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  • John Bryant

Mark 8:27-30: The Pillaging, Anointing Word of Who Christ Is

27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.


The hardest thing in the world is to pay attention. This is what I’m discovering. I am so easily frazzled, I lose the thread so easy.


There is nothing neutral, I feel, about attention. Attention is, by nature, a wounded or ravenous animal, or shiny coins scattered on the street. Attention is by nature conniving, grasping, unsettled, nervous. Or so scattered and so fragile.


Here we find Christ with the disciples. With their mind probably set on a lot of things: where to go to next, when to eat, when they would stop, what they liked or didn’t like about who was with them, their place in the hierarchy of Jesus followers.


Jesus stops ask,


“Who do people say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?”


It was a great question. In this wilderness, in this time of advent, as we live and work and walk out here where the devil runs things.


In my ministry the question is alwasy:


What is going to happen? What is going to happen? That is the only ever question of my heart.


My head is full of what could go wrong. And I become afraid. I have not had to reckon with fear like I’ve had to reckon with fear in ministry. Fear is a very real companion, with all the uncertainty, tension. Especially when working with vulnerable folks, folks as vulnerable as you and I are.


The place of greatest fear, I’ve learned, is whenever I’ve been asked to lead people out into the wilderness where I do ministry. To lead people out where it is not safe. Out here where the devil seems to run things. Out here where I am not in control and anything can happen and I cannot keep anyone safe.


It is never, as far as I know, my intention to worry. The worries are not, strictly speaking, something I am doing. They are predators leaping at me. They don’t wait for my regard or volition, they leap out of the abyss, vivid, catastrophic. Always tantalizingly possible.


Even my very contact with them makes me squirm. With those wolves I find my attention torn to pieces. My ability to pay attention now often ravaged by What Could Happen and What Might Happen.


How do I do what I am afraid to do? I wrote that down this morning.


Me: What is going to happen?

Jesus: Who am I?


Me: What is going to happen?

Jesus: Who am I?


Me: What is going to happen?

Jesus Who am I?


Maybe there is a mercy in not knowing what is going to happen. Perhaps it is an instruction in Mercy: people do not only have the future we can provide, we do have not know what is going to happen to know what we’re supposed to be doing.


Maybe the logic is too simple: When we know who he is, we know who we are. When we know we are, we’ll know what we’re supposed to be doing.


The only way forward I know is as a smaller thing, servant and guest of the mercies offered in his Gospel: Someone who can attend to what Christ has done, what Christ is doing, and what Christ will do. So that we know who He is. So that we'll know who we are. So that we'll know what we're supposed to be doing.


Me: What am I supposed be doing?

Jesus: Who am I?


It seems, more than a plan, more than a solution, more than a forecast, Christ wants to have our attention.


But my attention, your attention, is either a wounded or ravenous animal, coins scattered in the wind. Our attention grabs. It takes, it hardly ever offers.


What hope is there for our attention except that it be rescued through hearing? That it be led in prayer? That it become something we can offer the world rather than something that devours it? That it become, rather than wolf, precious oil to anoint the world? To hallow it?


This has been my only secret: That my attention is rescued through scripture, and that It is then led in prayer, so that it can finally become something I offer. For it is in hearing that we learn to pray, and in prayer that we learn to offer.


Perhaps there is no greater mystery to me than the way by which our capacity for despair and confusion can be matched only by our capacity to be taken ahold again of by the startling figure of Christ. Our capacity to be become fascinated again by the startling figure of Christ. And for it to be done by His Gospel, His Word.


A Christ whose Word not only informs us, but creates us. A proclamation that is itself the radiance of Christ. So that when we are afraid we see we do not need more courage, but more Christ. Because fear is about what can be done to us. And Christ is more than what you’ve done, and what can be done to you.


Is the point to figure everything out or to be so taken by the figure of Christ that we begin to make our way forward again? And for this to be done by Hs Word.


Not pushed forward by platitudes but pulled along by the promise of Who He Is, Which is also the promise of What He’s Done, What He is Doing, What He Will Do?


What is the Word of Promise? Objectively: Christ Has Died, Christ is Risen, Christ Will Come Again. Subjectively: Christ’s Death is our death to Sin, Christ’s Life is our life to God. And His Return will confirm and vindicate both our death to sin and our life to God. So that we will finally be changed by His Glory.


We are learning to be the creation of that Word.


A Word that prepares and anoints our hearts for service.


A we serve a Word that is not bound, that itself does the pillaging and plundering of the land occupied by the devil, including the territory of our own heart. The Word by which we are given the longings we need to survive.


It is those promises, those proclaimed promises by which we are given the longings by which we are able to survive. Longings that give us the ability to pay attention. In rescuing our attention, in giving us those longings, the Lord has given us a way to survive.


I woke up today with fear. Fear centered around a big event in my ministry. I wake up knowing I’ll have a day with fear. That this fear, born of OCD and trauma and the machinations of the devil, seems to be a part of my life. It is an anticipation and a dread stored up in my body. My body, my nervous system, always trying to predict what is going to happen.


It is automatic. I cannot control that.


But I also know that being afraid is no longer a reason to not pay attention. I have somehow, through the vigilant hearing of the Word, gotten to the place where I am able to pay attention when I am afraid.


My attention, that understanding, even as it is sore afraid, waits in humility, waits for Who Christ Is. For What Christ has Done, What Christ is Doing, What Christ Will Do.


Fear Is no longer a reason to not pay attention. A part of life but not a way of life. I am able to accept that fear as a sudden gust of cold wind and patiently attend to my life. To patiently follow the thread when all I have is trust. To be patiently pulled along by promise when I do not have the right thoughts or feelings. To relax in that cold wind. And the wolves. To live the haunted house of shame, fear, and pride. The shadow world.


To live with Jesus and this big scary feeling. And the wolves prowling round. With the intentions that are still mine. Still able to offer myself to things such as writing. Things such as being with people. Still able to hear Still fascinated by the startling figure of Christ.




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