Jesus

Who Do You Say That I Am?

I love the two questions that Jesus asks of the disciples in our gospel reading. Who do people say that I am? And Who do you say that I am? These are two crucial questions for our life of faith. And Jesus asks them at such a crucial time in our gospel reading. Our reading falls at the midpoint of the Gospel of Mark just before the transfiguration. Up to this point, the focus of Jesus ministry is healing and teaching. The transfiguration, the holy moment on the mountain, which we usually hear about just before Lent, follows right after today’s reading. This is the moment that moves Jesus from his teaching and healing ministry to his journey to Jerusalem. The things that Jesus says and does in our reading for today are laying the foundation for what is to come.

At first it seems like an ordinary moment. Jesus and the disciples are on the way to Caesarea Philippi. While they are walking, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27) It is almost as though Jesus is trying to get the pulse on what is happening in the community. What are people saying about me? The disciples come up with a great list, “John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. It is a pretty good list. But that is not enough. Jesus pushes a little further and says, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29) Peter without hesitation says, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:30) Jesus tells them not to tell anyone. He goes on to tell them that the son of man must suffer and die. This is too much for Peter. The kind of messiah that Peter is expecting doesn’t suffer and die – the lead rebellions and change the political landscape. So Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke Jesus. Jesus puts a stop to it saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:33)

There is so much that is packed into 6 verses questions of identity and expectations. I’ve been watching some superhero movies lately. They are great teachers when it comes to identity because there are always two – the everyday Peter Parkers and then their secret identity as the superhero. One person and yet two faces are presented to the world. Superheroes help us explore not only the nature of good and evil, but how to live in the world with integrity. We are not all superheroes but we all have multiple identities and roles. I’m a mother, a wife, a friend, a minister, a daughter. Each of those identities come with expectations and we must find a way to hold onto the values that make us who we are no matter what role we find ourselves in.

We can see it so clearly in Peter. Sometimes he gets it so right like he did when he proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah. The problem comes for Peter when his definition and expectations of what it means to be the Messiah get in the way of seeing who Jesus really is. Peter hears words like suffering and death and he thinks that Jesus has it all wrong. That is not what the Messiah does. He did not sign up for this when Jesus invited him to follow. It was a complete clash of expectations. Jesus knows who he is and exactly what he is here for and knows the road that he must travel. But Peter imagined a much different road. But Jesus knows who he is and invites Peter to keep following. The final teaching from Jesus in chapter 8 reminds the disciples that part of what they are called to do.

Too often what Jesus says next is used to keep people living in untenable situations. Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) This is an invitation to follow Jesus and help make the kingdom of God a reality. And sometimes that means sacrifice. Peter had to sacrifice his own expectations of Messiah so that he could truly see Jesus and know who Jesus is.

It means answering those crucial questions for ourselves. Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am. If we know who Jesus is, in our community and in our lives, it opens us up to new ways following in Jesus’ way. In the church we have decades of study and history to tell us who Jesus is. We have all sorts of names for him: good shepherd, lamb of God, the Christ, Emmanuel – God with us, Lord, Master, The Word, Son of God, Son of David, Light of the World, Rabbi, teacher, friend, brother, Saviour, bread of life …

The list of the names for Jesus can go on. But that is only the first step. We know what people and the church have been saying over the years, but Jesus asks us all, Who do you say that I am?

I’m going to invite you to take a minute and think deeply about that question. I can’t answer it for you. Maybe todays answer is different from last months or last years. In your bulletin, there is a slip of paper in the bulletin with the question, “Who do you say that I am?” take a minute to answer Jesus question. Maybe you will have so many ideas that they won’t ift on that piece of paper and maybe you won’t know what to write. That’s all okay. This is your time to ponder a little bit about Jesus. You can write it down, close your eyes and think about, talk to a neighbour.

Reflection time with music

Jesus, asks us “Who do you say that I am?” The answer for this question is not fixed. It can change over a lifetime of faith. Knowing who Jesus is for your shapes your faith and guides each of us as we live out our faith as individuals and in this gathered community. It helps us live into that promised kingdom of God. Who do you say that I Am? Amen

Come and See

To really understand our gospel reading from John, you need to press rewind and go back a few verses. It really begins the day after Jesus’ baptism. John is standing there with two of his disciples. Maybe John’s disciples are wondering what John was getting on with saying that there, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! …And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1: 29, 34) Maybe they are preparing for the day’s work. Maybe they are just waiting for something to happen. As they are standing there Jesus walks by and John says, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” (John 1:37)

