Sunday, September 30, 2018

Being Salt: Sermon for Proper 21 B

Once upon a time there was a foolish king who had three beautiful daughters. He decided to ask each of them one day how much they loved him.

“Oh, Father,” the first daughter, who was known for her greed, exclaimed, “you are dearer to me than gold!” This answer pleased the king, and he kissed her and ordered that she be given a beautiful gold necklace. Happily, she skipped away.

“Oh Father!” the second daughter, who was known for her vanity, exclaimed, “you are dearer to me than the finest silk!” This answer also pleased the king, and he kissed her and ordered that she be given a beautiful embroidered silk gown. Happily, she too skipped away.

“Oh Father!” the third and youngest daughter, who was known for her wisdom, exclaimed, “you are dearer to me than salt!” This answer enraged the king. “You compare your love for me to a common rock, ugly and worthless!” He turned to the guards. “Take her away from my sight, and let her be a servant in the kitchen, so she can be with her precious salt all the time!” the king thundered, and his guards took her, gave her serving rags, and assigned her a room in the dungeon near the cellars with the other servants. The other servants felt great pity for her, and yet they dared not help her.

The king then proclaimed a great feast for his other two daughters. The servants, including the princess, scurried back and forth from the cellars to the kitchens, preparing all kinds of sumptuous foods. The cook herself, a kindly woman, also came down and supervised the servants in selecting the vegetables and meats from the cellars. The princess had an idea. She told the cook her plan and the cook agreed.

The king, his other two daughters, and his guests had gathered in the great hall above, and were eagerly anticipating a magnificent feast. The first daughter was wearing her fine gold necklace, and the second daughter preened in her magnificent silk gown. The two older sisters demanded that their sister be dressed as a maid and be forced to wait upon them.

Dish after dish of steaming vegetables and fine meats were set before the revelers. Eagerly, the king heaped his plate high, and tasted the first dish. A look of astonishment passed over his face. He then tried each of the other dishes, and then angrily shoved the plate aside. “Bring me the cook!” he thundered.

The cook was hustled into the great hall. “What is the meaning of this?” the king shouted. “This food is terrible!” “Your majesty banished your daughter to the dungeon, and stripped her of her rightful place in your household, and I was afraid you would do the same to me. So I carefully prepared the food without any salt to save myself.”

The king stood, open-mouthed. He then tasted the food, and it was completely bland and tasteless. The king’s third daughter, dressed in her maid’s uniform, came and knelt before him. “Father, I said that you were dearer to me than salt, because salt is necessary for life, for flavor. That is how much I love you.”

And the king, realizing his mistake, embraced his daughter and asked her forgiveness, which she promptly gave, for she did love her father. He placed his crown upon her head, his signet ring upon her finger, his robe upon her shoulders, and made her his heir, realizing her wisdom. It’s funny the things we take for granted, the folk wisdom we forget.

As I was thinking about salt this week, I found that there were versions of this folk tale from all over the world, everywhere from India to Italy to Germany. Although we take it for granted, salt has played a crucial role in world history. 

In the ancient world, salt was such a valuable commodity that Roman soldiers were paid in salt, which is where we get the word “salary” to this day. A man in love was called “salax” which means to be “salted.”

German brides had their shoes salted in ancient times as a hope for children, because salt was associated with fertility. Entire trading empires rose and fell, and wars were fought over salt, which was thought to be rare. One form of salt, saltpeter, is a necessary ingredient in making gunpowder, as the Chinese discovered.

In the Hebrew scriptures, salt was a sign of the everlasting covenant between God and the Israelites, and salt was mixed into the offerings as a sign of the covenant, as noted in Leviticus 2:13. In Numbers 18:19, when God is setting Aaron and his descendants aside as priests, God gives them the right to all the offerings given to God forever, saying, “All the holy offerings that the Israelites present to the Lord I have given to you, together with your sons and daughters, as a perpetual due; it is a covenant of salt for ever before the Lord for you and your descendants as well.” 

This may be because salt is a preservative beyond compare—which is why the ancient Egyptians preserved bodies with a special salt called natron. Salt is a symbol for purity, as anyone who has a blue cylinder of Morton’s salt may know.

Salt endures. Dissolve salt in water, and if you boil the water, the salt will be the residue in the pan after all the water has evaporated.

