And Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesare’a Philip’pi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Eli’jah; and others one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.” And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Mark 8:27- 38 (RSV)
In today’s gospel reading we are presented a question, “Who do you say I am?” The various answers one could give to this question differ greatly. Our answers often depend upon ones experience with Christ. If you add to this the socialization we gain in being part of a United States, we multiple the options one may derive when asked the question, “Who do you say I am?”
I have often found myself asking this very question. I wrestle with this question on a daily basis. This struggle led me to Africa as a missionary. This struggle led me to work in youth ministry. This struggle led me to seminary.
It is in seminary that I began to gain insight into what it means to call yourself reformed, Presbyterian, Christian, or saved. It was over the last year that I gained insight into the world I believed I understood and knew. I received definitions and a new language to which to articulate and understand what my emotions have been telling me over my life time.
I was introduced to the many voices that have gone before me. I am just dangerous enough to get myself and others into trouble. I realize that I do not stand alone. I cannot exist outside of the community of God. I am dependent upon the body of Christ for subsistence. It was in seminary that finitude, depravity, and estrangement became real.
I began to meditate on today’s pericope two weeks ago. I love this story. It is filled with wisdom, confusion, clarity, and direction. It also lends to a wonderful framework to explore this great question, “Who is Jesus Christ in relationship to creation?” Who is Jesus to us on an individual or corporate level?
As I began to write this sermon I wondered what that conversation would look like between Jesus Christ and John Calvin, Karl Barth, and Paul Tillich. Imagine with me…these four men walking along 290 on their way to Austin. Calvin, Barth, Tillich still reeling with excitement at the miracles and lessons Jesus has preformed here in Elgin. Jesus turns to them and asks, “Who do you say I am?” What would three of the foundational reformed thinkers say to Jesus?
Calvin would call Jesus the mediator. Because in Christ we are brought back into relationship with God. This is made possible with mediation provided in the mysterious nature of Christ, as both human and divine. The mediation transpires when God is with us, in the form of Christ Jesus.
Absent of mediation in Christ we are unaware of the dire predicament are truly in. It is only in Christ that we are able to perceive the depravity in which we exist. The nature of this relationship of depravity and mediation brings us to the “right” intention of creation. This reflects the very nature of the trinity and the mediation of Christ allows us to participate in this community.
Christ is the mediator unto which we all shall be judged (John 5:27, John 8:15-16, John 12:47, Acts 10:40-43, Acts 17:31, Romans 2:16, Romans 3,). It is in Christ that we share in the unification of the community of God (1 Corinthians 10:15). The mediation of Christ brings us first into unity with God and binds us as the body of Christ as believers. Therefore, judgment of the living and the dead is mediated by Christ and restoration of our depraved nature achieved in this blessed act of God in flesh, Jesus Christ.
Humanity requires a mediator with God in the presence of our sinful, depraved nature and this mediator must relate and intercede for the parties in need of mediation. Humanity is in need of one which returns the ability to commune with God. God is in need of one that can bring the intended righteousness to the depraved creation. This need of God is not one of limitation of the nature of God rather one of self limitation of the most high in the desire to return creation to the original created order. Christ is this mediator, fully human and fully divine.
The understanding of corporate sin and the acceptance of a depraved nature as understood by Calvin leads us to answer; no we cannot embrace the nature of God absent of the mediation of Christ. We are so blinded by of sinful nature that we aimlessly exist void of our “true nature”. Only by the mediation of Christ and the movement of the Holy Spirit are we brought into the light and darkness is repelled. Christ mediates so that we may become aware of this depraved nature and intend to move towards the “true nature”. To not have Christ as mediator prohibits the ability to acknowledge depravity and ceases any opportunity to obtain faith. To understand Christ as our mediator is to move forward in faith to wards the outstretched arms of Christ into communion with God.
According to Calvin we cannot embrace God. We do not have the ability to understand our depraved nature, lacking in understanding (revelation) the degree in which we exist. Only upon the planting of the seed of faith can we see rightly and move forward in the mediation of Christ.
