Sermon preached on the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Llandudno and St Tudno’s Church on the Great Orme, in the Ministry Area of Bro Tudno
The Ministry Area’s order of service with the lections, including a poem in addition to the First Reading and the Holy Gospel, can be found here.
Who do you say that I am?
At school, I was a lamentably bad violin player. I enjoyed learning about music, but I didn’t have a natural talent for playing; and, what’s worse, neither did I have the self-discipline to practice.
Mr Davies, my violin teacher, also enjoyed teaching music in the round; sometimes we’d even listen to recordings; and my informal strategy became seeing how long into the forty-five minute lesson we could keep talking before I had, finally, to play something, and reveal quite how little practice I’d done since last week.
When I graduated to the County Youth Orchestra, another Mr Davies, the conductor, had a mantra about playing together as an orchestra that I still remember — it’s less important, to begin with, to play the right note (about which one is understandably anxious — this black dot on the page that specifies an exactly pitched sound) than it is to play a note, any note, in the right place, at the right time, with the right rhythm. There was no point playing a perfectly in-tune note half a second after everybody else, or for twice as long.
Who do you say that I am?
We sit in on a lesson in our Gospel reading today. Jesus is teaching his disciples, and it’s all about knowing; and knowing correctly, deeply, properly; and doing.
We are with Jesus and his disciples today at a hinge point in Saint Mark’s Gospel — the end of a period of when the disciples have followed in Jesus’s footsteps across the hills and lakes of Galilee; and the beginning of a time when the focus will be more and more towards Jerusalem and all that will happen there.
Jesus wants his disciples to understand who he is. “Who do you say that I am?” he asks. Have they, his followers, understood who he truly is, the Son of God in their midst? Peter has learnt something, and has half understood. He reaches into Judean history and self-understanding. “You are the Messiah,” Peter says — that word which for the Judeans means the anointed king, Khristós, the Christ. “You are the Messiah,” Peter says — the long-awaited leader, descended from the line of David and Solomon, the one who will fight God’s holy wars, strengthen breaches in the observance of God’s laws, unite the tribes of Israel, and restore the glory of the Temple and the Covenant.
And of all this, Jesus is the fulfilment; he is the Messiah. In saying so, Peter plays, sings, confesses the right note. But he is out of time with Jesus. Of all things, Jesus is the fulfilment, but not through sword and conquest; not through miracles and magic. “I am your Messiah,” Jesus teaches Peter, but my time, my rhythm, my way is that of passion and compassion; my time, my rhythm, my way is not the restoration of an imagined past, but the revelation of the depth of life. “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks, and we must know, but we must know correctly, deeply, properly.
For we must know who Jesus is, not only in the stillness and the beauty of things, but in the dust and ashes of fallen towers, in the dust and ashes of our own grief and loss, in the dust and ashes of lament and dismay, the dice still clocking, the voices dying away. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks. “You are the Messiah,” we must know, but we must know correctly, deeply, properly — the Messiah of the Cross who after three days rises again.
“And now that you know,” Jesus says, “pick up your instrument, and play; pick up your walking stick and journey with me; pick up your cross and follow me.” For Jesus wants his disciples not to know, only — but to do, to act, to live, to be.
“Who do you say that I am” is ultimately important because it’s another way of asking, “Who are you going to become?” For life in Christ, ultimately, is not to be talked about, though confession is important; life in Christ, ultimately, is not to be understood, though we must know it correctly, deeply, properly; life in Christ, ultimately, is to be lived, by us, and in living it we become like him. Our time, our rhythm, our way should be with Christ — in our suffering, the shadow of his Cross, and in our hope, the promise of his rising again.
“Who are you going to become?” Jesus asks his disciples every day. And we must know; and know correctly, deeply, properly; and then we must do more than know; we must become.