But Who do You Say I am?

Earl Gould                                                                            Sept. 16, 2018

Year B, Seventeenth after Pentecost

Text: Mark 8:27-38

 

I asked that we open our worship this morning by singing:

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty,

Holy, Holy, Holy, Merciful and Mighty,

God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity.

 

I grew up singing this Hymn every Sunday evening – always the opening Hymn. And as a child, while what seemed to me to be endlessly long and boring sermons – I gazed on the stain glass window depiction of Jesus – standing at a door – knocking – with an inscription intending to direct the worshiper to the last book of the New Testament – Revelation 3:20:

“Listen, I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”

You have some art as an insert in your service bulletin. It is an icon. Icons are not idols. They are meant to point us in the right direction. This icon was created by a Russian iconographer in the fifteenth century (1400’s). It depicts the Trinity. The original is still in a gallery in Moscow.

 

In this piece of art there are three primary colours:

Rublev considered gold the colour of the Father (left), perfection, fullness, wholeness,

Jesus – (center figure) – blue – colour of the Human – sea and sky – colour of the world – God in Christ taking on the world. Jesus – showing two fingers – depicting that Jesus is both spirit and matter, divinity and humanity, together within himself – for us.

And then there’s green – representative of the Spirit (figure on the right) – vitality, growth .

 

The Holy One in the form of three – eating and drinking together – sharing a common bowl. But, note the hand of the Spirit pointing toward the open and fourth place at the table…

There’s something missing…

There is room at this table for a fourth …

Yes – You. A place for you at the table. At the heart of Christian revelation God is not seen as a distant, static king.

 

Our Gospel this morning, Jesus asking his disciples “But who do you say that I am?” This question has challenged succeeding generations for two thousand years. Still today very relevant.

We can attempt our response here this morning. The first thing we can say with assurance – Jesus was a historic person. He lived in Roman occupied Israel/Palestine 2000 years ago.

After his death it took 300 years for succeeding generations of his followers to come up with the concept of Trinity. But this idea has foundation in the Bible.

If today is a 3 point sermon, my first point is that answering the question – “Who is Jesus” is not static, not fixed.

The Jewish faith’s gift to the world – gradually, gradually, over the centuries – and you can trace it through the books of the Old Testament – the Jewish Faith’s gift to the world is that there is only one God. There is only one God. The Jew’s gift to the world. And the older we get as a world – this is accepted by more and more of us, not just Jews and her two children: Christianity and Islam.

And the gift the Christian faith gives the world: you can get glimpses into who this one God is – by getting to know Jesus. But, you know what? I’m thinking we Christians are getting ho-hum about this – forgetting the potency of this. We need to stop and refresh ourselves. We have an unbelievable fantastic gift to the world – nothing comparable. Jesus – not only window into seeing God – but when we see Jesus – we are seeing God.

This has been called the scandal of particularity – that in one person – in one place and time God came to earth. You don’t want to squander this opportunity. And you want to live with the question – as a living question – because living with the question opens things up for you.

One way of looking at it – God won’t stir a question in your heart without providing the resources to find the answer. It’s just so important to realize that if we are spiritually alive – we are never finished answering the question “But who do you say that I am?”

The second point I would want to make about the question “But who do you say that I am?” is this – underline You! It’s not what I think/believe; it’s not what your partner, your friend, your neighbour thinks/believes: It is what you believe!

This is vitally important because how you live your life is based on what you believe to be true, truly believe to be true. You want to have an orthodox faith – a right faith. But not out of fear.

Throughout the Bible accounts, how many times when people get into close proximity with things divine, does an angel, or risen from the dead Jesus say… “Peace, be with you. Do not be afraid.”  It is no matter of fact thing to be in the company of the Divine. It is terrifying.

When I look back on my life – I would say I have been too worried about whether I had it right or not – especially when I was climbing into a pulpit. That prayer before the sermon is not an idle filler. But know what – we don’t need to be afraid. We want, cherish, and strive for an orthodox faith – because that is a healthy place to be.

Here I am using the word orthodox, orthodox – in sense of – seems to be closest to the truth we can get. This doesn’t mean that the Church’s official doctrine, beliefs, practices can’t be off the mark. A church that doesn’t accept female and male as unqualified equals – I would say – is not really of God.

As I study the Trinity more deeply – I can say with ever greater confidence – calling God – “Father” was never intended to put male above female. God is neither male nor female – but something beyond our fathoming.

When I say how vitally important it is that your faith be yours – I am not saying anything goes, whatever you believe is just fine. But I am saying – own your faith: let it direct your life…

And live in grace! Know that you don’t have absolute truth – now, today, and never will!

Know that you are working on a temporary visa – constantly updating – as you mature, learn and grow into God’s wisdom. But it is so exciting – having a relationship with a living God – that is your very own.

My third point is – lean into the mystery of it all. When Jesus asks you – “But who do you say that I am” – just live with that question. We are always on the edge.

We get it, we have an aha moment, then the vision is gone, we’re flat footed again. Most of us here aren’t familiar, even comfortable with icons. It just is not part of our upbringing. But this icon is being shared and popularized in the ecumenical circles of the Christian Church these days because it invites us into revisiting Trinity. I brought it to the office, Heather says – “Oh, we have it here in our office resources.” The words of “Holy, Holy, Holy, God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity”… are breaking open anew a sense for us that Jesus is intertwined with our sense of God as Father/Mother and Spirit, as Holy presence.

There is so much that is baffling, even frightening about our one God being three. To make matters even worse, more baffling, there is so much we can’t get about Jesus being fully human and fully divine.

Well, we are all – more or less – living in the mystery of this. What is important – it seems to me – is: let God be God. God is Mystery. God is our creator, beyond us. But this God chooses to live among us. So much we will never ever grasp. But this is the paradox: God – the unknowable – is knowable to us. All we need to know – we have in and through Jesus.

The icon of the Blessed Trinity surely has it right – we are invited to sit at the table with the Blessed Trinity. “Who do you say that I am?” We say – You Jesus – are not only our window into seeing God; you are God among us, come among us, as one of us. You Jesus are far more than we can ever fathom, but that is OK. We can live with that.

Help us, we pray, grown into the relationship you invite us to have with God as our Mother, our Father, and as God present right here – not far off – but right here – Spirit among us; within us.

Yes, my friends in Christ – it is so absolutely totally, totally amazing – that we can be in the company of God – know that we are loved, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God – as present among us, for us, in and through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Amen. Amen