Dr. Steve Lindsley
(Mark 8: 27-36)

Growing up, one of my heroes was a man named of Pete Carruthers. Pete was an associate pastor at my church in Raleigh when I was in high school, college, and later seminary. White Memorial Church has a membership of 4500 and at the time it had a senior pastor and three associates. 4500 people, four pastors. You do the math.

Despite those odds, Pete took an interest in me from the beginning, getting to know who I was as a teenager and, later, serving as a great sounding board when I started talking about ministry. He was a wonderful confidant and support, right up until a long battle with brain cancer finally got the best of him. Pete died a year before I graduated from seminary. Some of the books in my study down the hall formerly resided in Pete’s library; his name still inscribed on the inside cover. It’s one way I carry Pete’s presence with me to this day.

Pete left me a lot more than those books. He left me wisdom, left me knowledge on how to be a caring and compassionate pastor. He also left me a mantra of sorts, something he’d say to me when I most needed to hear it – going off to college, starting my first job, enrolling in seminary. He’d put his hand on my shoulder, look me in the eye and say:

Steve, remember who you are, and remember whose you are.

If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because over the years I’ve assimilated it in my own theology, another way Pete stays with me. It’s become part of my lexicon now:

Remember who you are, and whose you are.

It’s good advice, don’t you think? Matters around identity and belonging- of who we are and perhaps more importantly whose we are – they lie at the heart of our scripture today. From the gospel of Mark we find the disciples and Jesus walking and talking. And I love instances like this in the gospels when we get a little snippet of an ordinary day in the life of Jesus. This isn’t the Sermon on the Mount or the Feeding of the 5000. This is just Jesus and his buddies hanging out. Jesus at perhaps his most authentic self.

I like to think Mark is doing this so you and I can easily insert ourselves in the mix, as part of that gathering just walking and talking with Jesus. Conversing about everything from family to the weather to who among the disciples had the longest hair or had most siblings or chewed too loudly when they ate. I mean, we have those real conversations with our friends – why not them?

And I’m fascinated by the fact, if not a little unsurprised, that it’s in one of these casual, everyday, chit-chat conversations when Jesus, at just the right moment, asks this of his friends:

Who do people say that I am?

Interesting question to throw out there. I love how the disciples initially answer as if it’s just another conversation topic:

Good question, Jesus. You know, it’s kind of all over the map. Some say you’re a John the Baptist character, or maybe the actual John the Baptist back from the dead, which seems a little creepy if you ask us. Others bring up Elijah’s name up a lot, which I guess makes sense since he was so important to our Hebrew faith, as are you. Not everyone goes for a name – a good number of folks assume you’re some kind of prophet….

Everyone just musing out loud; everyone just walking and talking…..

All of which shifts when Jesus clarifies his question:

Okay. But – who do YOU say that I am?

And they stop dead in our tracks. The “you” is like a clap of thunder sending a jolt through their system, warning them that this is no longer some casual conversation on the way to Caesarea. Those disciples turn to face Jesus but they look down at the dirt, kicking it with their feet. Because even though the question is the exact same as the one before – save one word – it is an entirely different thing Jesus is asking of them:

Who do YOU say that I am? This is deeply personal now. This is where things get real.

It should not surprise us that Peter is the one to speak up first. Thank God for Peter! Saying for everyone what they all had surely been thinking but shied away from speaking out loud. Peter gives voice to the foundational truth that served as they reason they, and all of us, chose to follow Jesus in the first place:

You are the Messiah. Peter declares. You are the Son of God!

And we hear Peter’s response not as if it’s ours, we who’ve been calling Jesus that for thousands of years. We hear it as it was in that moment, the way the gospel of Mark tells it, the very first verbal acknowledgement of Jesus as son of God. Do you think there was a sense of relief in that moment? Finally someone said it! Finally, it’s out there for all to see and hear; this amazing truth that was the culmination of all the hopes and dreams that existed in not just those disciples but in a nation of people for centuries – Jesus is Lord!

I mean, that makes everything simple, right? No more beating around the bush. No more unspoken truths. Now these disciples could get on with the real work of ministry: proclaim the Good News, bring healing and wholeness to the world, lift Jesus on high and shout it from the mountaintops!

It could be that. But Jesus – well, he seems to have a somewhat different take:

Then he began to teach them, quite clearly, that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed…

You remember that Saturday Night Live skit, Debbie Downer? She’d be at some fun gathering – a birthday party, a family get-together – and at the absolute worst moment, she’d offer up a comment or thought that would totally kill whatever joy and life had been in the room before. Waa, waa, waa……

That’s kind of what’s happening here, it feels like. Except it’s more than that. This is not just a downer. This is shock. Peter makes his bold declaration and Jesus responds by telling everyone he’s going to suffer and die. And Peter, God bless him, he just can’t help himself. He’s Peter! He pulls Jesus aside. He gets in his face a little bit: What are you talking about, Jesus? What are you doing? Don’t tell them that, man. It isn’t good for morale. Cut it out!

