In a few days’ time I am going, or should I say we are going on our summer holiday. We are off to Cornwall and I hope that the holiday will be a time for rest and recovery; a time to take stock. If I am honest I will enjoy having a week off from preparing sermons and, addresses. I am looking forward to lay-ins, Cornish pasties, fresh air and, fish and chips. I am looking forward to just being.
In the Gospel passage we have just heard St Peter correctly identifies Jesus as the ‘Messiah, the Son of the Living God,’ and Jesus responds by telling Peter that he is to be ‘the rock,’ on which he, Jesus, ‘will build,’ his ‘church.’ It is at this precise moment that the notion of the ‘one Holy catholic and Apostolic Church’ is breathed into being. But, then something remarkable happens: Peter, eager Peter, the rock-to-be Peter, alongside the other disciples is told to keep quiet and ‘not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.’
Why do you think that a gagging order was effectively placed on the disciples by the same Jesus who had previously sent out the gang of seventy-two to tell all manner of folk that the ‘kingdom of God is at hand’ and, who just before his ascension, was to mandate the disciples to ‘go therefore and make disciples of all nations?’ It is a bit odd and, on face value, appears to be somewhat contradictory.
I think that the reason is given in the reading from the epistle and is captured in this one word: ‘transformed.’ Peter and the other apostles have to learn a big lesson which is that there can be a whole world of difference between what comes out of our mouths and the way we live our lives. Peter and his gang need to learn the important lesson that all people of faith need to make a journey. The journey starts with an assent, a verbal assent of faith, which then penetrates into the heart and finally is revealed through the way we live our lives. The Chorister’s Prayer nails this threefold pattern of movement:
Bless, O Lord, us Thy servants who minister in Thy temple.
Grant that what we sing with our lips we may believe in our hearts,
and what we believe in our hearts we may show forth in our lives.
Peter and the apostles need, for the present, to stay quiet and tell no-one about Jesus, as Messiah, until they are ready not only to assent to the gospel but to live the gospel. A church is only ever a church, as opposed to a religious gathering, when its members have gone on a journey from head to heart and finally to hands.
The way we go on this journey which implies moving from machismo to humility, from individuality to communality, is through silence, mediation and, prayer. We need to take ourselves on spiritual holidays from time to time and whilst on such spiritual holidays we need to allow ourselves to be ‘transformed’ so that we become the sort of people, and community, that not only assent to the gospel, but live the gospel.
So yes, there is a time to preach loudly and clearly, and yes, we must seek to bring others into the life of the church and into relationship with Jesus, but we should do so when we really can be a ‘rock.’
So can I encourage all of you to find sometime for a spiritual holiday during which you make, or re-make, the transformative journey of holiness from head, to heart, and finally to hands, Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown