Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sermon for the Feast of Ss Peter & Paul Yr A

With grateful thanks to my friend Fr Simon, whose words I've borrowed extensively as the meat of this sermon.The rubbish is my own!

Questions, questions…
They are all around us, every day
They might be banal…
“Has anyone seen my keys”
They might be personal…
“Is there something your best friends won’t tell you”
They might even be challenging
“Do you have what it takes to survive in this world”.
Most of them demand a response, but sometimes there is a mismatch between our expectations in asking the question, and the answer we receive…Once, I’m told, George W Bush visited a home for those suffering from dementia.
He enjoyed a brief exchange with one of the residents, who seemed to be fairly lucid….so he risked asking
“Do you know who I am”
“No…” replied his conversation partner “but if you ask that nice nurse over there I’m sure she’ll be able to tell you”.

Even on a bad day, George W wasn’t really in need of information…any more than Jesus is, in our gospel reading.
“Who do you say I am?”
In asking that crucial question, he is simply doing everything within his power to make the disciples think.
I’m sure you’ve met the old advice for teachers
First you tell them what you’re going to tell them. Then you tell them. Then you tell them what you’ve told them.
Put like that it raises a smile, perhaps – but adopted as a teaching strategy it’s unlikely to be successful. I’m sure we’re familiar with it, though…Teaching that is simply the passage of information from one person to another.
Teaching that relies on the expertise of the lecturer and the passive openness of the listener.
Teaching that, if we’re honest, demands very little of those on the receiving end and, I suspect, may not have much lasting impact. Contrast this with the sort of teaching that engages you fully…The teaching that begins by recognising the premise that to hear is to forget, to see is to remember and to do is to understand. Perhaps that isn’t the sort of thing you’d welcome week by week in your sermon slot but I’m sure you’ve noticed before that when Jesus wants his disciples to really learn something, he doesn’t give them the answer straight away.
Often, of course, he tells them stories, stories which leave things open, so that the hearers need to work out not only the inner meaning but also its application for their own lives.
Sometimes he asks them a direct question…as he does today. “Who do you say I am?”

Who do you say I am?”
Imagine Jesus asking you….Perhaps that’s the most important question any of us will ever need to consider

“Who do you say I am?”

Son of God?
Good man?
Innocent victim?
Colossal embarassment?

“Who do you say I am?”

…this is not a question for theologians, for priests, for the great and the good. This is a question aimed at each one of us.
It’s a question on which pretty much everything depends…for if we decide against Jesus, then there’s not much point in hanging around waiting to see what will happen next.

I don’t mean that those who’ve never really encountered Jesus are doomed…
Nor do I mean that those who reject a distorted version of his truth, those who can’t see beyond the smokescreens of an imperfect church struggling with its own identity, will find themselves rejected in their turn.

The question Jesus asks is addressed to his friends…those who have spent time with him, those who have access to the evidence that we too can connect with in the Gospels…people who are close enough to be able to see the lie of the land.
His whole ministry is a story that points to his identity…and now Jesus wants to see if his disciples have learned the central lesson he came to teach

“Who do you say I am?”

As he answers, Simon speaks for all of us…we who have tried to follow, who open our mouths and put our foot in it, who jump to wild conclusions and then turn and run away when reality looks a bit too harsh.
I think that this is what Jesus means, when he gives Simon his new name, and a new calling
“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”
More Rocky than rock solid, it seems to me that Simon, now Peter, represents every Christian who has come after him…
He’ll continue to get things wrong, to speak in haste and repent at leisure….but nonetheless, he will continue to proclaim the truth that God has given him, to cling onto that moment of revelation
You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

In the same way, we too have moments of Epiphany, when it’s clear to us just who we are following, and why we dare call ourselves Christians… moments when we are called to declare ourselves, to respond to the Truth that lies before us.
That is what being part of the Church is all about…Though Christ is the true and sure foundation, the Church is built out of people, people like us, people who have dared to answer the greatest question
Who do you say I am?”

Jesus will not accept agnosticism from his friends.
He confronts us with the reality of his presence in our midst.
He challenges us with a radical reworking of all that we have previously accepted as the norm, for the Gospel is challenging, transformative, unconventional.

“Who do you say I am?”

He stands there, waiting for an answer…There’s no time like the present… We are each called to respond, and we cannot hide behind cleverness or theological reflection; for the call to follow him, to be like him, to embrace him and through him to embrace the divine is all wrapped up in this simple, direct and ultimately challenging statement.

If that sounds too frightening, take heart.
Yesterday I was one of hundreds in our Cathedral to share in the ordination of 14 new priests…It was a wonderful service, in which the current traumas of the Anglican Communion took a back seat as we rejoiced in the faithful response of those men and women to God’s call. It was possible to remember once again that the church is built on the firmest of foundations, and that whatever goes on within or outside the institution, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…
For me, a moment of pure delight came during the sermon, when the preacher reassured us
God does not want heroes, but lovers”.

Lovers like Peter, - full of passion for his Lord, even when his humanity tripped him up and left him sprawled in the dirt.
Lovers who will risk going out on a limb for Jesus.
Lovers who discover, against all expectations, that the love that they feel for Him enables them to do and to dare all kinds of things for his sake.

Please, if you would, spend some time today thinking of how you will answer the great question that Jesus asks each one of us
So, for now, here’s my own answer
Who do you say that I am?”
“The one whom I love, who first loved me”.

To him be the glory, now and forever. Amen.


Songbird said...

It's a love song! Wonderful.

RevDrKate said...

I am often inspired by sermons but not always moved to smile and cry at the same time....WOW and thanks.

Chilly Fingers said...

This was beautiful - thanks for posting it!