Sunday, 16 September 2012

Who is the Christ?

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.”

An exercise I like to do with folks on retreat involves choosing a picture of Jesus that, for them, captures their notion of Jesus.
It might be an image from our Sunday School days -of Jesus surrounded by cute animals. Those sort of pictures hung on the walls of our youth halls.
There are so many images of Jesus from many different cultures.
What about this image of the Rasta Christ?
Or this Korean image of Christ carrying his cross?
An image from the Philippines is of The Angry Christ - painted by an artist whose experience is of oppressive military regimes, depicting the kind of Christ his people need to rescue them from the unfair world that is beyond their control.
But Maybe you're more comfortable with this image of Jesus calming the storm.
And you're probably more familiar with the image of Jesus of Nazareth as portrayed by Robert Powell.
One of my favourite images is the laughing Christ.
I believe Jesus has a great sense of humour and, often, sees the absurdity of life.
So many images of the Christ.
Today, in our gospel, the disciples are being challenged to sort out their image of Christ, to get to grips with Jesus whom they have left everything to follow.
To get real about what that means and about the demands it places on them.

It doesn't seem that long since we considered, here in worship, Jesus question "Who do you say I am?". Some of you were brave enough to share how you would answer that question - who Jesus is for you. It's a question we can never consider too often but today, I'd like to nudge us on a wee bit in our musings - to consider, once we've decided, for ourselves, who Jesus is - what do we do with that information?
However you answer Jesus question for yourself, what difference does your answer make to your life?
In this passage we often focus on what a good answer Peter gave: You are the Christ.
But it is the rest of the passage that gives us some clue as to what  "The Christ" demands of each of us.
The posing of this question in Marks gospel signals a dramatic change in direction for Marks portrayal of Jesus.
A turning point in how Jesus is portrayed from then on in Marks gospel.
It's as though the secret is out -Jesus is revealed as the Christ - and so begins to speak often and at length about his death.
Because this is what is important for Jesus.
It is as though discovering who Jesus is is not enough.
Because our image of Christ is not enough.
And that is why Jesus gets so ticked off at Peter.
Peter has proclaimed him as the Christ.
But the Christ that the people of his age were anticipating was a vastly different character from Jesus.
The Christ they invested their hopes in was a kind of freedom fighter who would violently overthrow those who oppressed Gods people, one who would battle his way to victory.
Jesus needs to disabuse his followers of that notion of him and re-educate them in his vision of The Christ, a vision that involved suffering and death, not violent campaigns to overthrow governments.
That is why, from this point on, Jesus speaks of his road to the cross, calling his followers to join him on his journey.
And why he is so annoyed at Peter for not understanding just how different a Christ he follows.
But who can blame the disciples for being slow to grasp the different kind of road that Jesus would have them travel?
This is not the journey they had anticipated.
This is not the elaborate military campaign they might have envisaged.
Instead, Jesus is taking them on a very different journey - a journey that involves taking up a cross.
So, Peter, having proclaimed Jesus as the Christ has to decide what to do with the kind of Christ that he has chosen to follow.
Will he be able to stick with this Christ - who leads no earthly crusade, who promises no earthly victory?
Peter has to decide - is this new image of Christ one he can continue to follow?
Can he live into being a disciple of THIS Christ?
The one who demands that we discover a new identity -for him AND for ourselves.
Whatever or however we proclaim Christ, he refuses to be moulded to our image and calls us to follow in ways that are not of our choosing.
And so, as we re-define our image of Christ, so too we must re-define our relationship with this Christ.
Over the past couple of weeks, as we have learned about Jesus as portrayed in Mark's gospel, we have pondered the inclusivity of the gospel - the expansion of grace to include all who come.
Jesus reinforces that message of inclusion in today's gospel: "if ANY want to become my followers "
We are all invited.
But it involves denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following.
We are ALL invited.
But will we re-imagine our image of Christ and fall into step with this new, revised version?
Knowing who Jesus is won't do us much good on its own.
Jesus invites us to really get to know him - how?
By following him.
As we follow and learn more and more.
As our image of the Christ is changed by our following, then we can begin to live into being disciples.
"Want to know what I'm like?" invites Jesus.
Then follow me.
We are all invited to know Christ better - by following.
May we be willing to discover who Jesus is as we follow.
And, in discovering the Christ may we be willing to share.

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