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I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Who Do you say that I am? Part 2

(to review the first part of the argument see the post below.)

Remember, the question Jesus asks, "Who do you say that I am?" comes in the middle of Mark's story about Jesus. It doesn't seem to be a test question, but rather a testing question, sort of like querying whether the weather outside is cold enough to take a jacket. Peter answers the question quite profoundly, but Jesus immediately tells Peter and the others around to "tell no one."

The secrecy issue aside (and there are some good books by Donald Juel on this messianic secret), I am of the mind that Jesus doesn't want to spread this news around because there is no proof--at this point in the story (or story of his life according to Mark)--but there is no proof that Jesus is the messiah. Yet. And the evidence does arrive, both in the story and the life of Jesus.

It comes when Jesus dies. At that point in Mark's story my favorite verse from this gospel appears. The soldier who was guarding Jesus so that he could die in agony, looks upon his dead body and utters "Truly, this man was a Son of God." (Mark 15.39). NOW we have some evidence that Jesus is the messiah, Jesus is the Christ of God, the Son of God in this sense. Of course, in irony of ironies, the evidence comes in the one thing all humans do--die. So the evidence that Jesus is divine comes about as he does the most human thing of all.

From which Christianity has drawn one fairly obvious conclusion: how you die matters. The gospel of Mark, indeed the whole story of Christianity since the resurrection of Jesus, places great emphasis on how you die as evidence that Jesus is the one sent by God to make sense of the world amidst all its suffering, pain, and death. How you die, in essence, is the story of your faith.

That message is not very tasty these days. No one wants to hear about death, about pain, about unjust suffering. We know that's all bad stuff...who wants to think, much less talk about it? So we don't. And Christians spend a lot of time avoiding talking about how they are going to die because "there are so many people suffering," or "so much work to do for justice," or songs to sing about God's awesomeness or prayers to wander around in circles trying to "be still." All those things only matter if you familiarize yourself with dying well.

What Jesus is asking of Peter when he asks about who people say "I am?" shows why and what they think about death. The messiah, at least in Mark's gospel, does save us from death as being our final answer, but only because we die, and even moreso, only because Jesus died. The Christian tradition has always held that unless you understand that dying matters more than anything else you can do, all the faith, all the prayers, all the beautiful music, all the charitable giving, all the sharing, all the stuff that makes life worth living in other words--all that stuff cannot stop you from dying. In fact, as the story of Jesus shows, NOTHING can stop you from dying. Dying well is the only way to conquer death.

Over the years many and various Christians have proposed this way or that way of dying well as the ONLY way die...I am not sure there is only one way to die well. As a pastor it has been a great privilege to see many people die well (and a few, not-so-well). And when you die well about the only thing I can say is "Truly, this was a child of God." Fortunately, it's all the evidence we need, because it's all the evidence we have.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

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