            John’s two disciples follow Jesus so they can figure out what John is talking about. When Jesus notices them following him, he says, “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38) The two answered by asking, “where are you staying?” [Jesus] said to them, “Come and see.” (John 1:38 – 39) They did just that. I’m not sure what they saw or what they did during that day. We only know that one of the two was Andrew and Andrew’s brother is Simon Peter. Inspired by what he saw that day, Andrew boldly tells his brother, “We have found the Messiah.” (John 1:41) Then Andrew brings his brother to see Jesus. Jesus takes one look at Simon and says, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).” (John 1:42)

            It is almost miraculous how Jesus calls the first disciples – it begins with looking for something and an invitation to come and see. And when they see what Jesus is about they drop everything and him. It is only after the calling of Andrew and Simon Peter that we arrive at our reading for today.

Our reading starts the next day when Jesus decides to go to Galilee. This is where Jesus finds Philip and says him, “Follow me” and Philip does without hesitation. Philip finds Nathaniel and tells him the amazing news about Jesus being the Messiah. Now we hit the first road block. Nathaniel is skeptical. Oh he hears Philip telling him about Jesus and how they have found the Messiah in Jesus, son Joseph of Nazareth. All Nathaniel says is “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

            It’s a bit rude – playing on stereotypes and preconceived notions about people from a particular place. It’s sarcastic. It implies that there is no way Philip is telling the truth. Nathaniel is a sceptic. Philip doesn’t get mad. He simply repeats the invitation he received from Jesus, “Come and See”

            It’s a powerful invitation – especially since it seems that so many people are looking for something more. I’ve found often wondering or looking for something that gives more meaning. Perhaps you’ve been there too.  I think most of us can identify with that search for deeper meaning can’t we? As a society it seems that we are all searching for something whether it is meaning, or hope, or a new way of living, or that “thing” that will help everything else make sense. It reminds me of one of U2’s great hits “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”


I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was one empty night
I was cold as a stone
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for

I believe when the Kingdom comes
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But yes I'm still running.
You broke the bonds
You loosened the chains
You carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believed it
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for

We are looking for “that something” that puts everything in perspective. I read an article in Christianity Today this week about the “new monasticism.” It is Christian monastic communities where people become “monks” but the target age is 20 – 35 and you commit to a year instead of a lifetime. In these communities they learn the ancient practices of prayer that have stood the test of time. The new monastic communities are attracting the people who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Perhaps if Nathaniel were living today he would be spiritual but not religious. In the article it says “'There is a deep spiritual yearning for substance and depth,' says Rev Ian Mobsby of St Luke's Camberwell in Peckham, London. 'But people immediately assume the church has nothing to offer to that. That is why people call themselves spiritual and not religious.'  'People are asking, "What are the anchors to life? What is life about?"' he says. 'New monasticism is trying to say to a world increasingly interested in spirituality that Christianity has a lot to say.'” (https://www.christiantoday.com/article/new-monasticism-why-are-so-many-young-people-choosing-to-become-temporary-monksupdate1/123897.htm)

            I think that the heart of Jesus’ invitation. It is like Jesus says to us, “Come as you are with your questions and your doubts and concerns and see what I am about.” Jesus didn’t really answer Nathaniel’s questions but Jesus somehow sees him as he is. Philip asks Nathaniel to come and see. When Jesus sees Nathaniel coming he says, “Here is truly and Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47) The Message translates this phrase, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.” (John 1:47) Nathaniel couldn’t hide his questions or doubts or that he did not believe Philip’s proclamation that Jesus was indeed the One, the Messiah that they had been waiting for.

            You can imagine that Nathaniel’s reaction to statement about his was just as direct. “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” (John 1:48) I’m not sure what happened for Nathaniel in that moment but something big happened. The next words out of his mouth are, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49) It is amazing.

Jan Schnell Rippentrop writes, “Nathaniel is not one of those folks whose faith developed gradually. He is one who was also himself startled when the reality of Jesus snapped unexpectedly into focus. There is something about that fig tree remark that made who Jesus is clear for Nathaniel. The reader does not get to be privy to what exactly transformed Nathaniel’s view of Jesus. What is clear is that epiphanies of the Christ come to different people in such drastically different ways that it can even be incomprehensible.” (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3529)

We come to faith in a variety of ways. For some it is just like it was for Nathaniel one-minute doubting and asking questions and then next minute full of conviction. For others it is a lifetime of questions and answers and gradually coming to believe. A friend of mine once describe the different ways of as faith as deep fryer faith and slow cooker faith –both create something beautiful.

Jesus invites us all to come and see. It is not an invitation rooted in the past but one that is given each day. With that invitation comes the promise that Jesus sees us just as we are and invites us to be about God’s work in the world. We come as we are with all our questions, fears, beliefs, doubts, joys and see what Jesus is about in our lives, community and world. Jesus to us today, “Come and see.” Amen. 

