Who am I?

Mark 8:27-30 Rev. Tyler Amundson September 16, 2012

Gracious God may the words shared here be true to your loving presence on this earth. As we go through each day may we remember the blessing of play you invite us into. You invite us to play, to know, and to share with our neighbors both known and unknown the amazing vision of your blessed Kingdom. May we take time each day to notice the moments of perfection in the world around us.

Mark 8:27-30
“27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ 28 And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ 29 He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.” [1]

Play is one of the earliest forms of communication we learn as children. If you watch young children as they begin to play with one another it is quite fascinating. At first they are completely separate entities. Each functioning in their space and with their toys. Then as they take notice of one another they try and communicate what they are playing. Whether with language of voice or of the body they slowly demonstrate to one another what they believe the shared reality to be. From time to time the children pull back to their own world, but once play is shared it is as if they can’t help to come back to one another.

One of the most striking dynamics of play is the act of vulnerability. The children for the first time risk not having a black and white understanding of what they believe is happening. The child has to risk that their exact idea of how the play should happen might be rejected. This letting go is to risk being hurt by the one you are interacting with. It is for many of us the first risk of vulnerability we take of our own free will. If it is accepted by our peers we begin to share a reality and our play gets rich beyond our imagination. Our imagination becomes shared with the other persona and so our scope of reality can grow. Our reality grows to help us to define who we are as human beings through this act of vulnerability

If you think about play parents, family, loved ones, and all people want to experience the act of play whenever we see a child. As a father, it has been interesting to see the side of people that comes out when I have my daughter with me. People get silly, relaxed and try and play with my daughter sometimes totally ignoring my presence. We have this innate need to be vulnerable with our peers and it is as if the reminder of childhood draws us back into that place where we can be vulnerable again.

I bring up this notion of play as a way for us to recognize how vulnerability makes for richer lives. We literally share our imagination with one another. We are able to dream bigger dreams when we are able to share our vision of the world with one another. When vulnerability is supported and we are able to learn from it then we grow exponentially as individuals and as communities. By being vulnerable we develop a rich understanding of who we are by seeing it through the imagination of others.

There are a couple of youtube videos of a researcher named Brenee Brown who has studied the aspects of vulnerability. She has found that people willing to be vulnerable live more whole hearted lives. They are able to “let go of who they thought they should be, to be who they were.” [2] In every sense of the term they are able to play and share the imagination of those around them. These people felt more fulfilled and engaged throughout their lives. They have a sense of who they are because they were vulnerable.

I want to share with you a much simpler way of understanding this notion of vulnerability. This cartoon from Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson is a great illustration of this. [3] You see Calvin is in this world of play constantly and in this moment his dad is not feeling the need to be vulnerable, instead a need to get to work. I share this cartoon to demonstrate how vulnerability allows for humor. This cartoon is funny because we are willing to be vulnerable to Calvin’s dream of a playful world. A world in which snowmen seemingly come to life. By being vulnerable to this idea and buying in for a moment we find this amusing.

Vulnerability is what allows us to share a reality with one another and more especially a dream with one another. The scripture passage today is the author of this gospel trying to demonstrate the vulnerable way Jesus was engaging with his disciples. Jesus asks, “Who do people say I am?” The author is demonstrating the reputation of Jesus as a teacher – a teacher who is vulnerable with his students that they might learn from one another. The disciples share “Elijah and John the Baptist” as possibilities. They are vulnerable with Jesus and share their thoughts about the possible dreams of what Jesus can be.

Then Peter shares, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus withdraws quickly and informs Peter he must not say such things. For us as an audience this seems like a fearful withdrawal because perhaps Jesus is scared of what is about to happen to him. However, if we look deeper it is a firm response to something that we know clearly to not be true as outsiders looking in. Peter is trying to talk about the Messiah that is referred to at this time in history. This Messiah figure is one who will violently come back to re-establish Israel. Matt Skinner, a New Testament Professor at Luther Seminary, demonstrates Peter as basically saying, “I think you’re the one who will purify our society, reestablish Israel’s supremacy among the nations, and usher in a new era of peace and holiness. I’m expecting big things from you.” [4] Jesus is sharing in return that this is not the idea he has. He is saying, “You may expect big things Peter, but you are not dreaming big enough about God’s love and grace.” We know, as the author of this gospel knows, that the Christ figure brings about the reality of God’s kingdom not through violence, but by being vulnerable. Jesus, God incarnate, allows vulnerability with humanity, the violence of the world, and is open to the possibility of resurrection.

Remember as we read this scripture from Mark that it has taken until this point for the Jesus as Christ to be mentioned. [5] This is a turning point in the scripture and as piece of literature the book of Mark is written to demonstrate this change of reality happening. The gospels are books that are written as stories to demonstrate who Christ was to a worshipping community. Bishop John Shelby Spong who will be here in a few weeks reminds us that “…the memory of Jesus had already been interpreted through the Jewish scriptures.”[6] This demonstration is the author showing Jesus, the Christ, being vulnerable and connected with his disciples. The author wants us to know his Christ is sharing in a relationship to demonstrate who Christ is, but also who we are in relation to God.

