Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sermon for First Sunday in Lent (non-lectionary), Point of View: Who Do You Say That I Am?, Mark 8:27-38

Sermon 2/26/12
Mark 8:27-38

Point of View: Who Do You Say That I Am?

Our theme for Lent this year is Point of View. Every story is told from a point of view. I shared with folks on Ash Wednesday this week that I have been reading a book series called A Song of Fire and Ice. In each book, each chapter has a different point of view, focusing in on one of the characters and what they see happening. The series is still being written, and one of the “spoilers” that the author releases first while fans are waiting for the next book to come out is a list of the chapters and which points of view will be featured. Even this bit of information gets people excited because they can start speculating about how the story will unfold, based just on points of view. Because of course, a story unfolds a little differently according to each person's point of view.
It is hard, for example, to even have textbooks that are objective. When humans record history, it is always from a point of view, and even if we try, it is never completely objective, but is subjective, dependent on the point of view of the author. For example, if you read an account of the Revolutionary War, it would read differently written by a British author than by an American author, right? Different points of view aren’t necessarily true or false. Our subjective perception of something isn’t meant to be a malicious mischaracterization of events. It is simply that we all see things differently, interpret what we experience differently. If you and I were both to describe how a certain meal tasted, we would describe it differently, because we are different! No one person can see the whole picture. We can only see from our point of view.
That is a fact we have been trying to keep in mind as we've studied the scriptures together in our Bible 101 class. Whose point of view are we hearing the story from? Whose point of view do we never see from? And what can that help us learn? For example, we read the story of the rape of Dinah in Genesis, and discovered that although we heard from her attacker and his father, Dinah's father, and Dinah's brothers, we never hear from Dinah herself. Of course, this reflects the time period of the Bible – women's voices were often overlooked. But what might Dinah have said about all these events? We can wonder, and try to put ourselves into the story.
You all know already that Jesus Christ Superstar is my favorite musical. I started going to see Superstar when I was in seventh grade, and since then, I have seen Superstar on stage in various settings about 30 times. I love Superstar. And I have asked myself why. I love theatre, I love many musicals. But with Superstar – the main thing is this: Jesus Christ Superstar makes me want to be part of the story. Watching and listening, I just want to be part of it. As a teenager, nothing drew me in to the gospel story quite like Superstar. Holy Week and Easter came alive for me in a totally new way through the musical. I wanted to know what made each character tick – what motivated them and what did they see in Jesus, I wondered? I asked myself where I would be in the story. Would I be a disciple? Would I be on the sideline? Would I be one who wanted Jesus put to death? Superstar simply drew me in, and my fascination with the musical led me to a love of the season of Lent, a curiosity about the passion story, and a deeper faith.
For me, the heart of the story of Superstar is an identity question in two parts. Who is Jesus? And who am I? Superstar focuses on the last week of Jesus’ life on earth, but it is less about the events and more about the people. What were the people closest to Jesus thinking in the week leading up to the crucifixion? Why did some choose to become disciples? Why would some give up everything to follow him? Why would Judas betray Jesus? Why was Mary so devoted? Why did Peter’s faith waver? Why did the priests want him dead? Why did Pilate cede his authority? Why? These are the questions I wonder about when I read the scriptures.
Today, our scripture text is from the gospel of Mark. Jesus has been travelling and teaching and healing, with his disciples accompanying him. And on their way to Caesarea Philippi, he asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” They answer “John the Baptist,” and “Elijah,” and “one of the prophets.” But Jesus asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter answers boldly, and for the first time, “You are the Messiah.” Then Jesus begins to tell them that the Son of Man will undergo suffering, rejection, and death, before a resurrection three days later. Peter, who has just made such a bold proclamation, rebukes Jesus for saying such things. Jesus responds, “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.” Peter could see who Jesus was – the Messiah. But he hadn’t yet learned what that meant – couldn’t see what being the Messiah would mean for Jesus – or perhaps, more accurately, couldn’t accept it.
Jesus calls the crowds together, along with the disciples, and makes things very clear: “If any want to become my followers, than let them deny themselves, and take up the cross, and follow me. For 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.” Very simply, you can’t claim Jesus is the Messiah without knowing what that means, without consequences. For Jesus, it’s a simple if-then logic statement. If who Jesus is is the Messiah, then it follows that there will be a certain response from us. If we believe he is the Messiah, then we will deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow him. And in reverse, if we aren’t denying ourselves, taking up the cross, and following Jesus, how can we claim him as the Messiah?
            What is your point of view: Who do you say that Jesus is? And what difference has that made in your life? Who are you? And how is who you are related to who Jesus is, or who you say he is? In the next weeks, we’ll look at the points of view of Mary, Peter, Judas, Pontius Pilate, and more. We’ll find out who they thought they were. Did they change who they were because of who they thought Jesus was? Did who Jesus was change who they were? Some, we’ll see, try to make Jesus into who they wanted him to be. Some knew exactly who Jesus was, and feared him for it. Some were plagued by doubts and questions, and could never figure out who they were without understanding who Jesus was. Some knew who Jesus was, and learned how it had to change their lives, their very identities, knowing who Jesus was.
What is your point of view? Who do you say that Jesus is? How do you see him? As a prophet? A teacher? A healer? A miracle-worker? A work of fiction? A historical figure to admire? The Messiah? And who are you? How do you see yourself? As a student? A skeptic? A believer? A questioner? An enemy? A child of God? A disciple? This Lent, this season, these forty days, the questions before us are the most important we can ask, about our very identity. Every day, we’re asked to define ourselves, to identify ourselves. We give proof in Driver’s Licenses and social security numbers and ID cards. We answer the question: I’m a mother. I’m a doctor. I’m his brother. I’m a banker. But this Lent, this season, these forty days, we only have one person to answer to. Jesus asks, “who do you say that I am?” And who does that make you?
Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow me.”
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