Who Are You?
“Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”
Cue the Hollywood FX: lightening flashing, thunder crashing, the voice of God booming above the chaos, answering Job’s outraged challenge that God ‘justify his ways’ to human beings. I feel it too, reverberating within the very depths of my being…
“Where were you? Who are you?
Just like that – the little bubble of my ego is deflated, and like Job, I am reminded that I am not the centre of the universe and the author of the mysteries at the heart of Creation. That there are other ways than mine of seeing and perceiving the world – and in the grand scheme of things my perspective is pretty small. Only God is able to see and comprehend the ‘big picture’.
But I sense these are important questions for other reasons: Where were you? Who are you? I want to look for answers…
If I begin my exploration in the context of what our prevailing culture values, my ego is further deflated – it is more about who I am not. I am not young; I am not beautiful; I do not wear a size 6 dress and hang around with “the right people”. I am not known for my witty conversation at cocktail parties, my exciting exploits, or my ability to influence the rich and powerful. People don’t want to be me.
But this is all surface stuff I realize. The questions want to take me deeper – this time to consider the many perspectives of the roles and relationships that help to define me. I am a deacon, a chaplain, a board member, a volunteer. I am wife and mother. I am daughter and sister and friend.
And still the questions draw me deeper until I hear again the voice of God: “Where were you? Who are you?” But this time it is a gentle whisper – the questions themselves now an affirmation – an invitation to explore a deeper truth.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Carried within my heart of love.”
“Who are you? One of my beloved children.”
And now my own voice joining in: “… a disciple of Christ – one who bears the mark of my kinship upon my forehead – the cross traced there at my baptism.”
But isn’t it interesting – it seems that every time we get an answer to one question, it raises another for us. So now I ask – what does it mean to me to be a disciple of Christ?
I think that one of the reasons Mark wrote his version of the story of the life and ministry of Jesus was to give his answer to this very question. He shows the first disciples eagerly responding to Jesus’ invitation, leaving their jobs and lives and family members to follow him. They accept the responsibility of apostleship and participate in his work of preaching and healing. But along the way there is a subtle change. Perhaps it is because they begin to lose perspective, or are just not able to see beyond the ‘norms’ of their prevailing culture – but they move from being models of discipleship to examples of how we can fail Christ when we rely on our own narrow perspectives to interpret what God is doing in the world.
We enter the story today when Jesus has set his path for Jerusalem. Along the way he has been teaching about discipleship and spoken to his followers three times about his passion and death. In the aftermath of his third passion prediction, James and John, the sons of Zebedee wish to speak to him – but not to remark on what they have just heard. Instead they ask him to give them positions of high status in the coming Kingdom.
They just don’t get it.
Rather than admonishing them, Jesus continues to teach about the reality of what it means to be a disciple by giving them three responses to their request:
A place in the kingdom requires suffering – are they prepared to experience what he will experience? Their lack of insight makes them child-like in their eagerness to assure him that they are up to the challenge. We can’t help but be struck by the irony of their words as we remember that in just a short time, all the disciples will run away in fear when Jesus is arrested, and subjected to humiliation and torture from his Roman captors.
Jesus continues by telling them that what they ask is not his to give – only God can determine status in the coming Kingdom.
And finally, in stark contrast to their human concept of leadership as being about power and privilege, Jesus tells them that only those who are humble and willing to serve others can be leaders in the community of his followers.
In his own example of humble obedience, even in the face of terrible suffering, he becomes the role model for any of us who would call ourselves disciples and leaders. In Christ’s loving service, God accomplishes what all the political powers and all the armies down through the ages could not do – restore us to right relationships with one-another and with God.
As I reflect today on Jesus’ teaching and example of discipleship, I am especially aware of the preparations for the presidential elections in the United States, the campaigning of our own federal and provincial politicians, and the state of affairs in so many countries around the world where governments have failed to serve their constituents. Although I am not advocating that we “Christianize” governments, I do believe we people of faith have a prophetic role to play in calling leaders back to models of government that are about service for the common good of the many, rather than status and power for a privileged few.
And now I have another question. If those who lived and travelled with Jesus – those who heard his teaching and witnessed first-hand his healing ministry – if they failed to understand what he was trying to teach them, how can we so far removed by time, distance, and circumstance ever hope to grasp what it means to be his disciples?
In our baptismal covenant, which we renew at each baptism and at the Great Vigil of Easter, we recite a statement of our belief in the triune God, followed by our commitment, with God’s help, to five actions which outline for us the path of discipleship.
The first of these – continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers – is a commitment to the community of the church. Just as we are nurtured and formed in our families of origin, when we share our common life in the company of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are nurtured and formed in the values of our faith that have been handed down in word and sacrament, through many generations, from the very beginning.
In community we learn to recognize and resist evil, seek and find forgiveness for our sins, and are able to grow in our ability to bring all that we have and all that we are to the tasks of proclaiming the Good News, serving Christ in others and striving for justice, peace and dignity for all of humanity.
The life of a disciple of Christ is not a casual thing. It requires real commitment and a willingness to make sacrifices – to let go of many of the attitudes and aspects of our lives that we think define us, in order to discover our true identity in Christ. It is a life-long journey.
There is a place here in the community of the church for everyone – whatever your story, whatever your level of involvement, wherever you are on your faith journey. And however much we feel we are able to give or participate, there is power in sharing our witness with one-another – the power of the Spirit, which binds us together and helps us build a strong community that nurtures our growth in Christ.
The power of that same Spirit animates us, as it did those first followers of Christ, and carries us out into the mission field to be signs of God’s presence in and love for the world.
The question is no longer “Where were you?” but “Where are you now?”
Who you are is beloved child of God, disciple of Christ – co-creator in God’s work of healing and redeeming the world. You are part of that Big Picture.
Thanks be to God.