Sermon for Trinity XVI – Sunday 16 September 2018 – at St John the Baptist, Felixstowe.
Text: Jesus 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.’ (Mark 8v27-29)
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
I’m pretty certain when Roger Daltry and The Who penned the lyrics for their eponymous song ‘Who Are You?’ which describes either a rough night out in Soho or the grind of working in ‘The Smoke’, they did not expect that it – and a couple more of their tunes – would become the theme tune for one of the 21st Century’s most succesful TV dramas.
Of course the 797 episodes of CSI, be it the original Las Vegas or the spin-offs in Miami, New York, and even cyber-space (CSI: Cyber) do not have the same existential angst as a rock band from the 1970’s!
When they asked ‘Who Are You?’ The Who were exploring personal identity and not investigating cadavers and their untimely deaths.
The phrase ‘Who are you’ (or in the slang of British football fan ‘Who are Ya?’) is not always about soul-searching or finding an identity but more of an insult aimed at opposition teams or even the referee! Perhaps what the soccer fans are really asking is ‘Who Do You Think You Are?‘ but I resist the temptation to dive down that rabbit warren as it would mean looking at another TV series – BBC this time with 130 episodes so far and a regular audience of 6 million per showing – and instead would like to explore why we are so desperate to have definitve knowledge of either our own or other people’s identity.
Identity is important, after all even Jesus asks the question, ‘Who do people say that I am?’
Why do we want to know who or what people and things are and name them?
Is it so that we can put them in their place, label them and store them, or even dismiss them?
The Archbishop of Canterbury has recently been asked ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ by several media commentators not because they want to listen to him, but because they want to belittle his message. Sounds a fairly Christlike place for him to be, do add him to your personal prayers in the weeks ahead please.
Naming goes back to the very beginning of the story of God’s care for us. As we have been discovering in our Home Groups, it was in the Garden that the LORD God gave the man the authority to name all the livestock and birds that were created only moments before him.
To be able to name something, someone, is to own a small part of their identity. If you tell me your name I can call you and, for a moment you are mine.
In Apartheid South Africa when Black people, working thankless dehumanizing tasks in White South Africa, (jobs were grown adults were referred to as ‘the boy’ or ‘the girl’) often lived under two names. They had an igama umsebenz’ (a ‘work’ name which carried no personal meaning for them) and then there was their ‘home’ name, their ‘igama ikhaya’ which they shared with those they trusted and in whose company you felt at home.
In our own society we do the same with nicknames.
I try to respond positively to any name I am called, but I, reluctantly, own up to the fact that I enjoy hearing my ‘pet’ name most from the lips of those whom I try to love the best. Others are free to use it but I hear it differently when it is spoken by the lips of the three people closest to me who call me by no other name.
So, knowing the importance of name for us personally, for physical identity, for a personal sense of being, for our reputation, how challenging for our selfish way of categorising people is it when, instead of proclaiming His pedigree before His Transfiguration – after which any doubt of who Jesus is disappears – Jesus turns to His closest friends and says, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ .
There are some guesses but Simon, to be called Peter the Rock because of his inspired statement, nails it, ‘You are the Messiah.’ Mind you his prescience is fairly short-lived as his vision of the Messiah isn’t remotely close to the Messiah’s vision of the Messiah!
Poor Peter. One moment destined to be the first Bishop of Rome and the next he is being likened to Lucifer!
Does this not happen to us as well? Are we not also guilty of naming Jesus as Messiah but not owning the consequences of who He is?
It’s nice to know, as I used to sing loudly in Aggie Weston’s Sunday School in a Nisan Hut on a bombed out part of Tipner estate in Pompey, that ‘I am on the Lord’s side’. It is not quite so nice to take His side when it may involve great suffering, rejection, and killing. Yes, I know He says something about rising again after three days but does it have to hurt so much? Do I really have to face rejection by others? Does the death have to be quite so bloody and public? Little wonder Peter the Rock crumbled to dust in the courtyard of the High Priest.
And today it is our turn to answer the question Jesus of Nazareth posed to his closest followers, ‘But who do you say that I am?’
We need to be careful with our answer.
Get it right and it could mean that we are known by a new name as well.
Get it right and it could mean that we may be in for a little suffering, rejection, and even (whisper it quietly) death, if we shout His name too loudly or take this religion stuff too seriously.
But get it right and we will find ourselves living no longer for ourselves, with all our pettiness about ‘Who are ya?’ and all our angst over ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ melting away like a morning sea mist. Instead we will stand in the sure and certain knowledge that, above all else we are ‘εν Χριστό’, in Christ.
And if we are found to be ‘In Him’, our doubts, our reputation, and our insecurities are worthless.
So friends who do people say that we are?
We are not yet perfect, for until we gather at the great wedding banquet in Paradise we remain pilgrims.
Who are we? We are bond servants of the Risen Christ who calls us to be servants of all. We will fail, we will fall, we will choose ourselves above others but today we stand and proclaim that we are His and are determined to leave the past and serve Him and Him alone.
In this spirit I ask that today in place of our usual creed we renew our baptism promises.
Do you turn to Christ?
I turn to Christ.
Do you repent of your sins?
I repent of my sins.
Do you renounce evil?
I renounce evil.
May God, who has given us the will to do these things, graciously give us the strength and compassion to perform them. Amen
© Andrew Dotchin 2018