My name, Jealaine, comes from a combination of two names: Jean and Elaine, the middle names belonging to each of my grandmothers Martha and Barbara. I am the daughter of Vinnie and Keddy. The big sister to twins Jon and Jayna (born in that order). Granddaughter to Lyle and Martha and Barb and Phil. I am the wife of Chris, the mom of Ellen, and the human that feeds Bailey. I am the daughter-in-law to Phil and the late Barb. I am the sister-in-law to Brian and Erin and proud aunt to Brady, Hadley, Dylan, and Greyson, also in that order. I am an alto, an avid reader, a best friend to Kristin (for more than 30 years), a current events junkie, a rookie theologian and the world’s slowest knitter. I was called and claimed by God in the baptismal waters of St. Gregory’s Catholic Church in Maryville, Missouri. I was confirmed at St. James Catholic Church in Liberty, Missouri. I’m a pretty good cook, I keep a lived-in home (i.e., it’s not clean), and I once got a speeding ticket coming home from meeting a boy in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and tried to lie to my parents about it. Who do you say you are? Who do people say you are?
Sometimes I claim who people say I am (“you’re a pastor”) and other times I push back a little bit (“you’re sassy.” Whoa whoa whoa!) So who do people say you are. Jesus asks his disciples this question. “Who do people say I am?” It’s a strange question, don’t you think? Is Jesus having an identity crisis? Of all people, Jesus certainly knows who he is. There’s never been any question as to who Jesus is. But, perhaps it was the people around him who were confused. He had several names he went by, after all. People called him a teacher, a prophet, a teacher, John the Baptist, Elijah. So no wonder people were confused.
Thru high school and college, my nickname was JV. It was not at all original. Those were my initials before I got married. When people call me “JV” I know approximately what time of my life I may know them from. One of my college friends who regularly called me JV, didn’t know my real name and once asked me if I knew “Jealaine.” It was an interesting situation and we both got a good laugh. But Jesus isn’t asking this to make people laugh. He isn’t asking this to trick people. He isn’t asking because he lost his nametag. Jesus asks this question at a literal crossroad in his ministry. There are 16 chapters in Mark, and this is asked in chapter 8, right in the middle. This is kind of make or break time for those disciples. After this, Jesus foretells of his death and resurrection for the first time. This is the conversation that marks a turn in Jesus’ ministry as he starts to prepare for his journey into Jerusalem and ultimately, to the cross. And so, it is in this crucial moment when the disciples could turn back and go back to fishing or continue following Jesus that he chooses to ask “Who do people say I am?”
And it’s Peter who answers the question “who do you say I am?” Peter, who would later go on to deny Jesus three times by the cock crows, Peter is the one who answers. “You are the Messiah.” Probably having no idea what that exactly means, Peter probably expected to go on his merry little way. Peter, instead was greeted with a lecture. Peter and the others start to hear what it means that their friend Jesus is the Messiah. This had to be a shock to the disciples as this was the first time they had heard this. Jesus tells him about his death, that he will undergo great suffering, be killed, and rise again 3 days later. And Peter, who really loved his friend Jesus said (paraphrasing) “now, come on Jesus. That’s not really going to happen. Stop talking like that.” And instead of comforting Peter, Jesus tells him “get behind me Satan!” And then we start to hear what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus.
It seems that this reading is interpreted many different ways. Some people read it and think that we have to walk around in sack cloths and ashes, flogging ourselves. Others read it, observe their current situation (which may be less than ideal) and think “well, this is just my cross to bear.” Abuse victims hear this a lot. But really, I think that Jesus is inviting us in to examine our own lives and what gets in the way of our relationship with Christ. We hear that phrase “deny themselves” and we immediately think that we have to sell everything and just pray that God will provide. But instead, Christ is (in a roundabout way) asking us who our God really is.
Who is your God? My “gods” are things I normally label as good: Chris, Ellen, Bailey, my family and friends. I also have “gods” that are material things or just selfish things: my phone, my tv viewing, my tendency to put myself before others. When I ask people “who do you say I am,” would they respond with “a Christian” just from observing me? There’s a saying that in order for God to increase, I must decrease. In many many ways, I am my own god. Me, and my own sin gets in the way of a full relationship with God. I do a lot of things. Denying myself isn’t often one of them. So I have a challenge for you today, are you ready?
We have 4 or so more months until the end of the year. I asked church council this same question. What can you do in the next 4 months to increase your faith? What is God calling you to give up? Is God calling you to give up time maybe to volunteer or read a devotional in the morning? Maybe you’ve felt a tug to increase your weekly giving and now is the time. Maybe you haven’t been baptized and you’re embarrassed because of your age. Or perhaps you are just going to sit down with our church directory and pray for each and every member listed by name. We are in a crucial time together. As I get closer to closing out my second year with you, I am excited by so many things that are happening here. But the truth is, none of it matters if Christ is not the center of everything we do together. I have moved this cross back into the church because I want a visual reminder of what should be the center of my life. Notice there’s no room on this for an iPhone or TV. Because the cross is all I need. My soul has a Christ shaped hole that can only be filled by him. The harder I try to fill it with other stuff, the further I get from Christ.
Who do people say you are? Who do people say Christ is? When people see you do they see Christ? How are you going to spend these next 4 months? Start at the cross, keep that at the center and you can’t mess up.