The body, both human and animal, needs salt, which is necessary for the correct functioning of our cells, and a healthy adult human body on average has just a bit more than a half pound of salt as part of its composition. Some people swear by the health effects of lamps made from pink Himalayan salt. Trader Joe’s sells a gift box of seven different exotic salts: Kalahari Desert salt, Hawai’ian Black Lava salt, Hawai’ian red salt, Inca Sun salt, Blue Persian salt, Himalayan Pink salt, and South African Oak smoked, and that ignores the trendy kosher salt and sea salt. (1)

In our gospel today, Jesus compares his disciples to salt. “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Coming on the heels of his warning about not being a stumbling block for anyone, especially the innocent, what he’s saying here is that we are tasked with preserving each other, with building each other up, in valuing the dignity and worth of every person. We are not called to destroy each other, attack each other, or exploit each other for our own perceived gain.

In Matthew 5:13, Jesus makes a similar point when he tells his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot,” and then he continues that we are to be the light of the world.

Salt and light. Preservation and enlightenment, or wisdom. How can we be salt in the world? In the midst of the division, hatred, and violence that characterizes so much of our world, we are called to care for each other, look out for each other, accept each other as we are, as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to work through love to lift up each other, and turn aside from all inside of us that would hurt someone else, no matter how we might justify that by our own fears or discomfort.

We live together as members of a community of Christians and out in the world by our own covenant of salt: to care for each other, to give of ourselves to each other because we recognize that together we are stronger, and divided we are weaker than we would be together. This is a foundation of discipleship.

That’s an important consideration as we prepare for our dedicated stewardship campaign, as well. The money we offer, we offer to God, but what we are really offering is ourselves, just as salt was mixed into all the offerings in the ancient Hebrew system of sacrifice. Our giving empowers us to be the disciples we long to be in the world. It's how we communicate who we are in a world of scarcity.

Sacrifice is too often interpreted in our culture by its negative connotation: something that hurts to give. But sacrifice has another, more important meaning: it makes holy. It purifies. It dedicates. It preserves and hallows. It brings peace rather than pain. It builds up community rather than sets us at competition with one another, and empowers us as a community in our mission to the world.

May we have salt in ourselves, and be salt to each other—steadfast, preserving, life-giving.


Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22
Psalm 124
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

1) I am indebted for the idea for the fable and for the facts about salt in world history to Mark Kurlansky, author of Salt: A World History, pp. 1-8

Preached at the 505 on September 29, and at 8:00 and 10:15 pm at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville.

Prayer 2073: Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Most Merciful God,
we gather around your altar
to worship and give you thanks,
praising your wondrous love.
Help us, Lord Jesus,
always to remember your call to community and grace
 formed in the name of Christ
and bearing your truth,
that we be generous and compassionate with each other,
loving each other as you love us.
Knit us together as one,
dedicated to your covenant of hope and mercy,
that we may never be a stumbling block to any
and be welcoming to all who seek our fellowship.
By the power of the Holy Spirit,
make us salt in the world, Blessed Jesus,
a holy offering and a priestly people
embodying your gospel with integrity.
Press the seal of your blessing
upon all who seek you, O God,
and especially on those we now name.


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Prayer 2072: Michaelmas (St. Michael and All Angels)

Almighty God, Ruler of the Universe,
we join with the heavenly chorus of angels and archangels
singing eternal praise to your Name.
Stars and galaxies ring out with the melody of creation;
celestial hymns proclaim your glory, O Creator.
Holy One, teach us also to witness to your glory at all times,
to bear glad tidings of hope into darkness,
to carry your message of compassion and peace
to the ends of the earth and the edges of our lives.
Make us, like Michael,
the defenders of creation, O God,
and protectors of all in danger or distress.
Give your angels charge over all who call upon You,
all who work, or watch, or weep this day,
those who are ill or suffering,
especially those for whom we pray.


Gabriel (Jibrail) in Islamic art.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Prayer 2071: A Prayer for Integrity

Most Merciful God,
set your seal upon our hearts,
that they may be filled with your truth
and animated by your gospel of hope.

Teach us to walk with integrity and honesty,
and strengthen us to defend the defenseless among us,
living into your commandments, O God,
in spirit, word, and deed.

Blessed Savior, place your healing hands upon our lives,
and give us the courage to live into your grace,
carrying your Name into the world
as witnesses to your compassion and justice.

Spirit of the Living God,
draw us into your light,
and gather us into your embrace,
placing your blessing over those for whom we pray.


