Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, September 16, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
I grew up in and around the church . My earliest recollection of church was watching my cousins being picked up early Sunday morning to attend a mass at a Roman Catholic Church in Honalo, Kona on the island of Hawaiʻi. Their dad, my uncle was a Roman Catholic.
In 1961 I was accepted into the boarding program at the Kamehameha Schools Kapālama Campus on the island of Oʻahu. It was there that we were required to attend chapel every Sunday. The Bishop Memorial Chapel is a Protestant church in the Kalawina or Calvinist tradition.
My tūtū or grandpa is buried in the cemetery at Lanakila Church in Kainaliu, Kona. Lanakila Church like the Bishop Memorial Chapel as well as Keawalaʻi here in Mākena is also a Kalawina church.
During the summers I would return home and attend my mother’s church that was a part of the Pentecostal Church of God. It was there that I first experienced an “altar call” that was made at the end of every service. An invitation was extended to those present to accept Jesus as their “personal Lord and Savior.”
I attended services often enough that I noticed the same individuals going forward not once or twice but several times over the course of as many years. Puzzled, I asked my mother one Sunday morning: “Mama, how come Sister Rose went up again? (We called each other sister or brother.) I thought she already accepted Jesus and was saved.”
My mother responded, “Yes, she accepted Jesus, but I guess she wen back-slide and now she like re-dedicate her life.”
“But she went up plenty times already?” I said not with any incredulity but out of curiosity.
My mother turned and looked at me without saying a word. I realized it was her way of warning me not to ask so many questions.
Years later while I was a sophomore in college a friend was convinced that I needed to make a personal commitment to Jesus. He said all I needed to do was repeat a prayer and accept Jesus into my heart as Lord and Savior.
He offered his assistance. I declined his offer.
Over the course of the next two years he remained persistent in his effort to get me to say the prayer as though that would be the sure and certain sign that I was finally a born-again Christian. I do not remember when it was but there was a moment in my life, a very private moment when I made my own commitment to live a life of faith and that Jesus was going to be the source of that faith.
It was not in response to an altar call. It was not with the words of a repeated prayer. But it was an epiphany – the realization that we have been reconciled to God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So whenever I am asked “Are you a born-again Christian? Have you accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior into your heart?” I answer without hesitation, “Yes!”
I know that for some, perhaps many, the decision to become a disciple of Jesus was made in response to an invitation made from a pulpit or a prayer someone else prescribed. But I also know there are other ways that we come to a decision of becoming followers of the one who gave his life that we may have life.
Lest anyone think that I am protesting too much about the pressure of well-meaning friends and even strangers when it comes to making a commitment of faith, I can only point to our reading this morning from The Gospel According to Mark as “one of those critical moments of decision for the (early) disciples, as their opportunity to accept Jesus into their hearts.” (Reflections on the Lectionary, Sunday, September 16, 2012, Mark 8:27-38, Christopher A. Henry, Christian Century, September 5, 2012, page 19)
In his reflections on this morning’s text from The Gospel According to Mark, the Rev. Christopher Henry, pastor of Shallowford Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia reminds us that all of the disciples were well aware of the controversy surrounding the perception of others about who Jesus was. (Op. cit.)
Some said Jesus was a prophet, others that he was a revolutionary and still others a heretic. Jesus and the disciples set out one day for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way Jesus asked the disciples two questions.
The first question was: “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27) What have you heard others saying?
They were quick to answer him. “Some say you are John the Baptist, and others Elijah; and others one of the prophets.” (Mark 8:28)
But then Jesus asked a far more personal question. If the first question was basically a descriptive one, the second was a confessional one. “Who do you say that I am?”
In his reflections on our reading, Henry asserts that “this is the foundational question for people of Christian faith. Who is Jesus Christ to us? What difference does he make in our lives?” (Op. cit.)
Peter did not hesitate when Jesus asked the question. He replied, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:29)
One would suppose that Jesus would have been pleased with Peter’s response. But his response was the exact opposite. Instead of affirming what Peter said, Jesus silenced him as well as the other disciples sternly warning them not to tell anyone.
Jesus then proceeds to tell them that as the Messiah he will undergo great suffering. He will be rejected by the religious leaders. He will be killed and “after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31)
When we look back on that day, we realize Peter was right: Jesus was the Messiah. But Jesus was not the Messiah that Peter or the other disciples expected or wanted.
What was the point of having a Messiah without power? Peter was so distressed by Jesus’ remark that he took it upon himself to pull Jesus aside and scold him for what he had said. Jesus looked at the disciples and then in turn he scolded Peter.
After rebuking Peter, Jesus called on the crowd with his disciples and said to them, if you want to become my followers, you must deny yourselves, take up your cross and follow me. It is not enough to respond to an altar call or to confess that Jesus is the Messiah - that he is Lord and Savior.
We too experience pain and suffering in our lives, rejection and death. It was not a message Peter or the others wanted to hear. It is not a message we find particularly appealing.
But if we want to follow Jesus, it is “going to take more than acceptance and assent, more than a moment of decision.” (Op. cit.) That is what Henry concludes when he writes: “The earliest Christian affirmation was three simple words that meant everything to our ancestors in faith: Jesus is Lord. No one else is Lord . . . This affirmation changed the world because those who professed it lived as if it were true.”
Then Henry points out that perhaps the most important question is not “‘When did you invite Jesus into your heart?’ but ‘What did you do with him once he got there?’”