Mk. 8:27-38

“Who do men say that I am?” According to St. Mark, Jesus asked this question of His disciples. They were on a faith journey (seeking clarity) and had not yet fully grasped the nature of Jesus – that He is the Messiah and the Son of God. Some said that Jesus was a prophet; others said that he was prophet-healer like Elijah, and some said that He was the return of John the Baptist.  Peter finally grasps that Jesus is the Messiah. But that is not enough. Jesus enumerates for His disciple that He is not only the Messiah but will suffer, die and introduce them to eternal life. The disciples will come to know that Jesus is the Son of God and that His sacrificial life will be that of a suffering servant and will bring atonement for our sins in this sinful and adulterous generation. You and I are called to respond to and to follow this kind of Jesus, not just a nice man, a smart man, a good teacher and doctor. We are called to clarity. We are called to clarify our understanding of God’s presence with us and how that takes precedence over all else.

Now I am going to tell you two stories. The first is about Jack. I met him in 1988. He was tall, craggy, and dressed like an undertaker. His suit was black, his topcoat black, and his hat black. Although dour, he loved to sing. The rector was dismissive of Jack, because Jack was a man of few words. He ended up in Norwalk Hospital, and I visited him several times. One day I noticed that he wore a chain around his neck. The chain was the kind that is used for sash cords in old windows. It was very rough and like the chain here that raises and lowers the sanctuary lamp. “What’s with the chain, Jack?” I asked. He pulled it out and at the end was a heavy cross. And so Jack told me the following story. He was an auditor for a federal agency and on a field audit in Baltimore. His mother, who had died, lived in Baltimore and in his spare time Jack was cleaning out her house.

One day Jack got a call at work that a car had hit his middle school daughter while she was riding her bicycle home from school. She had a concussion and spinal injuries. Jack grabbed his coat and ran from the building to Union Station. While running he put his hand in his coat pocket and discovered that he had put his mother’s cross into his pocket. On impulse Jack ran into a hardware store and asked for a chain to put the cross on. The only chain available was the sash chain. Jack bought it, put the chain on and continued to the station. As he prayed for his daughter, he vowed to wear that cross every day.

Jack and his family visited the daughter daily. She was paralyzed but coherent and cogent. Each Sunday after church the family would bring takeout to the hospital and have a meal in her bedroom. Weeks passed. She remained paralyzed. More time passed and one Sunday during the meal Jack noticed his daughter move her toe. “Do that again!” he exclaimed. “Do what?” “Move your toe.” She struggled and finally moved her foot. Tears streamed down Jack’s face and mine as he said, “She finally recovered and now is a school teacher. I bear this cross in memory of the ordeal we went through and the strength we received from Christ’s faithfulness.” Together we prayed and I left. Eventually I lost track of Jack.

Jack’s story came to mind this past August. As many of you know my daughter-in-law, Kelly, gave birth to her daughter, Auden, on June 27th. Auden is fine. But the epidural given Kelly before the Caesarean caused a blood clot on Kelley’s spine and paralyzed her. Twelve hours after her Caesarean operation there was an operation, which remove a four-inch long blood clot on her spine. Still paralyzed, Kelly developed blurred vision. An MRI revealed that she had a tumor on her pituitary gland and the tumor was pressing on the optic nerve. Kelly was paralyzed and going blind. Twenty-four hours after the spinal operation a neurosurgeon operated on the pituitary gland and removed part of the tumor. During the whole time my son was at wit’s end and we were all desperate. Throughout my mind I heard over and over the words, Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Lord and mercy. Christ have mercy. I thought about Jack and his ordeal with his daughter. Kelly and all of us were prayed for by hundreds all over the place. Gradually Kelly recovered and she is now about 90%. Last Sunday Kelly, Auden and my son attended the wedding of my wife’s nephew in Washington, D.C.

Men ask, “Who is Jesus?” They seek clarity every day. Some say that Jesus was a good man. Others say he was a miracle worker, a rabbi, a prophet, a healer. Those definitions are not enough to help people like you and me in times of trouble, nor do they inspire lives of dedication. The Gospel of Mark, and the Church throughout the centuries have sought clarity and discovered that in Jesus Christ we have God incarnate, reaching into the world to participate in our all too human lives. Followers of Jesus have discovered that in Christ’s sacrifice you and I receive a sign and an affirmation of compassion and forgiveness. But even more you and I are invited to partake of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharistic meal. It is a profound meal that feeds us and nurtures us as we continue on our pilgrimages seeking clarity of faith. You and I are reminded in the meal of our incorporation into Christ’s body and His incorporation into our lives through the presence of the Holy Spirit. We are called to pay attention to those things that count: love, compassion, forgiveness and eternal life. You and I are reminded each Sunday that salvation comes through losing our lives for Christ’s sake and for the sake of the gospel. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” Through the continual clarifying of our faith and of the deep mystery of God in Christ, you and I gradually receive clarity of what counts, what our personal cross is, and how blessed we are to be able to come to Christ’s meal and on our knees receive His compassion, forgiveness and blessing. For all of that, “Thanks be to God.”

– Amen- Fr. Gage