Steve Lindsley
(Mark 8: 27-36)

A few Sundays ago, during the Blessing of the Backpacks, Grace gave each child of the church a green bracelet with a special message etched in it. It read:

Remember who you are, and remember whose you are.

I find myself thinking about those green bracelets and their message on this Rally Day Sunday – this non-liturgical but much-beloved day of celebration and new beginnings. The return of things like Sunday school, youth group, Bible studies, book clubs. And more than that – a rebooting of our mission and our vision and what we are called together to be and to do. It’s appropriate that we use the term “rally” to describe this day in the life of the church, as Merriam-Websters renders the word “to draw or call together for a common purpose,”

Remember who you are, and remember whose you are.

And I’m struck that this issue of identity; of discovering who someone is, lies at the very heart of our scripture today. From the gospel of Mark – the gospel Grace and I are preaching on this September – we find the disciples and Jesus walking and talking. And I love these instances where the writer, for whatever reason, chronicles a fairly ordinary snippet of a 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, walking along, talking.

I find myself wondering if Mark highlights these ordinary snippets so that you and I can more easily imagine ourselves in the mix, just walking and talking with Jesus. And then at some point, a question he asks an innocent question: Hey guys, tell me, who do people say that I am?

Hmm. Well, someone says they heard some kind of John the Baptist character, or maybe the actual John the Baptist, back from the dead. We kind of snicker at that one. Others say they’ve heard Elijah’s name mentioned a time or two; someone else says he’s heard some kind of prophet.   Everyone just musing out loud; everyone just walking and talking…..

All of which totally changes when Jesus asks the next question:

Okay. But – who do YOU say that I am?

And we stop dead in our tracks. The “you” is like a clap of thunder, and suddenly this is no casual conversation on the way to Caesarea. We turn to face Jesus, but we look down at the dirt, kicking it with our feet. Because even though this is the exact same question as the one before it, save a single word, that one word makes all the difference: Who do YOU say that I am? This is personal, deeply personal. This is where things get real.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Peter speaks up first. Thank God for Peter! Saying for us what we all had been thinking but dared not say out loud; the truth that had led us to be with Jesus in the first place:

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

And there it is – finally! Finally someone said it! And now it’s out there for all to see and hear; this sum of all the hopes and dreams that existed in not just us, but in a nation of people for centuries – Jesus is Lord! Which means that now we can get on with things, proclaim this Good News to the world, lift Jesus on high and shout it from the mountaintops, right?

You would think that’d be the case. The disciples certainly did. But Jesus apparently did not. His response is not words of affirmation or comfort:

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 upbeat occasion – a birthday party, a family gathering – and at the absolute worst moment, she’d offer up a comment or thought that would totally kill whatever joy and life there had been. Waa, waa, waa……

It’s more than that here with Jesus. This is more than just a downer. This is shock. A jarring blow. Peter makes his declaration, and Jesus tells everyone he’s going to suffer and die. And it almost doesn’t matter that Jesus mentions the whole thing about rising three days later. It gets kind of lost in the shuffle; overwhelmed with what came before.

And Peter can’t help himself. He pulls Jesus aside. What are you talking about, Jesus? What are you doing? Don’t tell them that, man. This isn’t good for the troops. This isn’t good for morale. Cut it out! And to that, Jesus responds with equal ferociousness; as harsh a rebuke as one could expect: Get behind me, Satan!


If you read the gospel of Mark from cover to cover, you find a story of Jesus’ life that hinges on this chapter; hinges on this very scripture, in fact. This is the moment, in Mark’s telling, where Jesus’ identity and mission are fully revealed. And not just to his disciples, but to each one of us. Everything that happens after this in the gospel hinges on Peter’s declaration here: You are the Messiah. You are the Son of God.

And right off the bat, we feel the rub. The problem that’s going to arise when people are faced with a Messiah Jesus they may not have expected. They expected a Victor Jesus. A Winner Jesus. Someone who would defeat Roman rule and restore Israel to its former glory. But at this critical juncture in Mark’s gospel, they realize for the first time that this is not the Jesus they’re getting. Which is why they freak out when he tells them.

And honestly, can we blame them? I mean, look at us today, two thousand years after the fact. We’re a lot like Peter, to be honest. The thought of a suffering Jesus, a condemned Jesus, a dying Jesus – a Jesus beneath us – that Jesus is not at all the Jesus we’re expecting. And like Peter, we recoil in horror at that image of the Messiah in our minds. Like Peter, like our culture, we want to back a winner not a loser, or at least remain safe behind a stained glass Jesus, safe and secure from our human brokenness.

If you want to see an example of this, look no further than what transpired a little over a year ago ago just up the road in Davidson. You might remember hearing about it on the local and national news. A metal sculpture, created by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, depicting a blanket-wrapped Jesus sleeping on a park bench; only the nail marks on his feet revealing his identity. It’s called, “Homeless Jesus,” and after being turned away from New York and Canada, it landed at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Davidson, right outside the front 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 cops on Jesus, thinking it was a real live homeless person. When others learned the statue’s identity, it evoked swift reactions. “That’s not the Jesus I know,” someone said. “Jesus is not a vagrant,” another surmised. Someone else: “We need a Jesus who is capable of meeting our needs, not needing us.” And my favorite, “Jesus should be standing over the homeless, not being one of them.”[1]

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 still want Jesus to be a winner; that we are not all that comfortable with a Jesus who is as he once described himself to us. And maybe part of the reason for that is that, when we are truly faced with Jesus’ brokenness, we have no choice but to face our own. Could that be it?   When we are faced with his suffering, we have to acknowledge the suffering within us?   When we are faced with his dying, we come to see that which is dying inside us as well?

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 him our Messiah; name him as Lord and Savior. We are called in this passage to do more than that. Noted author and activist Shane Claiborne perhaps put it best when he wrote in his seminal work, The Irresistible Revolution:

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 get 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 their lifestyles.[2]

We are called to follow Jesus, which is the structure built on the foundation of belief. We are called to follow Jesus, even though we know full well where that will lead us, because he told us. If any of you want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. In other words: Let me lead. Declare publicly that you are no longer your own, but that you belong to me. State with conviction that your lives are no longer yours to lose but mine to use.

In seminary they taught a word called Praxis – p-r-a-x-i-s. Praxis. The merging together of theology and practice. Acting on belief, rather than stopping at belief. A seminary professor would say to us: Don’t just practice the gospel – praxis the gospel. Don’t just think, and don’t just act. Think and act together as one, living out what it is you believe.

So the question for us on this Rally Day Sunday, my friends, isn’t only: Who do you say that I am? It is also: How do you live like you truly know me? How do you live like you truly know me?

If Jesus had asked that of you as you were walking and talking with him on the road to Caesarea, how would you have answered him? I’m not sure I know myself. I’m still trying to figure things out. I’m still wrestling with the inevitable gap in praxis, the gray space between believing and following.

But we can still answer his question as a community of faith; even as we’re figuring it out, because the figuring out part is what lies at the very heart of faith.

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

We believe in Jesus – and we follow him too, no matter where it leads.

We praxis the gospel – even if it means being with Jesus in the places we’d least expect him, because that’s where he’s always been.

Jesus and his disciples, walking and talking; a casual conversation morphing a moment of praxis. May our lives reflect not just the one in whom we believe, but the One who believes in us!

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!


[1], visited 9.9.2015.
[2] Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 147-148.