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Prayer, day 2070

Holy One,
we rise to center our hearts in you,
offering you thanks and praise
for your protection and love;
for you are Creator of All--
Creator of this little bird
and Creator of the seed she is eating.

You gather all things to yourself, O Merciful One,
and we rejoice at your lovingkindness,
O Holy and Undivided Trinity:
Source of All Being, Incarnate Word, and Holy Spirit.
Help us be alert for opportunities
to do justice,
to love mercy,
and walk humbly beside You, O God,
that our testimony to your beauty
may be a light to all who see.

By the power of the Holy Spirit,
make us wise and resourceful in fulfilling our call,
offering to You, O God,
from the blessings you have given us,
that we as your disciples
may do your work in the world around us.
Beloved Savior,
press the kiss of your healing love
on all who turn to you
for comfort, for relief, for peace,
especially those for whom we now pray.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Prayer 2069

Holy One, send forth your light upon us,
and settle a spirit of honor and integrity upon the land,
that we may be led into wisdom and truth today.
Help us turn aside from malice, contempt, and vanity,
that we may devote ourselves to discipleship and reconciliation,
celebrating the dignity and worth of all.
Give us hearts to rejoice
in the beauty of your holiness, O Lord,
our Redeemer and our Guide.
Anoint us with your compassionate spirit, Lord Christ,
that we may put our hearts and hands
to the wheel of peace and justice.
Place your comforting, steadying hand
upon the brow of all who seek you,
especially those we remember before you now.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Prayer, day 2068: Inspired by the Jubilate

You are the source of all goodness, O God,
and our shelter in times of trial.
The lands ring out their joy to God,
whose mercy never fails.
God calls each one by name,
and we answer our shepherd's call.
We know You have made us
and are with us, O Loving One,
and we sing your praise.
Your gates open before us;
let us enter with thanksgiving,
sure in your reception and protection of us.
We call upon You and You answer us,
for your faithfulness endures from age to age.
Strengthen and vouchsafe those who call upon You,
especially these for whom we pray.


Monday, September 24, 2018

Prayer 2067: In Honor of Deaconness Anna Alexander

Almighty God, Guardian of Our Souls,
on wings of mercy you have borne us up
through the changes and chances of our lives,
in joy and in struggle,
and we offer your our abundant gratitude
for your blessings without end.
Strengthen our steps
in pursuit of your justice and peace;
give us courage to confront oppression at all times,
standing in unity with those
whose dignity and worth is denigrated.
Teach us to answer hatred with love,
ignorance with charity and instruction,
proclaiming the resilience of faith
against all resistance and hopelessness.
Kindle within our hearts a desire for wisdom,
and anoint us with a spirit of determination and love.
In Jesus's name, grant your grace
to all who seek You,
and pour your benediction upon those for whom we pray.


Information of Deaconness Anna Alexander here and here.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Welcome Wisdom: Sermon for Proper 20 B

Mark is always hard on the disciples, constantly making them seem foolish—the opposite of wise. In today’s gospel, they are painted as being too thick to understand what the gospel writer, with his gift of time and hindsight clearly understands—that Jesus will be handed over and killed. Then they are depicted about arguing over status just at the time that Jesus is trying to tell them what lies in store in the future. They seem to engage in foolish posturing and competition just at the time when they should be engaged in seeking the heart of wisdom. They are silent just when they should be asking questions.

The wisdom of the world is often used for personal advantage. And here we see the disciples engaging in just that. Having heard again Jesus’s prediction of his passion and death, they respond by arguing about who is the greatest among them.

Many references are made to the claim that the time we live in is “The Information Age.” Many of us carry in our pockets phones that have computing power 1500 times greater than one of the four navigational computers on board the Apollo spacecraft. We can look up almost any fact we wonder about in little more than a blink of an eye. And strangely, most of us use that incredible power to watch videos of baby goats in pajamas. We may not be any smarter, now, but at least we’re happier, and our blood pressure is down, too.

Nonetheless, it’s pretty clear that knowledge or information does not produce wisdom. And the definition of wisdom in our world can also be slippery. Literally. When we consider how repeatedly we hear ruthlessness, manipulation and cheating being extolled as being “smart” or “clever,” we have to begin to think that wisdom, especially the wisdom of God that we have been urged to seek in our readings for the past several weeks, has to mean something else entirely.

