Sunday, September 16 2018
This summer Susan and I spent a month at what is affectionately designated the “family compound” on Lake Champlain in Plattsburgh. For several evenings over the extended and celebratory Fourth of July period nearly the entire family gathered at the long dinner table on the porch that looked out on the tranquil lake—in laws, children, grandchildren, cousins, second cousins. Conversation was always lively, diverse, often punctuated by genuine laughter, even prolonged laughter. Only one subject was forbidden—POLITICS. Being the occasional breaker of decorum, I impetuously decided to seize the verbotten topic by the throat and asked brazenly, “Did anyone read the 'No Trump' column in this morning's Press Republican?” Silence. And then I added, after a suitable pause, “It appeared in the Bridge Column and dealt with opening leads against No Trump contracts.” Amid initial groans as my brother-in-law rose to leave the table, accompanied by “Honey, you promised,” a drawn out “Dad,” and “Uncle John” and “Grandpa,” there was a long sigh of relief but not much laughter.
At this point in our nation's history, no one seems able to divide a room of intelligent people into often angry factions or a closely-knit family into tempestuous antagonisms than our current president—unless that person is Jesus Christ. Conversation is amiable, genuinely inquisitive until someone asks innocently, “Well, Dad, what's it like to be back at Saint John's?” And as I commence an updated and integrated account of how one responds to “Who do you say that I am?” as it manifests itself in my life and in the lives of parishioners with whom I have become close once again, someone begins to clear the table, forgetting that the task is done by the grandchildren, while another has to get two babies ready for bed, though they are already sound asleep, or the pie has to be cut, though no one has room for dessert after a sumptuous dinner.
The mention of Jesus Christ, the confession that he is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, no matter the circumstances, manages to bring division into the equation; okay, if you must, mention the Messiah, after all we asked the question, but do so without passion, without conviction, without any hint of conversion. Never introduce the extreme variable of how Jesus has shaped your life, continues to shape your life. In one of his biblical commentaries, Kent Hughes illustrates this by citing a scene from a G. K. Chesterton novel in which a conflict occurs between a Christian and an atheist and they are brought before a magistrate. The Christian claims that his antagonist is an “enemy of God,” to which the judge responds that “God has nothing to do with us. Religion is too personal a matter to be mentioned in a courtroom...of course there is a formal oath to be taken, but to talk in a public place about one's most sacred sentiments—well I call it bad taste.--(Slight applause).” Finally, the Christian and the atheist are committed to an insane asylum, but Chesterton makes it apparent that their captors are the ones who are insane, not they.
As we have begun an examination of Revelation in the Tuesday morning Bible Study group, Fr. Duncan has emphasized that the text is not an historical artifact, that it is as pertinent today as it was 2000 years ago, that the letters to the seven churches are meant for us, and he has asked us to consider where we fit in, how the letters apply to the contemporary Church as praise and warning as well as to the early Church. One of the things that stands out in the study group and in the question asked by Jesus in this morning's gospel selection from Mark is that one's confession of Jesus as Messiah, as the Christ, as Lord will often be an occasion for division. Stand firm in the marketplace of antiquity, modernity, post-modernity, or any other current fashion and it will become apparent that how you and I answer “Who do you say that I am?” will take us to whatever cross lies before us. Jesus will disclose the nature of that journey as we decide to follow him, but if we will drink of his living water, he will fill us and sustain us and we will rest in him.
With all blessings, Fr. John+