as a drifter. He didn’t have roots. In the beginning of the book he describes himself as thin and sour.
The other main character is a young girl. She’s ten years old and at the age of six her parents were murdered and she was taken captive by the Kiowa Indians. Over the course of the ensuing four years, she has fully become a Kiowa Indian—to the point that she no longer remembers her life before. She doesn’t remember English. The times were such that the army pressured the Kiowa Indians to return white captives or they would cut off all the resources and make their lives miserable. This was not a happy chapter in our country’s history. So twice in this ten-year-old’s life she’s been taken from her family. She too has no roots.
Early in the story, one of Captain Kidd’s friends asks him to take on a mission that would seem like mission impossible, to transport this ten-year-old 400 miles across Texas, which is perilous and dangerous and often deadly, to return her to the nearest living relatives that they can determine she has, which is 400 miles away. He thinks about it and knows that that’s a fool’s errand, but he has two daughters. He knows what girls are like and he’s filled with compassion for this ten-year-old who’s been ripped apart from all she’s known twice in her tender life.
So, for a $50 gold coin, he buys a wagon and the two of them set out. They don’t speak the same language. They come from very different cultures and every chance she gets, she tries to run away. But as the journey ensues and he stops at the towns and does his readings of the news, you can see that they are beginning to bond in their own way. They’re able to communicate heart to heart. A critical time comes when they’re called upon to risk their own lives to save the other, and they do so. And you find in the story that Captain Kidd begins to not just make a living but make a life. In the willingness of those two to lose their lives for the other, they saved not just the other’s life, but their own. They now had meaning and purpose that matters and makes a difference.
That’s Jesus’ invitation, always, to you and to me: to go deeper— not just to know about Jesus, but to know him, to embody him, to let his life be made manifest in your own. Because you see, it was the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, is the Messiah, the very Son of God that changed the course of human history. It is why you and I are gathered here today to embody that which gives our lives meaning and purpose that matter, and make a difference.
The Gospel hymn that we sang just before the reading of the Gospel, is “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?” You’ll never be the same. I “in you and you in me.” My prayer for you and for me this day is this: that it’s not just a hymn, but that it becomes your sung daily prayer. Invite Jesus in more deeply each and every day and make a difference in this world. It so badly needs it. May it be so for you and for me. Amen.