Just like our readings from Psalm 1 and James, Jesus points out that the wisdom of God, and the way it orders our lives, turns worldly wisdom upside down. To illustrate this, first Jesus talks about the importance of servant leadership, which then as well as now sounded like an oxymoron. To further make his point, Jesus then places a little child in the center of the disciples, and equates welcoming that little child with welcoming Jesus himself, the Son of God, who is also sometimes referred to as the Wisdom of God.

Our epistle states that living a good life—one framed by gentleness and virtue-- is the very heart of Godly wisdom. The Wisdom of God is so important in ordering our lives that the Psalter begins by specifically naming wisdom as a blessing par excellence. Our reading from James reminds us of specific characteristics of those who cultivate and seek the wisdom of God:
purity, peaceableness, gentleness,
being willing to yield and not insist on your own way,
being merciful, productive, impartial, sincere.

Does this list sound familiar? Try this passage to see if you can hear any echoes:
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels,
but do not have love,
I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers,
and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith,
so as to remove mountains,
but do not have love,
I am nothing.
If I give away all my possessions,
and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing,
but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things."

Do you recognize this passage? 1 Corinthians 13. Here we see Paul describe the faithful love and charity of true discipleship with some of the same characteristics James uses to describe God’s wisdom. Wisdom that grounds us in what really matters—seeking justice that is the only foundation of true peace, serving rather than being served, embodying humility and compassion as we seek to follow Jesus.

The way of wisdom, the way of welcome into God’s household, is also the way of mercy, grace, and above all, love. Welcoming little children—with all their joy and purity and sometimes noise and even their mess—is the same as welcoming me, Jesus reminds us. That’s no small thing. In Jesus’s time, and even echoing in our own laws today, little children were not accorded full status as persons. They were explicitly viewed as the property of their father, in fact, part of his household. They had less than no status.

Yet it cannot be denied that, when they’re not cranky or hungry or wet-- because let’s face it, everyone should get a pass when that’s going on—they also embody many of those same qualities: especially purity, gentleness, kindness, an openness to affection and love. But children, like servants, had no social status.  The kind of wisdom Jesus urges us to embrace turns all the calculations of the world on their heads.

And so, what a blessing that this weekend, St. Martin’s formally welcomes a little child as a new Christian into the household of God. Today, we will baptize Imogen, and I mean that “WE.” We will surround her and her family within the community, welcoming her in the waters of baptism, gathered around both font and altar as one body of disciples.

One of the things I most love about the Episcopal Church’s practice of baptism in our current prayer book is that it makes clear that the welcoming of a new Christian is not to be done privately, unless under extenuating circumstances. Instead, just like in our gospel, that new Christian, whether a little child or an adult, is placed in the midst of the disciples. We all stand around that child, and together we join in recommitting ourselves to the baptismal covenant once again. We commit ourselves to supporting the newly baptized, and we repeat again just what the basic wisdom of the Christian life entails in a series of 8 questions.

Let’s look at those again. Please turn in your prayer books to pages 304 and 305. The first three questions recapitulate the Apostles Creed by asking, Do you Believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit? The last five questions then move to actions that flow out of those beliefs—actions that outline the wisdom of God that bears good fruit in our lives. We know that these questions shift from beliefs to action by the change in the question words themselves, in the shift from “Do you believe?” to “Will you?”

Listen to the active verbs in these questions:

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?  

And in answer to each question, we answer “I will, with God’s help.” That’s also key. The life of faith is NEVER a life lived in isolation, thrown upon our own meager and faltering resources. The life of faith is always strengthened and aided by God’s abundant mercy, grace and love. The life of faith is lived in community with God and with each other. That’s why the wisdom of welcome and love is so important. And that also why the wisdom of welcome and love we are called to practice as a community of wisdom seekers is so extraordinary when actually put into practice.

Will you continue in learning, in fellowship, communion, and prayer?

Will you persevere against sin, repent, and return when you miss the mark?

Will you proclaim God’s good news of reconciliation by who you are and what you say?

Will you seek, and serve, and love all persons as much as seek, serve, and love yourself?

Will you strive and respect every human being, and not just tolerate but celebrate their dignity—rich or poor, sick or well, friend or stranger, old or young?

This is the wisdom of welcome, beloveds, that we are called to commit to as disciples. Wisdom that doesn’t seek advantage or calculation, but, always and everywhere, serving each other in purity, gentleness, and love.