Wheat and Weeds

As you might imagine, the gospel reading for this morning has inspired me to think about wheat and weeds. Gardeners and famers all know that they don’t want weeds in their flower beds or fields. They take the good nutrients from the soil and they make it harder for the stuff we want to growing to grow. My front lawn, much to Scott’s chagrin, is a testament that very principle. We want grass but there are dandelions everywhere. For several years we even waged a battle with gout weed in our flower beds.

            Here is my problem. I like weeds – well maybe not gout weed. Some weeds have beautiful flowers. A field of dandelions is a glorious shade of yellow. When I come home from work and see that field of yellow, I smile. Queen Anne’s lace has a delicate flower. The thistle is beautiful shade of purple and green. The lilies of the field that Jesus talked about – beautiful red weeds that grow in every crack in the concrete. I’m not alone. The Iona community published a whole book called Dandelions and Thistles. My favourite poem from the collection is called Dandelions and Thistles.

In the beginning

God saw the cheerful unrepentant weeds:

Thistles and dandelions—

They were fruitful and multiplied.

They bloomed on poor soil

And in the barren wilderness;

They brought colour into a solemn world.

God, knowing the secret of life and death,

Created green shouts that spring up after rain,

flowers that follow sun

fruits that will only grow

if they fall in the earth and die.

These weeds – as down-to-earth as you or me

are parables of the wisdom and work of God.

            Jesus parable for us today is as complex as our relationship with weeds. Don’t get confused with last week’s parable of the Sower. This different. Jesus is talking about wheat and weeds. It is another kingdom of God parable. There once was a farmer who sowed good seed but at night while the hired hands were sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds. When the wheat started to grow so did the weeds. The farm hands came and asked the master if he used good seed. He says, “An enemy has done this.” (Matthew 13:28) When they ask if they should pull up all the weeds. The farmer says, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:29 – 30)

This is a parable of God’s grace. It is easy to miss if we focus the weeds being bundled and burned. Pay attention to some other details in the parable. The person who planted the seed was the boss – the master. In Jesus’ day that was unheard of. The master doesn’t plant, the workers do. Then, the master instructs them to let the wheat and weeds grow together. Elizabeth Johnson says, “What Matthew most likely refers to, however, is darnel or cockle, a noxious weed that closely resembles wheat and is plentiful in Israel. The difference between darnel and real wheat is evident only when the plants mature and the ears appear. The ears of the real wheat are heavy and will droop, while the ears of the darnel stand up straight.” https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=979

Here is the challenge of the parable and for us in our daily lives. You can’t always tell the difference between the wheat the weeds and God looks on things very differently than we do. Maybe we humans are a strange mixture of wheat and weeds; good and bad. Sometimes we do wonderful things and sometimes we turn from God’s ways. The master, God, lets them both grow together because you can’t always tell who is going to be bear the fruit of the kingdom. That’s the beauty of this parable. God is telling is it not up to us decide who is the wheat and who is weeds – who is in and who is out. God is saying – leave that to me. Because sometimes – maybe most of the time – people will surprise you.

 That was certainly true of Jacob. God did not choose Jacob but not because he was perfect or even at first glance a good human being. Jacob is a liar and a cheat. He stole his brother’s inheritance and blessing and now his on the run from his rightfully angry brother. After a long day spent fleeing his brother’s wrath, Jacob find himself alone in strange place. God comes to him in a dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder.  As he dream, God makes a promise to Jacob that echoes the one made to Abraham and Isaac before him:

            “I am the Lord... the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28:13 – 15)

            Then Jacob changes. Love has a way of transforming lives. Jacob says, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, ... so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house.” (Genesis 28: 20 – 22)

            This is the heart of the good news. It is for all of us. God’s love transforms our lives. God takes the broken or missing pieces in our lives and makes us whole. Jacob was a strange mixture of wheat and weeds and yet God made him the heir to a promise. God says “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.” The same is true for us. God is with us no matter what. God knows our hearts. We too can pray Psalm 139, “O God, you have searched me and known me. ...How deep your designs are to me, O God! How great their number! I try to count them but they are more than sand. I come to the end – I am still with you.” (Psalm 139)

            God’s kingdom is beyond compare. God searches our hearts and knows us – the good and the bad – the weeds and the wheat and loves us and walks with us. That is God’s amazing grace to us. We do not need to worry about who is in or who is out. Our calling is simple – follow in Jesus way of compassion and love. Then leave the rest to God’s infinite and amazing grace. Amen.