Sunday’s sermon: Who Am I?

Who Am I

Text used – Mark 8:27-9:8





  • [HOLD UP BIBLE] This is the Bible that I was given by my church when I was in 4th grade – April 17, 1994. It’s got my name engraved on the front – Lisa Joanne Pinney. It’s got a dedicate written on the inside … which I wrote myself because when I received it, I was thoroughly put out that no one had written anything inside it. (If you’re curious, my dedication to myself was, “May you use it all the days of your life.”) It’s got little marks around various passages from all the times I served as the layreader over the years. It’s got various highlighting and underlining throughout – the evidence of it being the only Bible that I used all through high school and into college.
    • Lots of parts of my identity wrapped up in this Bible
      • Identity as a child of my parents (maiden name on the cover)
      • Identity as a child of God
      • Identity as a worship participant
      • Identity as a life-long learner/Bible study-er
    • Identity that has clearly evolved over the years
      • Part of it have remained the same
      • Parts of it have grown and developed
      • Parts of it have faded away … But even for those parts, the reminders of that aspect of my identity are still there.
        • E.g. – purple Post-It inside the front cover
          • Single name on it: Elvis
          • Remnant from one of those ice breaker games with my first Bible study group that met in my dorm when I was a freshman → When I think back to the girl that started attending that Bible study and compare her to the person I am now, there are some things that are vastly different. But she’s still a part of me. And I’m sure that if every single one of you looked back at the person you were 10 years ago … 20 years ago … even 50 years ago, you would be able to find both the differences and the similarities in ways that are touching, ways that are shocking, and ways that are revealing.
    • We have a lot wrapped up in our identities, don’t we? In who we are. Of course we do. Who we are is … who we are! But identity is a funny thing. Some parts of our identity are self-claimed. We decide what our hobbies and interests are going to be. We decide where we’re going to live or what career we’re going to have. We decide who’s going to be in that circle of loved ones. But there are also elements of our identity that we don’t get to decide. We don’t get to choose our family. We don’t get to choose our physical characteristics. We don’t get to choose where we’re born or the language that we first learn to speak. Yet these things make up indelible parts of our identity, too. And our identity is something that’s fluid and changeable. We can learn a new skill. We can make new friends. We can even change our name or learn a new language or move to a completely new place and start again.
      • Today’s Scripture reading speaks to the importance and essence of identity in 3 different ways
  • Right off the bat = Jesus’ true identity outwardly acknowledged for the first time in Mk’s gospel – text: Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.” He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”[1] → Up to this point, the only ones who have recognized Jesus as who he truly is – Son of God, Anointed One, Messiah – are demons that Jesus has cast out of people. This moment halfway through Mark’s gospel account is the first time any person – let alone one of the disciples who have been traveling with him and learning from him and devoting themselves to him – has acknowledged who Jesus is.
    • Really interesting part of this section of text = Jesus’ response – text: He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.[2]
      • “Messianic Secret” in Mk = common theme throughout the gospel → In Mark’s account, Jesus is always ordering others – demons, healed people, and especially the disciples – not to reveal his identity.
        • Instruction that’s rarely obeyed, especially by those who have been healed (understandable, right?)
        • Purpose of this “Messianic secret” is something scholars have spilled a lot of ink trying to decipher – CEB study Bible: It’s probably best to understand the theme of secrecy in light of Jesus’ aims. He may have avoided public recognition for his miracle-working because he didn’t want to be associated with the other, fame-seeking healers of the day. He may have resisted the political hopes many attached to the title “Christ.” His identity and mission as the Christ is a secret partly because God’s kingdom is still hidden from view. From Mark’s perspective, Jesus’ status as Christ remains a mystery to some but only until God’s kingdom arrives.[3] → So Mark’s Messianic secret is about identity. It’s about preserving the purity of Jesus’ identity – not getting him confused with the natural healers or the charlatan miracle-workers that roamed the countryside. It’s about keeping Jesus’ sacred identity as Messiah and Savior of the people separate from the political expectations that were placed on the idea of “Messiah at the time” – the Jewish understanding that the Messiah would come to help them throw off the yoke of oppression, not from their sins and the permanence of death (as Jesus did) but from the political and imperialistic oppression of the Romans. And it’s about keeping his identity tied to the will and work of God which, until Jesus is crucified and resurrected, will not come to true and full fruition.
    • So this first portion of our text is about Jesus trying to define and maintain his true identity.
  • 2nd portion = glimpse of others trying to project something else onto your identity – text: Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”[4]
    • Poor Peter. In the span of a few short minutes, he goes from the high of having voiced the true identity of the Messiah to being so harshly rebuked that that same Messiah calls him Satan.
    • This part of the passage begins with Jesus trying to reveal even more about his identity → trying to clue the disciples in on just what “Messiah” or “Christ” actually is going to mean