As you are standing with Imogen and with each other renewing your promises, look up. Look at the faces all around you. Each one of the people around you is also a beloved child of God, as beloved in God’s sight now as when they too were children. Know that you are also beloved children of God. 

The heart of the Christian life is shared life. A shared life is an abundant life. The promises we make as Christians we make with one voice in community at baptism-- as individuals, yes, but also as the community of St. Martin’s, within the universal Church that exists through time. With God’s help, may we always re-member and embody the welcome we have received into Christ’s Body, and continue to witness to the abundant welcome and love of God we each ourselves receive, again and again, through our Savior, Jesus.


Preached at the 505 on September 22, and at 8:00 and 10:15 am on September 23 at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville.

Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

1) and 2)- Icons representing Mark 9:37.
3) Baptism photo by Jill Gould.

Prayer, Day 2066: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

O God, we are your children:
Let us always trust in You.
O God, we are your children:
Let us take You by the hand
as we learn to walk in your pathways.
O God, we are your children:
Let us burrow into your embrace
in our sorrows and hurts.
O God, we are your children:
Let us be fed by your Word and your Truth,
so that we may always follow in your light.
O God, we are your children:
Let us rejoice in your Love that never fails
and forgives us abundantly,
so that we may be guided to try to do the same.
O God, we are your children:
Help us to plant compassion in our hearts.

Help us to comfort and aid these
for whom we pray this day,
who are your children too.


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Prayer 2065

Almighty One,
Beloved, Merciful God,
we offer our hearts and hopes to You this day.

In the darkened rooms of our hearts,
we fumble blindly for You, Lord Christ,
forgetting that You are Light,
and abide forever with us.

Help us to let in the Light of Christ, therefore,
to fill the corners of our spirits
with hope and compassion.
Lead us into paths of righteousness,
that we be a priestly people
praying on behalf of the world
for unity and peace.

Let us be transformed
by the power of your gospel of reconciliation and mercy,
O Spirit of Truth.
Enveloped within the chorus of heaven,
let us place our intercessions and joys
before You, O God, and rejoice.
Lord, accept our prayers and praises,
and those we offer for our loved ones.


Friday, September 21, 2018

Prayer 2064

Most Holy God,
I lift my prayers and praises before You,
rejoicing in your grace,
breathing in your peace.
Set the seal of your law upon my heart, O God:
by your tender care reshape the clay of my life,
that I may be a vessel and a vehicle
of your love and compassion.
Let me meditate upon your word and be glad,
O Savior and Redeemer,
remembering your mercies and faithful promises,
that I may live by your example
and bear your light into the world.
Send forth your Spirit and your Truth,
O Rock of Our Salvation,
and place your sheltering hand
over all for whom we pray.


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Prayer, day 2063

Have mercy upon us,
Most Gentle God:
bend near as we seek You,
our Rock, our Light, and our Hope.

Spirit of God,
dwell within our hearts,
that we may be led by your love
and brought to healing and reconciliation.
Help us to persevere in faith, O Savior,
and resist falling into sin and contempt.

Holy One,
be our shield and comfort
as we seek our path today.
Give rest to the weary, Lord Christ,
and comfort to the anxious;
be our companion in joy and in sorrow.

Remembering your promises of mercy,
your lovingkindness which never ceases,
renew and revive our souls this day, O God,
and pour out your blessing
over the concerns we lay before You.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Prayer 2062

Blessed Creator,
let my prayer rise to you as incense,
my heart extol your wonders in the morning light.

Like rain upon a mown field, O Holy One,
let your Word refresh and restore my soul,
and bring greening joy into my heart.
In faithfulness and trust,
let me turn my face to you,
and set my course by the light of the Bright Morning Star,
Jesus Christ, my Hope and Redeemer.
Be my companion
through the arc of my day, O Savior,
and guide me into paths
of healing, mercy, and grace.

By the power of the Holy Spirit,
place the seal of your truth upon our hearts,
that we be knit together as Beloved Community,
united by the love we bear each other.
Give your angels charge over all in any need,
and grant your peace and comfort
to all whose needs we place before You.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Prayer, day 2061

Lord Jesus,
we place all of our being--
hearts, hopes and our very breath--
securely within your care,
rejoicing in the dawn.
You have watched us
through the velvet darkness:
abide with us
as we carry our love for you
into the world.

