Who do people say I am?

Published 8:33 am Friday, September 18, 2009

“Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asked his disciples.

For many of our churches, this past Sunday was Rally Sunday, the day we mark the beginning of what is in fact the church year as we start confirmation and Sunday school. Part of the reason why we have Sunday School and confirmation is to answer the question Jesus asked his first followers. One of my colleagues reported a question he asked as the parents and kids met for orientation was, “What do you want from confirmation?” A few parents offered hesitantly, “We want our children to learn about Jesus.”

It is, of course, important that we know about Jesus. Biblical illiteracy is dangerous both to the life of the church and to our lives of faith. We need to know who Matthew, Mark, Luke and John say Jesus is. We want Paul, James, and Peter’s thoughts, too. We read and learn who Saint Augustine, Martin Luther, John Wesley, C.S. Lewis say he is. That informs us. As we gather each week, and we confess our faith in the creeds, we say who God is. God is the one made us and all that exists, the one who sustains us and gives us our daily bread. God is the one who became flesh in Christ, suffered, crucified and raised. Christ is the one whose death and resurrection reconciles us with God. God is the Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us. The one who brings us to faith and the one who sustains us in faith. God is Spirit who makes us community, and makes the common holy.

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But who do you, say that Jesus is? We answer that question not with what we know about Jesus, we answer that by what we do, or don’t do with that knowledge, with our lives. My son played baseball this summer. He and his team improved throughout the summer finishing with a record of 25 wins, 11 losses, and one tie. As he began to play, my hope for him was that he wouldn’t just learn about baseball. Now, obviously, he needed to know some things — like three strikes you’re out. Or, you can’t use your face to stop a ground ball. Or, if the ball is hit to you in the outfield, counting butterflies, while scratching yourself like a big leaguer, isn’t the proper ready position. But the point wasn’t to learn about baseball, it is to become a baseball player. And he did, and his 10 little buddies did. Hours of practice and almost 40 games ensured that they would. As parents, we sacrifice the time and effort and energy and expense it takes to make them ball players.

If I went to vocational school, my goal would be not only to learn about electricity, but to become an electrician. The point of Sunday school and confirmation and worship and Bible study and service and everything we do as church is not to learn about Jesus, but to be his disciple. Jesus invites us to love as he loved, to live as he lived, to serve as he served, to be as intoxicated with the Spirit of God as he was. Just think if we put as much time, energy and effort into our practice of a life pleasing to God as we do to our hobbies, passions, interests, youth sports. What kind of Sunday school would we have? Confirmation program? Adult Bible studies? Service groups? Church? Community? World?

The church is the place we gather so that we might learn and live our lives as Jesus would live them if he were us. And every day, we give our lives away for better or for worse — they drip away. Every hour, every minute, every second we are offering our attention, energy, life over. Our lives are not ours to keep, only to give away. Whatever we give our lives over to, is our god. And all these so called gods take our lives, but there is only one who gives us his life in return — Christ Jesus our Lord.