And Jesus meets this confrontation with one of his own: Get behind me, Satan!


How did all of this come from that seemingly innocent question: who do you say that I am? How did we get here?

If you read Mark from cover to cover, you’ll find that this question and Peter’s answer serves as a sort of fulcrum point for the entire gospel. This is the moment, in Mark’s telling, where Jesus’ identity and whole reason for being are finally and fully revealed. And not just to his disciples, but to all of us. Everything that happens after this in the gospel all points back to Peter’s declaration: You are the Messiah. You are the Son of God. Everything that happens is seen through this lens.

And there’s a reason Mark did this. Not everyone was looking for the kind of messiah that Jesus was. A messiah who spent time walking and talking and hanging out. There were those who were looking for a Victor Jesus. A military leader Jesus. Someone who would defeat Roman rule and restore Israel to its former glory. Certainly not someone who would talk of his own suffering and death. And it’s at this critical juncture in Mark’s narrative when they realize that this is not the Jesus they’re getting. And it freaks them out.

And honestly, can we blame them? I mean, look at us today, two thousand years after the fact. The thought of a suffering Jesus, a condemned Jesus, a dying Jesus – I mean, we may say we recognize that Jesus, but is that the Jesus we really want? Can we blame Peter for recoiling in horror at the Jesus that Jesus described to him? Like Peter, like so much in our culture, we want to back a winner not a loser, or at least remain shielded behind a stained glass Jesus, safe and secure from human brokenness.

Around eight years ago, right up the road in Davidson, a metal sculpture was installed at the entrance of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church. Created by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, the work of art depicts a blanket-wrapped individual sleeping on a park bench, only the nail marks on his feet revealing his identity. The sculpture is titled, “Homeless Jesus,” and after initially being turned away from New York and Canada it landed outside the Davidson church, right outside the entrance so members and neighbors alike could take a seat, meditate, find peace with their savior.

But not everyone found peace, or their savior. One woman actually called the police on Jesus, thinking it was a real live homeless person (as if homelessness is something to call the police on in the first place). When residents learned who the sculpture was depicting, the reactions were swift. “That’s not the Jesus I know.” “Jesus is not a vagrant!” “We need a Jesus who is capable of meeting our needs, not needing us.” And my personal favorite, “Jesus should be standing over the homeless, not being one of them.”

Then he began to teach them, quite clearly, that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed…

It would appear that we are still not all that comfortable with a Jesus who is as he once described himself to us. And maybe part of the reason is that, when we are truly faced with the brokenness of Jesus, we cannot help but see our own. That when we come face to face with the suffering of Jesus, we have no choice but to acknowledge the suffering in us. That when we confront his dying, we have to think about all the things in us that need to die too.

Friends, we are called in this passage to do more than just believe in Jesus, more than just profess faith in Jesus, more than simply claim Jesus as our Messiah and Lord and Savior. Because the scripture does not end with Peter’s proclamation – it continues with Jesus’ explanation. We are called to do more than just believe.

Noted author and activist Shane Claiborne perhaps put it best when he wrote:

Most Christian congregations and communities have a statement of faith articulating their orthodoxy, but that’s usually where it ends. For us, belief is just the beginning. What really matters is how we live, how what we believe gets fleshed out. And this is where most belief-oriented communities fall short. They tell us what they believe, but they do not tell us how their beliefs affect who they are.

In seminary they had a word for this. That word is praxis – p-r-a-x-i-s. The merging together of theology and practice. Acting on belief, rather than stopping at belief. Following Jesus, but following Jesus with intentionality. A professor would say to my class: Don’t just practice the gospel – praxis the gospel. Don’t just think, and don’t just act. Think and act together, live out what you believe.

So perhaps the question we should ponder, friends, is not just: Who do you say that I am? It is also: How do you live like you know who I am?

If Jesus had asked that of you and me as we walked and talked with him on the road to Caesarea, how might we have answered it? I’m not sure that I know that myself. I’m still trying to figure it all out. Especially these days when everything’s so weird. I continue wrestling with the inevitable gap in praxis, the chasm that often lies between believing and following.

And yet we are compelled to answer that question, boldly as a community of faith; even as we’re figuring it out, even as we’re not sure what tomorrow will bring; precisely because the figuring out part is the very living out of our faith.

We remember who we are, and we remember whose we are.

We believe in Jesus – and we follow him wherever he leads.

We praxis the gospel – even if it means finding Jesus in the places we’d least expect him, because that’s precisely where he is.

Jesus and his disciples, walking and talking; a casual conversation morphing into proclamation. May our lives reflect not just the one in which we believe, but the one who believes in us as well.

In the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!

[1] https://www.wcnc.com/story/news/local/2014/07/04/11105396/
[2] Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 147-148.

* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.