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To Be Remembered

Today we find ourselves halfway through the Gospel of Mark. We’ve heard Jesus’ teaching, we’ve seen him healing people, quieting storms and feeding thousands. He defies the Pharisees without blinking, and constantly breaks the rules. He is challenged by a Gentile woman, backs down and changes his mind.

Who is this man?  We’ve come to a scripture where that exact question is asked. Jesus wants to know, who do people say that I am?

Sometimes I wonder why on earth he’s asking this question. A marketing friend suggested that maybe he was “managing his brand.” Seeing if the consumers were getting the message he wanted them to get. Or was this a moment of insecurity, and a need for affirmation? Today someone might look at Jesus and say, “Jesus, you know there is no need to label yourself!

In this story it’s clear that the common folks aren’t quite getting who Jesus is.They think he is John the Baptizer, or Elijah or one of the prophets. But the disciples are pretty certain he is the Messiah and he’s going to usher in a new age of prosperity, peace and renewal. Their people will once again rule the land and all will be right with the world!

In the very next paragraph, Jesus makes sure that his followers understand that he's not going to be quite like the messiah they envision. He’s not gathering an army to vanquish the enemies of the Jews. Instead, in his words, he’s going to be rejected by the Jewish elders and be put to death, only to rise again in three days.

His own death seems to be front-and-center in his mind, so perhaps this is why he is asking what people think of him. What impression did he leave? Did he make a difference? Who will he be to them once he’s gone?

This scripture, combined with our Day of Remembrance gives us the chance to pause and ponder our own mortality for a moment and consider some of the same questions: Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?

There is a story about a philosopher, who, having made an appointment to dispute with Nasrudin, called at the appointed hour and found him away from home. Nasrudin had forgotten their plan and was in the teahouse playing table games and telling stories with his friends.

After waiting for some time the philosopher grew angry Picking up a piece of chalk, he wrote “Stupid Oaf” on Nasrudin’s door and left in a huff.

As soon as he got home and saw this, Nasrudin rushed to the philosopher’s house.

“I had completely forgotten our appointment,” he said, “I apologize for not having been home. Of course, I remembered the appointment as soon as I saw that you had left your name on my door.”

A story like this makes me question how I've lived. Have I been a stupid oaf without even knowing it? Have I been true to myself, or worn masks for others. Have I love unconditionally and abundantly (like I want to) or stingily, only if people “deserved” it? And what does that look like anyway?

When I do a funeral, I always ask the family, and sometimes everyone who comes for the service, to give me one word to describe the person who passed away. It’s telling when the first things that come out of the family’s mouths are things like: stubborn, strong, forthright. As opposed to: loving, caring, kind.

If it was your funeral I was planning, who would you want people to say you are? I invite you to take a few moments and reflect on this. Then write down five things you want people to remember about you.

As we get older, the specifics about life will pass away – all the details about our work life and things we did with our family and friends. No one is going to remember the words of my sermons, the songs we sang, the classes I taught, the book I wrote. No one is going to remember the gifts I gave to them, or the things we talked about when we got together, or what I wore, or how clean my house was, or if everything looked perfect in my yard.

What people remember is how you made them feel. Did you make them feel loved, cherished, thought of, cared about? Did you build them up or tear them down? Did you accept them or reject them? Did you make them smile and give them hope, or were you negative and critical? Did you live with gratitude?

Parker Palmer, in his book The Brink of Everything,” writes from the viewpoint of being eighty years old. He says that most of the older folks he knows are worried about clearing out a lot of the material things they’ve collected over the years. He says, “there are precincts in our basements where a small child could get lost for hours.”

For many folks there seems to be a constant sorting going on: keep or get rid of? Parker said he finally found a different question that has given him a new sense of meaning. He said he no longer asks, “What do I want to let go of, and what do I want to hang on to?” Instead he asks, “What do I want to let go of, and what do I want to give myself to?”

He points out that the desire to “hang on” comes from a place of scarcity and fear, while the desire to give oneself to something comes from a place of abundance and generosity.

This question works not only with stuff we’re sorting through, but with the characteristics of ourselves, and the baggage of our lives that we really need to sort through. The five things you wrote down are things that you hopefully want to give yourselves to. I wonder if on the other side of that piece of paper we should contemplate writing down the five parts of ourselves we want to let go of. Things we no longer want to give ourselves to because they suck up our time and energy and do not lead us to wholeness in any way shape or form.  What would they be for you? Judgment, worry, impatience, negativity, cynicism, perfectionism, self-hatred, anger, shame?

Now is the time. Today is the day to begin living into the person we want to be remembered as. No one else can do it for us, and none of us knows how much time we have left. Who will people say you are?

Love & Light!