Tell Me Who Are You?

by | Oct 17, 2021 | Sermons

Tell Me Who Are You?

The Psalm, Job and Mark’s gospel all provide a glimpse of what we believe in God and what the path of discipleship looks like. However, these three passages are far from harmonious. What does it mean to follow Christ, to believe in God?

Tell me who are you?

Scripture: Psalm 91: 9-16, Job 38: 1-7, 34-41 and Mark 10: 35-45

Tell me who are you?

Oh, I really want to know.

These are the opening lines to The Who’s song Who are you and the are aptly appropriate for our sermon today. Not just for Job, but also the passage from Mark and the Psalm. We are going to spend a bit of time with each of the passages today, as each tells us a little bit about what we think the character of God is.

The question, tell me who are you, is also an appropriate one for us to ask ourselves as disciples of Christ.

Let’s quickly consider Psalm 91, which opens with a set of promises or beliefs about God. That if God is our refuge no harm will overtake us, no disaster will come to our tent.

This is a statement the Psalmist is making about God. Psalm 91 features many elements of protection, how God will lift us up and deliver us from trouble. It would follow that Deuteronomic belief about blessings and curses. Abide in God, be protected.

Let’s pause there with just this brief reflection, that Job’s experience of abiding in God doesn’t match that of the Psalmists.

We are promised much in scripture for placing faith in God. I believe these promises. I believe heaven is as much a place I will one day dwell as it is a place I actively participate in the creation of. I hold those two idea’s in tension and I try to remember that even though we might say “Jesus died for me” it really isn’t about me. Though I believe I am important to God, I recognize there is so much more going on and most of the time due to my own brokenness I’m not fully aware of it.

On discipleship Luis Menendez-Atuna writes, “Mark’s gospel reveals the disciples as the primary model for discipleship, it also shows them as flawed characters.” (Luis Menendez-Atuna) This is displayed in our passage from Mark today. James and John want to sit at the left and right of Jesus in glory. They are either very full of themselves or are basking in a moment of euphoria. Either way, two things happen. We will start with the second, the rest of the disciples get upset, perhaps even angry with James and John. Probably because they also want to sit at the left or the right of Jesus and less because they though James and John were full of it.

The first things is the response from Jesus, who says “You don’t know what you are asking, can you drink this cup or receive this baptism?”

I’ll rephrase that for you: Tell me who are you? I really want to know.

Returning to Luis Menendex-Atuna’s commentary on this passage, he writes the following, “Recent scholarship has emphasized the race, gender, sexual, and class components of Jesus’ torture: as a male Jew, Mark depicts Jesus’ torture as a continuous process with hints of sexual abuse. Jesus goes through the death of a slave. Liberation theologians have expanded the category of the “crucified” to talk about “el pueblo crucificado.” Such a theological move emphasizes two critical points: a) it makes explicit that Jesus’ death was not a willful act, but rather the culmination of a political process intent on eliminating his subversive movement and b) Jesus’ message inaugurated a move that, at least initially, sat at odds with Greco-Roman ideals of authority.” (Luis Menendez-Atuna)

Can you drink this cup or receive this baptism?

Tell me who are you? I really want to know.

Jesus doesn’t tell the disciple no. He doesn’t say they can’t. He doesn’t say ‘no you can’t take my cup or endure the same baptism.’ He doesn’t dissuade them. Instead, Jesus says this isn’t for me to give. It belongs to God. And moreover, he leaves it open as a question.

In Mark’s gospel the call of discipleship includes experiencing the realities of torture, pain and trauma. As we reflect on this passage, the request of James and John, and the response of Jesus we acknowledge that there is no known answer for who can drink from the cup or endure the baptism. As no one knows how they might respond to such an experience as Jesus endured.

Karoline Lewis reframes this passage as follows, “James and John are not ill-informed or ignorant. They’ve witnessed Jesus’ miracles and listened to his teachings. They are on the other side of three passion predictions. They have been given hint after hint that following Jesus is likely not going to go the way we expected. What didn’t they see? What didn’t they get?

“James and John are doing what humans do best—hoping and praying that the world has not and will not change as much as it already has and as much as they know it will. But there is no return to what once was after the heavens were ripped apart. There is no going back to life before the storm.” (Karoline Lewis) In her commentary the life before the storm that Lewis is referring to is Covid. There is no going back to life as it was before Covid.

Let me put that in a much more pointed fashion, from a church growth perspective. The church, before Covid-19, does not exist anymore. Any attempt to simply return to how things were, isn’t possible, the landscape of how we live has changed too much. Sound frightening?

Please remember who you follow, the one James and John have just heard make three death predictions. We are resurrection people. However, in order to have a resurrection you need to have a death. That’s an important thing to keep in mind as we seek to articulate how we will serve God and the community we are a part of moving forward.

Tell me who are you? I really want to know.

What about Job? I’ve already indicated that the Psalmist and Job’s experience of abiding in God don’t line up. In today’s passage Job finally gets his meeting with God. Job will finally get to question God about why all these tragedies have befallen him. Job will finally get his answers. Except he doesn’t.

Now Job isn’t aware of the setup that occurred in the first two chapters of the book between Hassatan, the District Attorney, and God. Job doesn’t get what he expected and if we are honest, neither do we. We’d probably like answers too. Instead, God talks about the order of creation. God questions Job, he asks “Who is this? Where were you?”

In short, God is asking Job, tell me who are you? I really want to know.

Job’s answer to God’s questions is silence. Which is how we too would be left to answer. So what do we do with this passage, how does it fit with the model of discipleship that is developed in Mark.

Rev. Henry Sun notes the following about this passage from Job:

  • There is almost no mention on humankind in God’s address to Job. Which provides a counterpoint to the first creation story, where humankind is viewed as the pinnacle of God’s creation. There is no sense of that at all in Job.
  • Instead, creation is discussed as its own valued entity… scripture does not speak with one voice about a human-centric view of creation where we are its lords and it is our servant.
  • The mention of boundaries in Job 38:10 (which we didn’t read this morning) suggests that within creation there is room for freedom. The God speeches break down the false dichotomy between unbounded chaos, on the one hand, and absolute mechanistic retribution, on the other. There is a middle way, a way which admits of freedom within limits, a freedom within boundaries that is part of the divine order of creation.
  • Finally, and this one is a hard pill to swallow: the questions from Yahweh are more than simply “pulling rank” on God’s part. They underscore just how little Job understands how the universe works. (Henry Sun)

Tell me who are you? I really want to know.

That question might make us seem small, may even seem unfair, but it is a necessary one. The church as we know it, discipleship as we understand it is changing. God didn’t ordain it, there is freedom within creation. Can we find our place, as individuals and as a community of faith, within God’s creation? Can we drink from the cup and receive the same baptism, perhaps not as individuals, but as a community? Can we endure the torture, the trials, the crucifixion, the death, in order to experience the resurrection?

It’s not about sitting at the right or left hand of Jesus. It is about trusting in the Most High, God who is our refuge. It is about understanding that through Christ we are constantly being called to a new thing.

Or perhaps I can borrow a quote from Mary Oliver, “If I could, I’d say to people, ‘Don’t forget the mystery, love the mystery, be glad of it. You don’t want answers all the time.’” Amen.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.

St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security. 

Kristina Nairn

Public Health Nurse, HKPR Health Unit

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