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Who Do You Say That I Am? -- Becoming Fluent in Faith

Once Jesus asked his close followers, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (In other words, “What are people saying about me?”)

They answered with some of the prevailing theories of the day: “well, some say that you are John the Baptist, other people say that you’re Elijah-come-back. Still others say that Jeremiah, or one of the ancient prophets has arisen, and that’s who you are.”

Then Jesus turned to his followers and asked, “but who do you say that I am?” 

Who do you say that Jesus is? 

It’s a personal question, addressed to those individual early followers and addressed to us individual followers now. Apparently, Jesus isn’t much interested in second-hand knowledge.

And in fact, we can know a lot about something, but not really know it.   

Think of the Spanish language: I can know a lot about the language of Spanish:

I can know its origin: 

  • I could tell you that Spanish is a Romance Language,
  • that it developed from Latin in the North of the Iberian Peninsula,
  • that it is the first language of roughly 352 million people, making it the third or fourth most commonly-spoken language in the world,
  • that it is one of the official languages of the United Nations and the European Union, official language of 20 countries, at least 11 local varieties

I could know all about Spanish, but that does not mean I know Spanish.

I can know all ABOUT Spanish, but if I want to KNOW Spanish, I would have to learn it, not about it.

And to press this analogy, if I really wanted to learn Spanish or any other language, what’s the best way to do it? (Immerse yourself in the culture).

Take German. In high school, I studied German for four semesters. Two years. I attended every class, three times a week. A lot of time, I would even do the homework. And I learned some German.

But then in college, I had the chance to do a semester abroad, in Salzburg, Austria as a kind of exchange student, living with an Austrian family who didn’t speak a word of English to me. The first day, at dinner, they deliberately forgot to give me a fork.


“Gable, bitte?”

 Kann ich eine Gabel bitte? (Ah, sicher! Naturlich!)

And sure enough, I learned more German in the first three weeks than I had in two years of school.

(Which is good, because when I had first gotten there, I shortly after flying to Frankfurt, and waiting for transportation to Austria, I’d exchanged some money and went to buy some fruit at a fruit stand, and decided to try to use my German. Sale completed, I asked the guy how my German was. He said, in English, that I’ll do okay. “No no really, I want to learn, how can I do that if I don’t know how I’m doing?” I said. He said “okay, you basically said, ‘I’m an apple and I’d like to buy myself; how much do I cost?’”)   

We can know a lot ABOUT God – who God is, the things God has done throughout history, how God is revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit…we can memorize creeds and study theology and care a lot about liturgy and music and church history…

…we can even know that one of the chief characteristics about God is that God is love…

…and that therefore Jesus, as God incarnate, is love incarnate.   

– we could know a lot about God and Jesus in these ways, but that would not mean we know God or Jesus.

You could attend church for years, never miss a Sunday. Which is important. But -- like my attendance in high school German classes, it’s only a start.

If an hour or two on Sundays is all we’re getting, I think we are going out there in the world like,    

“Hi -- a Christian, does-not-worship-money-or-power and is-forgiving-and-accepting-of-others, and-is-full-of-joy. And I are one.”   

We can go to church for years, and know all ABOUT Jesus.

But every once in a while, we hear this more personal, more penetrating question: who do you say that I am?

Not, “what are people saying about me?”, what are the different theories out there? But who do you – YOU – say that I am?

Who do YOU say that Jesus is? What do YOU think of Jesus?

Moved, motivated, by that question, instead of learning ABOUT Jesus, we can learn Jesus.

And just to take the language analogy a step further: it’s said that an indicator of really knowing a language is when we dream in it. When we really know God we dream in God. God’s dreams for us become our dreams. God’s dreams for this world become our dreams for this world. God’s hopes become our hopes, God’s priorities our priorities.

Okay, but “HOW?”

How, how does that happen?

Practically speaking, it happens in three ways, in three places:

Pray, Worship, Serve.

Pray: prayer, Jesus said, is to be done in our “closet,” behind a closed door, in private. We’re talking time taken each day for silence and reading a Bible and solitude…time getting to know God. I have a friend, Wayne, who said growing up he knew all about his grandfather but it wasn’t until he was in 8th grade and spent a summer with him that he knew his grandfather. Relationships take time, not just quality time but quantity time. Prayer is the first way we learn Jesus. 

Worship: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it many more times: Sunday morning not your time alone with God. Sunday morning is for worship, for praising and thanking God together, corporately, as a community, gathered. It’s also about building connections within the faith community, building Christian community. Which is why exchanging the peace and coffee hour may be as important a time (not more important, but not less important either) as the sermon and communion. It’s during such times we build up the Body of Christ. 

Serve: Prayer and worship are not ends in themselves. If I’m reading my Bible correctly, the point of prayer and the point of worship is to transform us and send us out as transformed people into the world, to serve God and our fellow human beings. Serving God takes place through the ministries of the church and in your daily life where you spend the majority of your waking hours. Let me put in a plug here for our Annual Ministry Fair in two weeks – there are thirty (thirty!) different ministries here. If you don’t find one you are interested in, then start one. That’s how most ministries get started.

So these actions, in those places – prayer, worshiping, service -- are where we learn “faith fluency.”

You think Spanish or German or Cantonese is difficult? Try the language of true Christian faith, where there are vocabulary words like grace, forgiveness, compassion, joy, rest, solitude, abundance.

Where we learn to say -- and mean -- things like “who am I to judge?”

Or, “I forgive you.”

Or – here’s a really tough one: “I’m sorry.

And an even harder one: “I was wrong.”

(Remember Fonze, from Happy Days? He’d made a mistake and was trying to admit it to someone…he stands there going “I was wr---…I was wrrrrr…”)

We even learn to say things like, “I have enough. I am enough.” (h/t: Brene Brown.)

and, “I am accepted.”

“I am forgiven; I am free.”

And, “How can I help?”

Who do you say that I am?

Jesus, I say you are the pioneer and perfecter of the language I wish to speak: the person I seek to follow, the humanity we wish to be.



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