Jesus As Our Friends

Preacher: 
Reverend Katherine G. Dougherty
Sermon Text: 

Proper 19

Mark 8: 27-38  Year B

September 16, 2018

Jesus as Our Friend

         I first met Margaret Guenther about 12 years ago.  I had read one of her books about praying and wanted to thank her for her words. 

         Margaret came into my life when I was so angry at God that I could barely breathe.  My Dad, who had always attended church and whose faith seemed so strong, had died the year before.  His last 3 months were full of pain, suffering, and confusion.  In those last months, I saw my big, strong Dad become a man riddled with the fear of dying.  He would have done anything to not pass away. 

         After I left his hospital room each time, I would pray for God to comfort him, and when I returned for another visit, he’d still be that man who was so confused and in pain, both physically and emotionally.  I was angry!  I felt God had disserted this faithful servant and that to me was unforgivable.  In the months after my dad’s passing, when I attended church or tried to pray I felt empty and my words failed me.  Where was this God who both my father and I loved so dearly?  Who was this God that fell silent when we needed God the most?

         Margaret was an Episcopal priest, writer and teacher.  In her book on prayer, she had a chapter on Praying Through Silence.  As I read her words, I felt like she had crawled into my head.  She got it!  She understood the frustrations I felt, so I set out to find her.  Luckily for me, she lived and worked in Washington DC. 

         Margaret and I met each month for more than a year.  She was a little, German woman who had the peacefulness of an old, Buddhist monk, the soft voice of a dove, and the wisdom of Yoda.  My guess though is, if she wanted to – she could take us all out in one swift Ninja-like movement and gently return to her peaceful state. Margaret and I talked about many things, but an important conversation was around angry I was with God and how that was okay.  She would point out, that in relationships, we get angry with one another from time to time.  I really wrestled with the idea of being in a relationship with God.  

         In our Gospel today, we find ourselves in Caesarea Philippi – on the northern fringes of Galilee, an area controlled by the Romans.  The community about which Mark is writing is in the midst of a war between Rome and the people of Israel.  Why is this important?  Because it will help in our understanding of the conversation that is about to ensue when the relationship between Jesus and his disciples takes a powerful turn. 

         As they were walking on their journey, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?”  In their response they list off John the Baptist, Elijah, or other prophets.  He then asked them, “Who do you say I am?”  After just hearing the Gospel read, we know what happens next. 

         This is a pivotal moment in the Gospel.  It is connecting what has happened up to this point – the growing love and loyalty to Jesus as teacher and healer among the people...to what lies ahead….his increasing conflict with religious leaders and his eventual suffering and death. 

         In this exchange with the disciples and Jesus, Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah.  If we are talking today about relationships and the people in those relationships, this is HUGE!!  It is another example of where context is everything!  Our modern day understanding of the word messiah is – a savior or leader of some hope or cause.[1]  We may tack on to that definition one who sacrifices himself or herself for that cause.  

         For Peter and the other disciples though, their definition was very different.  A messiah, in their day and age, would have been an anointed king or powerful liberator who would free the people of Israel from the tyranny of Rome.  Based on their understanding of who a messiah was…who they were in relationship with…the disciples – as we can imagine – were thinking that Jesus was there to free them – to destroy Rome’s hold on Israel and to bring prosperity to their land.

         So now, with this “actual” definition of messiah in our minds, we can understand the confusion the disciples displayed.  How could this powerful liberator speak of suffering humiliation, torture and death at the hands of those in authority?  How would this free anyone?  Who was this Jesus – whom they followed - that spoke in such ways?

         People throughout generations have tried to define or identify who exactly Jesus was.  But what I want us to focus on today is…Who is Jesus to us – to each of us? How do we make Jesus Christ – our Savior – our companion along the way? 

         We might try first by recognizing his humanity.

Yes, Jesus was God incarnate…another words both God and human…but by doing so he made himself available to all of us.  Jesus walked among us.  He shared meals with us.  He looked into our eyes and saw our pain.  He wept with us and healed our wounds.  THIS is the man we call Jesus of Nazareth.

         But if he is God, why did he have to suffer and die?  Why didn’t he or God stop it?  What great questions!!!  Some say, Jesus needed to endure the depth of human pain in order to reconcile humanity with God.  That by sacrificing himself for us, Jesus renewed and healed that relationship between God and us.

         But regardless of who others say Jesus was or is, we – each – need to determine that for ourselves.  On one of my many visits with Margaret, she gently said to me, “Katherine, if God is too big or too scary for you, try being friends with Jesus first.” What a concept!  Could Jesus and I be friends as if we had gone to school together or met up for lunch together?  Could I turn to Jesus and share my frustrations, my fears, and my joys?  And if we were to be friends, would I have to remove him from the pedestal he sits upon in my mind, so he’d be more approachable? Is any of this sacrilegious and disrespectful to God?  I had a million questions that day Margaret suggested Jesus and I be friends.

         Do you know what I’ve discovered in my friendship with Jesus?  He’s a good listener.  I can talk to him like I would anyone else.  I’m pretty sure he has a good sense of humor too.  He shows up when I’m hurting and doesn’t run away or judge me when I’m angry or sarcastic or petty.  I’m pretty sure he shakes his head sometimes at me and just chuckles…thinking “That silly ol’ Katherine.”  I have learned that Jesus is gentle and kind and his presence is steady and peaceful.  I have also found he’s a very faithful friend.

         So, who is Jesus for you?  Every day, we are offered Jesus’ love and acceptance.  He stands before us – having experienced just about all that a human can experience in a lifetime – and offers us his friendship…his companionship. 

         If you struggle with how to pray or what words to use or how to grow closer to God…If you wonder what it means to let God into your life…or If God seems too big or too distant or too scary for you, try taking Margaret’s advice and become friends with Jesus first.  He’s right there with each of us…reaching out his loving hand and offering us his friendship.

Amen -

[1] Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/messiah, 2018.

 

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