The sparrow sings from the rooftop:
let us sing out our thanks and praise forever,
and witness to your light in our lives.

Lord God,
guide us into paths of peace and reconciliation:
gentle our hearts,
and bring us to unity in You.
Holy One, Merciful and Steadfast,
place your healing hands
upon our cares and sorrows,
our pains and burdens.
Even in the busyness of our day
let us remember that You tenderly envelop us in light
for the love of the entire world.

Lord, we lay our intercessions before You as a priestly people:
bless and keep us,
and those for whom we pray.


Monday, September 17, 2018

Prayer 2060- On the Feast Day of Hildegard von Bingen

O God,
you are the foundation of everything,
giving us abundantly all that we need:
earth, sky, and water,
beauty, science, and music--
all signs of your tender love for us.

Lead us into wisdom,
O Spirited Light,
that we may lift our song with angels
praising and reverencing all creation,
even the dust from which we are formed.

Breathe your spirit upon us, O Christ,
that our spirits may be borne aloft
like a feather on the breath of God,
that we may devote ourselves to your path with joy.

With all our will,
may we assist you, O God,
in renewing and protecting the Earth,
in casting joy around us like a heavenly light
for the glory of your Name
as your beloved children.

Bless and preserve us in hope,
O Beloved Savior,
and shine the light of your countenance
upon those we now name.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Knowing Jesus, Knowing Ourselves: Sermon for Proper 19 B

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

After many weeks, friends, we have arrived at this place in the gospel of Mark. We are exactly in the center of it. This is the fulcrum. And the center of this gospel turns on the central question of Christian faith: Who do you say that I am?

Jesus starts by asking his disciples who people are saying that he is, and he receives a variety of responses. The Jesus asks a more important question of his followers and his friends:

“Who do you say that I am?”

Peter, never one to hesitate, answers first: “You are the Messiah!” he yells out breathlessly. The term “Messiah” (Christos in Greek) means “anointed one” and had been used before, applied to kings, priests, and prophets in the Hebrew scripture. Even Cyrus of Persia had been called the messiah in Isaiah 45 after he conquered the Babylonians who had conquered Israel. Applying the term messiah to a king meant that he had been selected and protected by Yahweh.

Thus, it may be surprising to the disciples that when Peter calls Jesus the “Messiah,” Jesus doesn’t disagree, but then promptly redefines the term as being one that will lead to suffering and death, not great political and military victory. Instead, for the first of three times in Mark, we hear Jesus predict his passion, his death. Jesus connects being the Messiah with the apocalyptic figure of the Son of Man, sometimes also translated “the Human One,” and says that the suffering the Son of Man will undergo is “necessary.”

This is not what was expected of the Messiah. So the question hangs there: “Who do you say that I am?”

And it’s a vital questions for today, friends. Who do WE say Jesus is? Some people want to rely simply on the facts and strip him of any special power or meaning. Is he a distant figure in history, a religious zealot and rebel who caused trouble who confronted the powerful people of his day and was eventually executed for it?

Thomas Jefferson, proponent of the Enlightenment that he was, supposedly spent some time with a Bible and a knife. He methodically cut out every single verse in the gospels that involved miracles or spoke of anything that violated scientific laws or reason. He ended up with about 10 pages at most of a Jesus who was a moral teacher. He tamed Jesus to suit his preferences and biases, but he ended up with a Jesus who not only wasn’t very interesting but also wasn’t any more relevant than any other wise man.

In the four gospels alone, there are a multitude of portrayals of Jesus, and we are reminded of that even in our gospel today, when Jesus asks his disciples who other people say he is. John the Baptist reincarnated, or Elijah. A prophet of some kind. A no-account carpenter who was the son of a carpenter. A Galilean. A peasant from Nazareth.

Yet we are sitting here because we have the hope and the longing of knowing Jesus as something more—a living, loving, healing, saving force in our lives today. In his ministry, Jesus was many things: a preacher of the reign of God. A healer.

In forgiving sins and sitting down at table with outcasts and those considered to be sinners, he was a reconciler and redeemer, upholding the dignity of every person, even those whom “polite society” would have avoided and shunned and shamed. But that leads us only so far. As we hear in our gospel today, Jesus doesn’t just ask us who he is. He is asking us something deeper, too.

