By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton

September 13, 2009

Read: Mark 8:27-38

“But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks his disciples as they make their way to another village. “But who do you say that I am?”.

When strangers meet, there is a fairly standard ritual followed as they seek to get acquainted. It begins with names, of course. Then follow the questions: where do you live? Are you married and do you have a family? Where did you grow up? What is your job? Where did you go to school? What are you hobbies? A stranger turns into an acquaintance and we get a sense of who the other person is when we gain a context.

But if the relationship develops, there are other insights to be gained: the values that shape behavior and decisions; the vision of success that provides the sense of direction; the awareness of whether the other is trustworthy, whether the other has integrity, whether the other treats people with dignity and compassion. Then an acquaintance turns into a friend. And with further experience, a friend may turn into a life companion.

But there are limits to how much we can know about another person. It seems in everyone there are secrets of the heart that will not be revealed or that cannot be discerned. Even two people who have lived together in a wonderfully shared marriage for half a century and more will find there are surprises in the other, and ever new insights to be gained. It is the wonder of life in human community that people are endlessly fascinating as they express in attitude and in word and deed who they are.

Jesus has been in relationship with his disciples for a while. And now, on the road he asks about what other people are saying and then turns the question on the disciples. “who do you say that I am?”

Peter sees Jesus for who he truly is as he says, “you are the Messiah”. Peter sees. But when Jesus begins to talk about his upcoming suffering and death, Peter is overwhelmed with his own feelings and takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Jesus, in front of the other disciples, rebukes Peter and says, “get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Peter’s great confession and denial both come from the same tongue, the same heart, the same man. In all of us, there is that capacity for both divine things and human things. Peter’s confession and denial both come from the same tongue, the same heart, the same man. We all have the capacity for doing both good and evil. It is the self-discipline of desiring to live a faithful life that helps us keep the lower part of ourselves under control.

There is a fable entitled “Keep your Dragon in the Snow”:

A self-styled dragon hunter went into the mountains to trap a dragon. He searched all over the mountains and at last discovered the frozen body of an enormous dragon in a cave high up on one of the tallest peaks. The hunter brought the body to Baghdad. He claimed that he had slaughtered it single-handedly and exhibited it on the bank of the Euphrates.

Thousands of people turned out to see the dragon. The heat of the Baghdad sun started to warm up the dragon’s frozen body, and it began to stir, slowly awakening from its winter hibernation. People screamed and stampeded, and many were killed. The hunter stood frozen in terror and the dragon devoured him in a single gulp.

Your lower self is like that dragon, a savage tyrant. Never believe it’s dead, it’s only frozen. Always keep your dragon in the snow of self-discipline. Never carry it into the heat of the Baghdad sun. Let that dragon of yours stay always dormant. If it’s freed it will devour you in one gulp.

Thankfully, in Jesus’ wisdom we find the path open to ourselves and to the strength and courage that helps us keep the dragon in the snow. When Jesus spoke to the disciples about his upcoming suffering and death, Peter became afraid. He was afraid of losing Jesus, he was fearful for his own life. That is simply human and normal. He let the dragon temporarily warm up until Jesus called him on it. “Get behind me, Satan”. Jesus was speaking of the selfish words that were spoken out loud.

Jesus suffered and was killed on a cross. It was a death that opened the door for forgiveness and release of our sins. If we take up our cross and follow Jesus, it doesn’t mean a bed of roses for us. It doesn’t mean life will be easy. It means that we can be assured of God’s mercy and lovingkindness toward us. It means that Jesus is with us every step of the way, no matter what. It means that God fully understands any pain and suffering we might endure during this lifetime. It means that God loves us deeply. With an everylasting love.

Thomas Dorsey lost both his wife and newborn son in childbirth. In his grief, he wrote “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”. As I read the lyrics, think about what Dorsey says about hanging on when life gets tough. And how does Dorsey answer the question Jesus put to Peter, “who do you say that I am?”

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
When my way grows drear
Precious Lord linger near
When my light is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
When the darkness appears
And the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.

And Jesus asks each and every one of us, “But who do you say that I am?”
May we all experience the leading and guidance of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Turn to LEVAS 106 and sing together Dorsey’s truly inspired music.

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

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