      • Betrayal
      • Rejection
      • Suffering
      • Death
      • Resurrection
    • But this is too much for Peter to take. He’s just come into this euphoric revelation that the rabbi he’s been following is, in fact, the Messiah! And now this same rabbi is telling him that, instead of delivering the Jews from the Romans to freedom, he’s going to do the exact opposite of that? Be captured? Be killed? And be … brought back to life? No. Nope. It’s too much for Peter to wrap his head around, so he tries to pull Jesus aside to give him a little bit of a pep talk and set him straight. – text: Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him.[5]
      • Gr. = “rebuke,” “warn,” “censure,” even “punish” → This is not a soft word. Peter isn’t being gentle and cajoling with Jesus. He’s not trying to calmly and logically reason with Jesus. He’s actually scolding Jesus here. He’s trying to give Jesus an order. In fact, this is the exact same word that Jesus just used to “order” the disciples to remain silent about his identity as the Messiah. I mean … we gotta give Peter points for moxy, right? How many of you ever took aside one of your mentors, your teachers, your parents, your bosses, your team captain, or someone else in a position of authority and severely scolded them?
    • Peter’s attempt to suppress this essential element of Jesus’ identity doesn’t exactly work out well for him – Jesus turns around and rebukes him right back (yup … same Gr. word again): Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”[6] → But Jesus gets at a core truth of Peter’s identity in this harsh moment: Peter is a human being following a beloved teacher and friend. He is having a human moment – a moment in which he’s not thinking about God’s kingdom or salvation or anything else divine. He’s just thinking about his friend, Jesus. He’s thinking he doesn’t want his friend to suffer pain and rejection and death. He’s thinking he doesn’t want to have to miss his friend. And I think that’s a part of the universal human identity we can all understand.
  • 3rd portion = glimpse of transformation in identity – text: Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain where they were alone. He was transformed in front of them, and his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white. Elijah and Moses appeared and were talking with Jesus. Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice spoke from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.[7] → This is admittedly a weird moment in the gospels, right? Jesus goes up on a mountain with a few of his disciples to pray … and while they’re up on the mountain … and Jesus starts glowing brighter than those annoying LED headlights … and Moses and Elijah show up … and clouds roll in … and then out of the clouds comes the voice of God affirming the most essential part of Jesus’ identity … and then it’s suddenly all gone again – Moses, Elijah, the clouds, the voice of God, even the glowing … and everything’s back to normal … but also, nothing will ever be “back to normal.”
    • Speaks to the changing and changeable nature of identity
      • Jesus outward appearance changing (even if just temporarily) to reflect his divine nature within
      • Jesus’ identity being outwardly affirmed by God
      • This is a moment of power and grandeur but also of holiness and blessing. It’s a little bit mystical. It’s a little bit unexplainable. It’s a little bit unbelievable. But think about the work that you have done in your life any time you’ve wanted to make a change. It could be interior work – work on your habits or your thought processes or your knowledge or your spirit. Or it could be exterior work – work on your environment or your body or your relationships. It’s work that is challenging. It’s work that takes time – that almost never produces immediate results. Very often, especially if the change is to a part of us that is rooted deep in our history or our habits, it is hard work but it is also holy work, especially if it’s work that someone else recognizes and affirms and validates from the outside looking in.
  • One element of today’s text that we skipped over = our call to identity as Christians – text: After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Human One will be ashamed of that person when he comes in the Father’s glory with the holy angels.”[8] → This is Jesus calling all who hear to a Christian identity above all else.
    • Lots of different elements and layers to our identities
      • Occupation
      • Relationships
      • Hobbies and habits
      • Personality traits (multitude of personality tests that are more than happy to help you further narrow down and define and express your identity)
      • And they all make up who we are. We are multifaceted people who live multifaceted lives. Those are the things that make us unique. Those are the things that make us special. Those are very often the elements in which we find purpose and value and mission in the world around us. But Jesus’ calling in this passage is clear: first and foremost, above all else, before all else, more important than all the rest: you are a follower of Christ.
        • Guides all the other parts of our identity
        • Informs all the other parts of our identity
        • Enlightens all the other parts of our identity
        • Enfolds all the other parts of our identity
        • And if there are other parts of our identity that clash with being a follower of Christ, we must choose. Jesus makes it quite clear that that’s not going to be an easy choice – that it’s not meant to be an easy choice. But it is our choice all the same. And so I ask you this morning: Who are you? Amen.

[1] Mk 8:27-29.

[2] Mk 8:29-30.

[3] “Secrecy” in The CEB Study Bible. (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2013), 83 NT.

[4] Mk 8:31-33.

[5] Mk 8:32b.

[6] Mk 8:33.

[7] Mk 9:2-8.

[8] Mk 8:34-38.