Summary: A sermon for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Series B, Proper 19

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15th Sunday after Pentecost (Pr. 19), September 17, 2006, “Series B”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, you have revealed your will and grace to the world in many ways. Through Moses, you led your people out of bondage, and entered into a covenant relationship with them. Through the prophets, your word was proclaimed and your covenant renewed. Yet in Jesus, your presence and grace were revealed for our redemption from sin and death, and to open our hearts to the hope of life eternal in your heavenly kingdom. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire us to deeper faith, that we might trust in our Lord’s gift of new life, and live our lives in discipleship and witness. We ask this in his holy name. Amen.

Our Gospel lesson for this morning is a pivotal passage in Mark’s account of the life of Jesus. It occurs almost exactly in the center of his Gospel. All that has transpired before this time – Jesus’ baptism, his call of the disciples, this teaching and preaching, his healing of the sick and other miracles that he performed – has created great interest in Jesus. Large crowds began to follow him and wait for him along his journey. There is no doubt that Jesus had become popular among the people.

But following our passage for this morning, the emphasis changes. Mark begins to focus our attention on Jesus fulfilling his ministry, which would eventually lead him to Jerusalem, and his death on a Roman cross for the atonement of our sins.

But this passage at the center of Mark’s Gospel is more than simply a bridge between the two acts of the drama of Jesus’ life and ministry. Here, Mark confronts his readers with a simple, but extremely important question: “Who do you say that I am?”

As Gail Ramshaw points out in her commentary on our text, “That we call ourselves Christian indicates that our answer to the question of who we understand Jesus to be is the key to our identity as a religious community. That Jesus lived as an outstanding preacher and itinerant miracle-worker, and, that he was executed by Rome, are historical facts. What we Christians make of these facts constitutes our faith. As this reading makes clear, the titles and names with which we designate Jesus, provide clues to why we have faith in him.” End quote. [New Proclamation, Year B, 2003, Fortress Press.]

Thus, as Mark makes this transition from recording the early ministry of Jesus, to his later ministry that led to his death on a cross, he wants us to wrestle with the question of who this person truly is, who gave his life for us. For who we perceive Jesus to be, makes a tremendous difference to our faith.

As Ramshaw and several other of the commentaries on our text pointed out, the various titles used to answer the question as to “who Jesus is,” all extol him as a virtuous person. For example, when the disciples were first asked by Jesus about who they heard the people say that he was, they first responded, “Some say you are John the Baptist.”

This does not mean that the people believed that Jesus was, in some way, the reincarnation of John the Baptist. Rather, it was a statement indicating that people saw Jesus as a person like John the Baptist, who was able to inspire them to think about preparing for the coming of God’s Kingdom into their midst. To be sure, Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher, who foretold that the reign of God would eventually win the battle between good and evil.

Secondly, they told Jesus that some of the people thought that he was Elijah. Here, again, this is not thought to be a reincarnation of that great prophet from Israel’s past. Rather, it is an indication that the people thought that Jesus was a person chosen by God, to not only proclaim his word to the people, but also blessed with the ability to perform miracles, as Elijah had done centuries before. Jesus certainly had that ability.

And finally, the disciples said that the people thought that Jesus was a prophet, one in a long list of prophets who had been chosen by God to proclaim God’s word to the people, and relate God’s truth to current situations. There is no doubt that Jesus was a gifted preacher.

All of these descriptions of Jesus extol him as a virtuous person, one who was to be honored in the eyes of the people. And all of these descriptions of Jesus apply to who he truly is. But then Jesus asks his disciples who they believe him to be? And Peter blurts out as spokesperson for the rest,“You are the Messiah,” or, in Greek, “the Christ.”

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