Sermon from Easter II: “I know who you are”
“I know who you are.”
Easter II; April 11, 2021
Later in the Gospel of Mark, there is a story about Jesus and the Twelve in a boat on the lake. A storm comes up, and Jesus calms the storm with the command, “Peace! Be still!” We sang about that every Sunday in Lent this year; remember? “Calm me, Lord, as you calmed the storm.” Anyway, after everything calms down, the Twelve look at each other and say about Jesus, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)
“Who is this?” Since the Second Sunday of Easter is sometimes Holy Humor Sunday (I hope you remember what we did last year; if not, get on YouTube and look for it: April 19, 2020) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEgIhPfBaA8), let me start with a couple of “Who is this?” type stories.
When my old colleague Dick retired several years ago, I was at his retirement party. One story he told was about his associate pastor. The young associate pastor had been given a large plastic figure of Jesus that he wasn’t sure what to do with. He put it in the trunk of his car and drove around with it, trying to figure out what to do with it. Meanwhile, he and Dick drove together to a food bank to get some supplies for a neighborhood family. When the associate opened the trunk for them to put the bags in, Dick saw the figure and exclaimed, “He has Jesus in his trunk!”
Since you know something about a guy from his family, here’s another story. You remember that the crowd brought to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery? Anyway, there she was before Jesus, the crowd around, and they were challenging him about whether to stone her to death, as the law required. Jesus said to them, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” This older woman came out of the crowd, heaved a huge stone at the woman and knocked her flat. Jesus said, “Mother!”
Although early Church councils struggled with the question “Who is Jesus?” by working on the question, “What should we say about his mother?” I’ll come back to those twelve guys, spellbound in the boat. “Who is this?” That’s a really important question for anyone who thinks of themselves as a Christian, as a follower of Jesus. Who are you following? Who is this? It’s particularly important for members of this congregation, since we say our Mission Statement is to “seek Christ everywhere, every day, in everyone.” Who are we looking for?
The demon knew. Does that surprise you? “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” That’s an amazing claim: that this carpenter-turned-preacher is the Holy One of God. The demon saw something in Jesus that wasn’t obvious to the people around him, that there was a spark, a spirit, a presence in Jesus that even his robe couldn’t entirely hide: the presence of holiness. Of course, the demon was afraid of that: “Have you come to destroy us?” Evil cannot abide the presence of holiness, and the demon knew that. “Be silent, and come out of him!” said Jesus.
In the 1980s Brian Wren wrote an Easter hymn that maybe we’ll sing one of these Sundays during the season of Easter. It has a line in it that I think is funny, but it makes the point very well. It’s part of the fourth verse:
Christ is risen! Earth and heaven nevermore shall be the same.
Break the bread of new creation where the world is still in pain.
Tell its grim, demonic chorus: “Christ is risen! Get you gone!”
God the First and Last is with us. Sing Hosanna everyone!
“Tell its grim, demonic chorus: ‘Christ is risen! Get you gone!’” The demon knew who Jesus was, and so when Jesus said, “Get you gone!” it got.
Consider the many ways the people around Jesus answered the question. Let’s start with Simon Peter; when Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” he answered, “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:29). You are the one we have been waiting for, the one sent by God to be our Savior. I don’t know how I know that, but I know that. Then again, it was this same Peter who, when asked about Jesus, said, “I don’t know him” (Mark 14:71). Perhaps he was telling the truth, not aware of that himself. Perhaps he didn’t really know Jesus.
And that is something for you and me to stop and ask ourselves, before I finish this. Do we know him? Do we know him the way the demon knew him, to know that in his presence evil cannot last? Do we know what it means to call him Messiah? I think one reason I continue to reread the Gospels is that I’m trying to figure him out, to understand just Who this is that I am following. Mark started his book with the words, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1), but who is this Jesus, this Messiah, this Son of God?
Perhaps some of you want me to answer the question definitively, give you a list of theological points that you can write down and memorize. Perhaps some of you think that it’s pretty ridiculous of me to keep asking the question. “We know everything we need to know about Jesus, so please talk about something else.” I hope, however, that by poking at you a little bit this morning I’ll provoke something in your prayer life this week: “Who are you, Lord?” If that question sounds familiar, it is what Saul the Pharisee asked Jesus when he had his experience on the road to Damascus. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 9:4-5). Saul, remembered as St. Paul, spent the rest of his life working through that question.
Peter called him Messiah, Mark called him Son of God, John called him the Word of God. A story we often read on the Second Sunday of Easter is when Thomas is confronted by a risen Jesus, whom he had doubted. Jesus appears to Thomas and says, “Put your finger here, see my hands; put your hand here, feel my side. Do not doubt but believe” and Thomas says to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:26-29) And you know that Jesus takes that opportunity to bless us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
But first we have the witness of the demon, who says, “You are the Holy One of God.” I hope that you and I have faith enough to make a witness at least as strong as the demon makes. When we go about our way this week, seeking Christ everywhere, every day, in everyone, have faith enough to be looking for the Holy One of God. Where will you see the Holy One of God?
Perhaps in the grocery store
Or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office
At your children’s school
On the freeway
When will you see the Holy One of God?
Thursday over lunch
In whom will you see the Holy One of God?
In your next-door neighbor
Or maybe in that harried woman trying to get her job done
Perhaps in the man who’s a little bit scary
In the one everyone loves to hate
Listen to what all the different voices in the Bible say about him, especially those you haven’t thought about before. “Who is this this?” Do you and I know? The demon knew: “You are the Holy One of God.”
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
 Brian Wren, “Christ Is Risen! Shout Hosanna!” (1984), #248 in Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal (Westminster John Knox Press, 2013)