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Proper 24, Year B

I am My Brother’s Keeper

Readings: Proverbs 1:20-33; Psalm 19; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

I have a Twitter account. I have to say, I am not very active on Twitter. I don’t like to follow people who constantly let me know exactly where they are and what they are doing. However, I do find it an effective way to communicate what is important to me. This past week I have found myself retweeting many messages about the Syrian Refugee crisis and what is being done about it.

Instant communication is the good side of social media, but there is certainly a negative side to it that can be very destructive. We have seen it destroy peoples’ lives. Twitter and Facebook make it very easy to communicate, but they also make it very easy to start a rumour. It only takes a moment or two before every one of our followers has the latest bit of gossip complete with picture. Privacy is a thing of the past.

But then, rumours have always been a problem. James warns the early Christians to be careful of what they say about other people. His admonition is not simply about being tactful or holding back what we really think, but a reminder that because we are made in God’s image, our attitudes towards other people should reflect our understanding of what that means; indeed what we say and do should reflect our faith.

If someone spreads an untrue or confusing rumour about you, how do you fight it or persuade people to accept your word and truth? How might the stories or inaccuracies affect your life in rather negative ways? It is good to know what people are actually saying about you. Maybe some of those things are behind Jesus’ question to the disciples in today’s gospel. There were many misconceptions about who Jesus was. Even the disciples were not always clear. And so Jesus asks them, “Who do people say that I am?”

Often we are the last one’s to hear the rumours in the rumour mill. Jesus is wise to check it out with his followers who are more likely to hear what is going on than he. And he gets back a rather ominous list. Let’s face it! John and Elijah and the prophets were all on pretty dangerous paths. If popular opinion was right, then the future could be pretty precarious for Jesus.

The conversation does not stop there. Jesus asks Peter a further question, a far more important one for him to answer, a personal question. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus knows human nature. What we have heard about people often informs our own opinions of them and of what they have accomplished. The political scene prior to an election is a perfect example. Jesus needs to know how his followers view him. It is one of the great moments in the gospel, a time for commitment, for soul searching, for decision making.

Peter answers. He answers intuitively. Later he will deny it. But at this moment he answers from the heart. “You are the Messiah, the anointed one.” He knew what it meant, at least to a certain extent. It must have been a shock to him to hear it coming out of his mouth. In uttering those words, he is beginning to realize the implications of being a follower of Jesus. If he did not get the full impact of his statement, certainly Jesus’ words about suffering and dying and rising again gave him pause for reflection. That is why Peter rebuked Jesus. He cannot face reality. He cannot yet face the cost of discipleship.

We all come to the point where we need to honestly answer Jesus’ question. He is standing there, asking each one of us, “Who do you say that I am?” There are so many answers. I realize that over my lifetime I have changed my mind many times about who Jesus is. Is Jesus a freedom fighter? That image, no doubt, raised great hope in the minds of Jesus’ followers. There are many people in our world today who see Jesus as liberator. Who do you say that Jesus is? Saviour, redeemer, creator, nurturer, friend, brother, companion, Lord, God, Almighty, prophet, priest, King?

As it did for Peter and the disciples, it comes down to the deeper question. “Are you going to deny yourself and follow me?” ‘If you are going to follow me and be my disciples, then you cannot run away from suffering,’ Jesus is saying. ‘But I will show you how to embrace it.’ As with Peter it needs to sink in to us not only who Jesus is but also what the cost will be of following him.

It complicates things, doesn’t it? There is, after all, a cost to commitment. The late Quaker philosopher, Elton Trueblood, wrote about this very thing. “Occasionally we talk of our Christianity as something that solves problems, and there is a sense in which it does. Long before it does so, however, it increases both the number and the intensity of problems.”

That is what we experienced this past week as we witnessed the plight of the Syrian refugees pouring into Europe in what is being described as the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Who was not moved by the picture of the lifeless body of the Syrian child being picked up on the beach? Were we not filled with compassion at the sight of countless refugees waiting for a train at a station in Hungary? Were we not overwhelmed at the generosity of the German people welcoming strangers into their midst? Has it not stirred up within each of us a need to do whatever is within our power to help? One does not need to be a Christian to know that we need to act. But surely as Christians we know that we cannot ignore their plight. We cannot find excuses. We cannot simply say that it is too much for us to handle, that we do not have the resources, that it is wrong to take a chance on our own safety. Could it be that this is our cross to pick up and bear, to show that we are the face of Christ in the world? Is it up to us to be advocates to our government for these voiceless people?

With commitment to our faith comes responsibility – responsibility to live as Jesus lived, to do as Jesus did, to be neighbour to those in need, to be compassionate. I was truly moved by what Tom Harpur wrote in his column in the local paper this week. “We will never have true compassion until we acknowledge this common bond – the divinity, the Atman, or Christ that is in everyone on Earth. That is a spiritual or metaphysical foundation on which an all-embracing global harmony will one day rest. When it does, the Messiah will have truly come.”

God is calling us to offer our whole selves – time, talent and treasure – and even, or perhaps especially, the part of ourselves that suffers. If we believe that God is active in the world, then the question is not whether we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. That is the easy part. The real question is how do we live it out in our lives? May God show us the way to see Christ in others and to allow Christ to be seen in us! Amen.

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