Questions of Identity

By Rev Elizabeth Raine

To assist you in this worship, you may wish to light a candle, and gather some symbols that might help you to worship, reflect and pray. As well as a purple cloth for the season of Lent, have something that inspires your imagination, such as a cross or an icon to assist you to reflect on today’s theme.

Opening Prayer

(adapted from Spill the Beans Iss.38 and based on the two lectionary readings of Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 & Mark 8:31-38; and Psalm 8)

Creator God, if we are lucky enough
to be able to see the night sky through the glare
of artificial light and the fog of pollution,
we would be as awed and amazed by it as human beings ever were.
With the Psalmist, we shiver with awareness
of how small and insignificant we are in the eternal scheme of things;
we marvel at the possibility that we might
nevertheless matter—and matter to you.
With Abraham, we try to count the stars,
and, having failed, think of all the people
who came before us, and those who will come after;
our biological heirs and our spiritual ones;
those who will remember us when we are gone,
and keep our name alive, and write the next chapter
of the never-ending story of your love.
With Peter, we rail at the injustice of good men
and good women dying before their time,
their dreams unrealised, their potential unfulfilled.
We crave the courage that Jesus had; the faith
that enabled him to accept your will;
but we are a long way from achieving it.
Gracious God, as we prepare once again to walk
with Jesus on the road that has only one end,
we pray that his spirit may be with us,
enabling us to grieve—and keep on going;
to hurt—and bear the pain;
to question—and go on trusting in your goodness
and the ultimate victory of love.
Remind us of your promises, O God,
and of our calling to help you to fulfil them
in the fleetingly brief time that we are here on earth.
May we play our part in the eternal struggle
of light against darkness, goodness against evil,
love against hatred, hope against despair,
trusting you for all that we may not live to see.
We praise you, O God, for the deep mysteries
of our faith, and ask you to keep us faithful
to the one who has called us to leave everything
to follow him through death into everlasting life.
Amen.

Mark 8:31-38 (NRSV) Peter recognises Jesus as Messiah
27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Reflecting on the Word

In Mark’s Gospel, the conversation reported in our reading today symbolises a new point in the story about Jesus. It would seem that there has been discussion about the identity of Jesus.

The story begins with the question asked by Jesus himself: “Who do people say I am?” The disciples report that there are a number of views as to Jesus’ identity. Jesus presses on, querying who the disciples think he is. Here Jesus’ full identity is named by a human character, Peter, who recognises that Jesus is in fact the Christos, the Messiah.

In answer to Jesus’ first question, ‘who do people say I am’, Mark lists some popular expectations: Jesus is John the Baptist returned, or perhaps Elijah, or one of the other prophets. The arrival of Elijah or a prophet like him was a standard expectation of the people from this time and based on biblical predictions. In Malachi 4:5, God promises to send Elijah back. In Deuteronomy 18:15-20, God states that he will raise up a prophet ‘like himself’. So as Mark reports it, we can see that the people were identifying Jesus as a divine messenger, as was promised for the climax of history. Jesus is therefore linked specifically to his Jewish tradition.

From discussing who Jesus is, the rest of the passage now turns its attention from who Jesus is to who Peter thinks Jesus is. Peter replies “You are the Messiah” (Christos in Greek).

I wonder what we would answer, both individually and as a church, if asked the question “Who do you think that I am?”
Would we say the Son of God? The resurrected or crucified one? The good shepherd? The king of kings? The Son of Man bringing judgment? Do we think of the one who lost his life, or the one who found his life?

“Who do you say that I am?” asks Jesus. “The Messiah—the suffering Son of Man—the crucified and risen one” we reply. And every time we make this confession, we challenge ourselves to understand the depths of whom it is, that Jesus is.

And there is a flip side to this question. Who do we say that we are? I hope that we as a church, can honestly answer that we are God’s people, called and chosen for the sake of serving the world, which God yearns to save. God’s people, called to give up our lives, so that in serving the world we might find our own lives.

Reflecting on the passage

What can we learn from this story?

What is God calling us to be as the church today? What are the issues and challenges in the world that require our attention?

The following prayer is adapted from Spill the beans (Iss. 38) and challenges us about the cost of discipleship. Take some time to reflect on its words, to pray it, and ask what it means for you.

Prayer

“Whoever wants to be my disciple,” Jesus said to Peter.
Go on, Lord, what’s your plan for us?
Will we be ‘exceedingly numerous’ too, as Abraham was?
And spectacularly successful?
The Old Covenant was good— the new one will be even better…
“Whoever wants to be my disciple,” Jesus said,
“must deny themselves… take up their cross…
lose their life for me.”
Dear God, no! Really? No other way?
Help us, by your grace, and only if we really mean it, to say
Amen.

Prayer for ourselves and others

(adapted from Spill the Beans, Iss.38)
Great Storyteller God,
we are glad to be part of this great unfolding tale;
this mixture of comedy and tragedy,
mystery and farce, in which we find ourselves
not just characters, but co-authors of the saga
that began when you spoke those first, momentous words, “Let there be….”
We are grateful for others who have left a record of their stories:
their hopes and dreams; their joys and sorrows;
your promises, and the extraordinary ways in which they came to be fulfilled.
And for the story of Jesus, in whose life our lives are reflected back to us,
as they are not yet but may one day become.
We pray for all who find themselves today
at a sticking-point in their story,
not sure which way to go,
or if the old signposts are reliable:
those who are finding it hard to go on hoping
or waiting for your promises to be kept.
We pray for those who are old in years,
and need to know
that their life has a purpose;
for all who lose their lives too soon,
and all rage at life’s unfairness.
Loving God, if the story
we have chosen to believe
is true, you are not just its author, but one of us;
one with us in all life’s twists and turns.
Remind us of that when the way is hard, and faith is nigh impossible.
But remind us, too, when the clouds lift and the sun begins to shine again,
and life is good, so that we can share our joy with you,
and give you the thanks and praise that you deserve. Amen.

Blessing

With thankfulness for our ancestors,
and in anticipation for the part we play today
for generations to come,
may we go with the assurance that God’s covenant
is alive and well within us,
and that we are part of God’s story.

And may the God of our ancestors and of the prophets
bless us with the their courage,
may the love of Jesus accompany usr
and may the holy spirit surprsie and inspire us
as we travel forward into next week.
Amen.

Photo of Rev Elizabeth Raine

Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine

Elizabeth is minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, beginning her ministry here in December 2018. 

Over the years, she has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister. 

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