The inclusivity of the mediation of Christ must therefore be radical and all encompassing. Christ can not mediate for the elect. The intention to bring creation into “right” community with God does not hinge upon creations response. Rather it is the divine will of God and the actions of Christ. To illustrate the intention and implication of this statement the parable of the wedding feast comes to mind in Matthew 22. The preparation for redemption and reunification unto God is present. The mediation and calling is enacted by Christ. Creations requirement is to consume the meal and revel in the festivities.
The mediation of Christ brings a new vision, a new hope. For those that are marginalized, enslaved, persecuted, excluded, and without, Christ mediates the festival in which there is no distinction of color, religion, race, profession, philosophy, gender, sex, or other earthly bond. The true mediation of Christ is in the freedom to receive grace and salvation absent of the depravity under which creation exists.
What does this mean to those that hunger at night, those that seek justice in the face of oppression, and those that are persecuted and martyred in the name of Christ? To those that hunger, comfort can only be brought when the physical body is nourished as the spiritual body is. Christ as mediator works in us to provide for those brothers and sisters that are without.
It is in Christ that all blessings flow. It is in the mediation of Christ that we are able to be judged and proclaimed righteous. It is this same mediation that moves in the body of Christ to provide and unify the body.
It is not a failing of the mediation of Christ that persecutes and enslaves. It is the depraved nature of creation that moves away from the “true nature” intended for us. We need not cast away the message of hope or exclude those that do not “believe”. It is our charge to act as our master (Christ) does. We are to move in radical manners, to set forth in dramatic fashion to reclaim the mediation of Christ available and offered to all of creation.
“Humanity is weak, finite, and broken!” shouts Karl Barth at the top of his lungs. We are pitiful creatures. We will never be able to rise above our situation. We worship trees, we worship the body, and we glorify ourselves…we are full of ourselves! There is no hope for humanity. You are the “true man!”
Wait there is hope…God has witnessed our brokenness, our finitude and has grieved for us and with us. Jesus Christ enters into creation and saves us from ourselves. Jesus redeems us not out of anything we offer. Rather, Jesus redeems us in Gods amazing love. Jesus is the “True Man” to which we may now aspire to be. Grace now abounds in creation. In Jesus Christ we have order and light which invades our hearts. God has reunited us to the Body of Christ and to each other modeled in the Trinitarian theology.
Barth cautions us with the threefold form of the word in that humanity is finite. That when we reach out in our human agency we tend to stop at the object of reflection and edify the object rather than moving forward in understanding that God is behind the object in question. Barth does not entertain the idea of creation impacting the creator in a fashion that provides answers absent of initiation by God. To Barth creation is a muddled mess with not purpose outside of Gods revelation. Barth begins and ends with God’s transcendence, and apart from God, nothing exists, humanity brings nothing to the table. God’s transcendence must be comprehended before God’s immanence. God’s transcendence contains divine immanence. In contrast we are finite and subject to our Creator.
God reveals God’s self in creation. With the freedom to accept or decline Gods love, God loves us absent of any reaction on our part. God’s love is holy, just, and perfect, always unselfish. God is the sole initiating agent, humanity by virtue has a built in feeling of absolute dependence.
To Barth, God is completely transcendent, and in explaining God one can in no way compromise God’s complete freedom and absolute transcendence. God is completely free, always acting the same toward humanity. In God’s freedom we also become free, that is, we are able to be who we are. God initiates the revelatory event; we contribute nothing. Then you look at Christ and say the human is involved: there we are. Joined to God in the humanity of Christ in the only manner to which creation can respond to the knowledge of God as revealed in Christ.
You are the “New Being!” offers Paul Tillich. In his sermon entitled, “The New Being”, Tillich lays out an argument that Christianity is not a religion; rather, it is a call to respond anew, radically, and rightly to our entrance into the New Being of Jesus the Christ. “The New Being is not something that simply takes the place of the Old Being. But it is a renewal of the Old which has been corrupted, distorted, split and almost destroyed. But not wholly destroyed. Salvation does not destroy creation; but it transforms the Old Creation into a New one” We have yet to understand the fullness of what this means in American Christianity and continue to fill the minds, hearts, and souls of our congregations with a steady diet of religion.
