Mark 8. 27-38, Isaiah 50.4-9
Those of us able to attend Keith Blackburn’s funeral recently heard his son Simon speak of his life and the not inconsiderable achievements.
To many of us Keith was our priest at this church for many years and that is how we knew him and related to him. Within this role many will have had personal experiences that helped them know him better. Whether developing and articulating their faith through to the many rituals of life in church.
Those present at his funeral knew him as grandfather, father, friend, priest, colleague and in other ways.
Sadly, I’m currently working with others to prepare the funeral service of a much loved friend and it’s a reflection of his huge popularity that so many want to make a personal contribution. If we asked the question ‘who do people say I am of him’, his wife would say ‘the love of her life’, others a trusted and valued friend since school days (a real friend with lived out shared experiences not some person off facebook), others my buddy to watch Arsenal FC over the decades, going all the way back to when they used to win major trophies, my son his Godfather, and I could go on.
So far I have 6 people wanting to speak, a similar number wanting to act as pall bearers and many others preparing personal tributes.
I find it interesting to think of people not so much for the context in which we know them, the labels they acquire in society as lawyer, mum, politician, organiser or whatever but by considering what is really at their core, fairness, loyalty, compassion, courage, love.
I hope that it’s helpful to start thinking about our relationships and experiences of those who are important in our lives as we begin reflecting on how we know Jesus.
The point is that there is a danger of seeing Christ as a far off, heavenly figure and if we do this our relationship with him is all the poorer for it, real friends aren’t afraid to get involved in every aspect of our lives, good and bad.
You may have friends that divide opinion, cause speculation and gossip or even some who just leave others confused as they try to fathom what ‘makes them tick.’
It seems to be similar with Jesus, his disciples have been asked who he is, what is his agenda, some suggesting that he’s a revolutionary, some even accusing him of being demon possessed.
Yet when Jesus asks the disciples ‘who do people say I am’ they seem to answer him with traditional British politeness suggesting only religious figures. Perhaps this comes back to the point about how our true friends reflect something about ourselves and the disciples don’t want others to judge them as people who choose the wrong company.
If their answers are diplomatic at this stage Jesus suddenly makes this all incredibly personal, ‘what about you, who do you say I am?’
You can sense the disciples brains whirring as they consider how to answer, do they risk looking stupid in front of the others?
It doesn’t say it anywhere but I bet there was an awkward silence before Peter plucked up the courage to say who he hoped and believed Jesus to be and how he identified himself in all this as he blurts out ‘You are the Messiah’.
Peter was confessing Jesus to be the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, and the one promised by the prophets of old.
Having pushed the disciples for an answer, having received acknowledgment from Peter it’s almost as if Jesus Immediately rows back on the rhetoric, intimating a sort of OK don’t shout about it, before launching into an explanation of the suffering that the Messiah must endure.
Oh dear, this wasn’t the kind of Messiah Peter was thinking of, rejection by religious leaders, suffering and death, what is messianic about that, and where does it leave Peter who saw himself as a leading figure who would be important once Jesus came to power?
If this wasn’t bad enough Peter is embarrassed further when Jesus explains to the crowd how they must take up their cross and follow him. They knew the cross to be a place where criminals were punished and degraded so clearly following Christ wasn’t a soft option. As a friend of mine always says when he hears some grim proposal, ‘mmm you’re not selling it much!’
What we don’t hear from Mark’s account is how many people left that day, deciding that this was too much for them.
As Jesus reveals more and more about his identity and destiny so those who choose to stick with him start to understand who they are. This is important because for us as individuals and the for the various communities we form as we learn to support and encourage each other with a common purpose.
I guess if we discovered that a friend was thinking what can I get from this relationship, perhaps I can bask in the glow when they succeed, get some favours when they hold power, we wouldn’t consider them a friend at all. What about real relationships that seek nothing, which are prepared to support and accompany those at times of suffering, this is the mark of true friendship, of love and this is the way of Christ.
Jesus had already rejected offers of worldly power when he faced temptation in the desert and makes his point strongly, warning against the prioritisation of such things over a faith that is prepared to make sacrifices and value the love of God above all else.
We heard beautiful words from the Prophet Isaiah, worth reflecting upon and seeking out for ourselves, a picture of what God offers us ‘ He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught’.
Perhaps it would help us to recall these words as we awaken each day, even if we feel low or have worries, if our ears, hearts and minds are open to seeing God in all things, the potential of learning from him greatly increases. God is the great communicator, able to ‘sustain the weary with a word.’
I read Jane Williams said that, ‘In Jesus, God’s spoken word is lived and God’s lived word is spoken, because in God there is never any separation between word and act’.
Like many of us the people of Jesus’ time try to make God’s Word fit comfortably with their lives, their priorities, their sometimes warped values and this is what Jesus came to make clear was simply wrong. ‘Get behind me Satan!’ was language intended to shock and to remind hearers that old priorities need to be left behind if we follow Christ.
When we pull all these things together, our personal experience of life and people, the love for us shown by God in Jesus, his offer of resurrection life and the offer to accompany us day by day we can then attempt to answer the question ‘who do you say I am’ in a personal capacity.
It’s something we can all benefit from doing as it also defines who we are and who we have potential to be.
12th September 2021