We have this amazing knowledge that we believe Christ to be God with us, literally God among us and experiencing us. This continues in our belief that the Holy Spirit surrounds us and continues to work with us to share God’s vision on earth. This scripture is one example of this tradition we have of God being in relationship with us. Vulnerability is a deeply rooted part of our calling as Christians.

Vulnerability is hard. It is a dangerous world and the temptation is to hold up in a safe place away from all that can harm. I myself have felt this need over and over again. All we have to do is be hurt once and we know the danger of being vulnerable during moments of violence, anger, and pain. Some people never get the chance to play at a young age because of the violence in their lives. People face oppression, abuse, and a list that can go on. Each of these things creates fear that vulnerability can cause more harm because of the incident happening before.

Our society does a great job of dredging up this fear to make sure we remember being hurt. Fear is a powerful motivator that demands our attention and is an easy tool to create a shared reality. Think of the list of violent incidents over the last week. It makes me want to hide or the alternative search for a power that can destroy those scary things. There is no simple answer to a hope that these horrible things won’t happen. The reality is that throughout history horrible things have happened.

The Christian message takes us away from these horrible things to a message of God being vulnerable with us – God demonstrating that resurrection and new life are possible. These amazing things are possible because in our vulnerability we share a vision of God’s love with one another. The other incredibly important aspect of Jesus’ vulnerability in this text is that he is claiming that God in Christ is more powerful than all the fear in the world. That vulnerability with one another in community and with God creates a reality of grace that we cannot comprehend. Christ is clearly saying, “Be vulnerable to one another and to God, and God’s grace will be a power in your life beyond comprehension.” The grace of God takes us in our brokenness and loves us into a transformed and resurrected people. A people of God who dream in the light about the good of the world, and not in the fear that creates realities of darkness.

This message seems almost against our human nature which is to protect and defend ourselves. Yet this is what Christ meant when he asked us to have faith like a child. Vulnerability is the thing that allows us to share a dream with one another, it helps us answer the question, “Who am I?

For myself this vulnerability has been true in an image of church that I have followed for several years now. Until I started thinking about it in terms of vulnerability though it didn’t quite make as much sense. For me God is most revealed when we can share our lives, our hearts with one another. Church’s goal is therefore to create space for us to share that spark of God inside each one of us. We share the spark of God through art, conversation, learning, service, mission and connection. It is when we are able to share that spark most openly and in our own way that God shared most vividly.

The most recent episode of Parenthood on NBC was a striking example of this sharing of the divine. Parenthood is a show about a large family with adult children and the adult children’s lives. Crosby, the youngest, has been working in the music industry and has a pretty crazy life. As the show progresses he learns he has a young son named Jabbar. Crosby, this fairly carefree young adult, has to learn quickly how to be a father. In the episode last week Crosby is walking down the hall in the house and passes his son Jabbar’s room. Crosby does a double take and sees Jabbar praying at the end of his bed. This was not at all what Crosby expected and especially due to the reality that Crosby really doesn’t have a defined understanding of God or prayer. Following this there is questioning of relatives pushing Jabbar into praying or forcing religion on him. Crosby and his wife confront the grandmother whose response is wise. She states that she is sharing her faith. She then inquires what are the parents doing to be vulnerable about their beliefs with their son. She may be a bit of a Bible thumping grandma, but she is right. We need to vulnerably share our faith with each other to help each other dream what this universe is for.

The final scene with Crosby and Jabbar has them sitting on the back porch drinking root beer and watching the stars. They engage in this amazing sharing of their beliefs with one another as father and son. It is in this vulnerable moment you can see the grace of God transforming both Crosby and Jabbar. They share with each other a spark of God and see the dream a little more clearly.

Jesus told us clearly in this story who we are. We are beloved children of God, who when vulnerable with one another can create beautiful dreams for the world. Jesus declares that God is with each of us and has come near to us. God has been vulnerable with us and grace is available to us all. May we continue to find ways to play with one another, to create space to be vulnerable, and to grow in God’s love.

[1 ]Mark 8:27-30, New Revised Standard Version(NRSV), Retrieved from www.bible.oremus.org, September 12, 2012.
[2] Brown, B. (Researcher Storyteller). (2011). Brene brown: The power of vulnerability . [Web Video]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o
[3] http://cdn0.sbnation.com/imported_assets/1025923/CH940221_JPG.jpg, Accessed September 12, 2012
[4] Skinner, M. (2012, September 16). Commentary on gospel. Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=9/16/2012&tab=4
[5] Skinner, M. (2012, September 16). Commentary on gospel. Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=9/16/2012&tab=4
[6] Spong, J. (2011). Reclaiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World. HarperOne. Pg 222.

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