What is the difference between the solace, peace, and direction one obtains from Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or Scientology as compared to the peace, solace, and direction revealed in Christianity? To Tillich, the difference is the very renewal which takes place in the acceptance and proclamation of Jesus as the Christ. Jesus returns us to the intended creation to which God enacted in the “beginning”. It would not matter to convert anyone to Christianity without of this dramatic life altering renewal of the New Being. The power lies not in the brand of religion one practices, rather the power of bringing forth creation into the New Being in the midst of the Old Creation in The Christ, Jesus.
Creation does not bring forth New Being in the midst of Old Being. New Being is eternally present, eternally available. It is recognizing its presence in creation that allows us to participate. There is no creation absent of Jesus the Christ. When we attempt to bottle this revelation we are left to bumper stickers, leaflets, t-shirts, and the latest round of Christian spiritual books to bring forth transformation. I ask, where do we arrive if we are so motivated to get in our vehicles and drive down to the local Barnes & Nobel or Lifeway Bookstore to peruse and purchase these Being enhancing purpose filled products? We attempt to master and understand the why’s and what’s before we experience New Being, which has been present all the while.
To embrace Christianity absent of New Being makes no difference as you hold just another life draining misguided attempt at offering transformation. The only place to obtain life transformation is at the feet of the cross in the presence of Jesus the Christ, New Being itself! Absent of Christ you are left with what Tillich refers to as the state of estrangement. “Old Reality…is the state of the estrangement of man and his world from God”.
Recognition of Jesus as the Christ enables us to have the “Courage to Be”. As it is in Jesus the Christ the quintessential New Being that allows us to embrace the power of Being. This action transcends fear. It does not remove it. It then delivers the courage to be. It is this courage to be that motivates us to have faith in the presence of fear and move out of estrangement.
It is when we are living courageously that we are truly participating in New Being. Sins are not manifest in the historical figure of Jesus, if we embrace the power of New Being; we have received him as the Christ. Jesus the Christ overcame his estrangement, he did not fall into sin, he was able to recognize his connection with God. Participation in Jesus the Christ is recognition of the participation of our human being in God. When we recognize someone’s participation in New Being, we describe this as participation in Jesus the Christ.
Being estranged from God prevents us from participating in a new reality, a new creation…this is the New Being. Jesus is the “new reality” in which we encounter God. This new reality removes us from the state of estrangement between creation and creator as witnessed in the “old reality”, thus allowing creation to return to its intended purpose in the glory of God. The removal of this estrangement allows for faith to exist. Jesus THE Christ is the vehicle to which God elected to operate in creation.
These answers to the question “Who do you say I am?” plays out in our culture in many ways. We label it moments of clarity, seeing the light, ah-ha moments, epiphanies, or jumping on the wagon. All of these allude to the participation in newness offered to us in Jesus Christ. We must allow these moments to permeate the very essence inside us. We must live in to this victory of our old depraved and fallen nature, our finite and broken self, and our estranged and wandering being. It is only in the acceptance and embrace of Jesus Christ as the messiah that we can be transformed. Slapping a bumper stick on your car and going about town or wearing a t-shirt emblazon with religious slogans or scripture, miss the mark of transformation. They do incite a dialogue that when pursued seeds transformation and the ushering in of the Here and not Yet, the Kingdom of God.
The question, “Who do you say that I am?” maybe the most important question we can ask ourselves. This question keeps me in seminary and keeps me seeking understanding in faith. I am convinced of three things in my life; I am to love God and creation, I am to accept God and creation, and I am to serve God and creation. It is the foundation to our responses at home, work, or school. Our understanding of this question informs the decisions we make or don’t make. We are measured by our response to this question. This is where the rubber meets the road in our Christian lives.
As Christ listens to these three theological scholars I imagine joy welling up inside. With the burden of creation upon his shoulders Jesus proclaims his love for each of his companions. They continue on their way towards Austin. Brothers and sisters…Who do you say that Christ is? Where is your life transformed? Where do you acknowledge depravity? Where are you estranged? Where is healing needed? Where is your understanding rooted? What ever question you ask, where ever you find yourself today…Jesus Christ is there walking with you asking, “Who do you say that I am?”