Theologian Karoline Lewis-- whom I personally thanked on Twitter for her insights, God bless her-- focuses on Jesus’s question to the disciples, and applies it to questions of our own identities and our concept of discipleship: "'Who do you say that I am?' is at the same time, 'who will you say that you are?' That’s the rub of this question, the heart of its difficulty. If we only had to provide an answer to Jesus’ question of his identity, that would be one thing. However, answering the question of Jesus’ identity is also having to give voice to our own. Who you say Jesus is, is who you have decided to be. You can’t answer Jesus’ inquiry without revealing who you are."(1)

As Christians, who we are reveals who we understand Jesus to be. In our words, and our attitudes, and our actions, we who claim the name “Christian” for ourselves are ourselves the only living testimony other people will ever see or experience about who Jesus is, and about who God is.

As our psalm beautifully and lyrically reminds us, the heavens are telling the glory of God. Isn’t it important that we do the same? One day tells its tale to another, and together they fly by all too fast, sometimes, but those are the building blocks from which our lives are made. What tale do we tell with our words and our actions? Do we proclaim God’s generous grace and abundant love to others in what we say and what we do and who we are?

It’s important to remember that we are given the gift of each day from God, and what Jesus is reminding us here is to use each one of those days as much as possible making the most of that life. That doesn’t mean living selfishly or over-cautiously. It means that the only life worth living is one in which we are willing to be transformed by the power of God’s grace to live for others.

Jesus stretched his arms wide upon that cross as God Incarnate to remind us that God’s arms are themselves stretched wide to encompass the entire world—no exceptions.

Jesus stretched his arms wide upon that cross as a fully human person to remind us that we are all capable of loving each other that much, that abundantly.

God loves us into being and breathes love into us from the moment of our births, and we are called to try to breathe that love and grace into a world that, through our own human folly and selfishness, is gasping for it.

The power of Jesus as we understand him, as the living Son of God who became human, is that he then calls us to a full a complete understanding of what it means to be human, which is no small thing. In Jesus, God works in the world in human flesh and bone, and then calls us to open our selves to God working in us.

This world really doesn’t need
a God
or a Jesus
who is more like us.

This world
needs people
who are more like Jesus.

Our lives, as both individuals and as the Church, tell the world who we say Jesus is. Catholic theologian Elizabeth Johnson suggests that the life of discipleship that Jesus calls us to writes a kind of “fifth gospel,” making story of Jesus relevant anew in our own lives.(2) There's Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John-- and you and me and all of us. How would it change us to keep that realization at the center of our lives, every day?

It takes discipline and faith. The lives of desperation and fear, of scarcity and want, that society keeps selling us and reinforcing in us, create a kind of static in our heads and hearts. We feel that we are never going to have enough. We fear the we ourselves are never going to BE enough. But that’s exactly the life that Jesus is urging us to lay down and be willing to give up. In asking us to lay down our lives, Jesus is not asking us to embrace death, but instead, to truly embrace a life grounded in God, who loves us no matter what. Jesus is asking us to be willing to use our God-given lives for the good of others and for the good of the world.

Deep in our hearts, some of us have a hard time believing that God’s love is that limitless for us. But here’s one thing I have learned, and it’s a precious knowledge. Every love we experience in our lives changes us in some way. Choosing to embrace God’s love for us will change us, too. Now, change can be a scary thing. It’s scary, because any real change in our lives involves embracing a death of our former selves- letting go of all that is familiar to us, that made us who we have been in the hope that we will become something better.

Who do we say that Jesus is? Who do we reveal Jesus to be in the world? We are known by the words we use, by the story we tell with both our tongues and with our lives, as both of our readings today remind us. It’s up to each of us to answer those questions for the world as well, in the way we live our lives, to re- member and live and proclaim through the good news, or gospel of our lives, who Jesus not just was 2000 years ago but who he IS for us, right now in this time and in our lives.

Let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Let the words of our mouths and the actions of our lives reflect your grace and mercy to the world, Blessed Jesus, as we live into being your companions and disciples.


Preached at St. Martin's Episcopal Church on September 15 at the 505, and on September 16 at 8:00 and 10:15 am.

Proverbs  1:20-33
Psalm 19
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

(1) Karoline Lewis, "Who Do You Say That I Am?" at Dear Working Preacher, September 11, 2018, at
(2) Sr. Elizabeth A. Johnson, Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal in Christology, pp. 62-63.

1) Mosaic of Jesus
2) Image from the Jesuits of Singapore.
3) Icon of Jesus healing a paralyzed man.