Sermon 27th August : Trinity 11: Romans 12, 1-8 & Matthew 16, 13 -20
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
Sermon 13th August Trinity 9 Matthew 14, 22-33
Jesus Walks on Water; Peter begins to Sink
The gospel story we have just heard is a strange and in many ways challenging story. The challenge for us, just as with last week's story of The Feeding of the Five Thousand, is to take the story out of the bible so that it becomes relevant to us in the here and now.
In the story we hear that a group of disciples, one of whom is the Apostle Peter, are out in a boat, probably a fishing boat, when a storm gathers and they become highly fearful. But, in some ways their fear is ever so slightly irrational. Yes, of course it is perfectly normal that they should have experienced a sense of fear, but what we must also remember is that those in the boat were highly skilled and trained fishermen. They would have been used to stormy weather when out at sea.
So here is the point. Often, frequently we too find ourselves all at sea. As the theologian Tom Wright puts it: ‘We too in our world have discovered so much, learned so much, invented so much, and yet, are still without power to do so many of the things that really matter. We have invented wonderful machines for making war, but no-one has found one that will make peace. We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t put food into hungry stomachs. We can listen to the songs of the whales sing on the ocean floor, but we can’t hear the crying of human souls in the next street.’
Just as with the fishermen-disciples sometimes, it seems, our competence simply isn’t enough. Sometimes even though we have all the necessary skills, talents, resources and training we too can feel all at sea. Sometimes we can experience a Peter-like crisis of confidence in our own ability. Sometimes like Peter our faith can waver.
So what can we do, what should we do, when our faith wavers, when we experience that sinking feeling, when despair and doubt seem to have the upper hand? The answer is given in the story: we can stretch out our hand and say with Peter ‘Lord save me.’
As Christians the challenge is to develop the sort of habits that keep us focused and strengthen our faith; regular daily prayer, reading scripture, participating in the sacraments. Like Peter we need to learn the art of keeping our eyes focused on Jesus. Faith is not just a noun you see, it's also a practice, a habit, a verb.
As Tom Wright concludes: ‘If like Peter we look at the waves being lashed by the wind, we will conclude that it (faith/life) is indeed impossible. What we are called to do – it’s so basic and obvious, but so hard to do in practice – is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, and our ears open for his encouragement. And our wills and hearts must be ready to do what he says, even if it seems crazy at the time.’
The whole point of this story is that through actively keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus our faith grows and we no longer have to rely only on ourselves and our own competencies which are bound to let us down from time to time.
Through fixating on and being fascinated by Jesus as we become the sort of people who become attuned to the real needs of the world and become agents of God’s love, mercy, and grace and that at the end of the day is the rationale for the active Christian life. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown
Sermon 30th July - St James: 2 Corinthians 4, 7-15 & Matthew 20, 20-28
The final words of the captain of the all-conquering 1974 British and Irish Lions team, Willie John McBride, to the squad of Irish, Welsh, Scots and English players who comprised his touring party to South Africa were: ‘gentlemen it’s been a pleasure to journey with you.’
And, I guess the point of studying the saints and indeed of having the patronage of a saint is to make our journey with them. This implies relating to their story and being inspired, even challenged, by their story. St. James, if we will let him, is capable of both inspiring us and challenging us. Like all the saints James was an imperfect, floored, human being. He was both proud and, ultra-competitive. He also had the ultimate pushy mum! He wanted to reside on a throne next to Jesus partly so that he can get one over his cousins Andrew and Peter.
Like all of us he had to learn the virtues of ethics and, service. He needed to accept the real value in being ‘the least.’ He needed, like all of us, to learn that Christian vocation is best done from below, on our knees, down near the muck and crud. He needed to learn that Christian service involves getting dirt under our finger nails and, that holiness is in fact a dirty, sometimes dangerous, business.
He also needed to learn that the only way that he could make the journeys from pride to humility, from self service to serving others, and ultimately from earth to heaven was by following Jesus and by being prepared to live a Christ-centred life. I would want to suggest that we are all invited to make similar journeys to James.
When James started his journey as a follower of Jesus he clearly had a fixed destination in mind – a throne beside Jesus – and, probably a clear view of how he was going to get there. Basically he wanted to get there by doing great and heroic things. He didn’t countenance that he might have to do some pretty lowly and servile things. He didn’t want to suffer in St. Paul’s language a series of earthly deaths. He also didn’t countenance how it might all end up, both for Jesus and himself. He didn’t as yet know that Jesus earthly journey was going to end up in crucifixion and, his own journey in martyrdom.
James like all of us had to learn the art of hanging faithfully on in there when we felt ‘perplexed,’ ‘struck down,’ and ‘destroyed.’ Let me make one perhaps obvious point which is that to follow Jesus when we feel these things is to live as though we really believe in the resurrection.
The mistake the young, immature, James made was to hope for a painless and manifestly successful journey towards his eternal destiny; the realisation that the mature James came to is that this is a contradiction in terms.
So the challenge posed by James and many of the saints is simply this: is your following of Jesus contingent on the quality of the journey on offer, or are you prepared to follow Jesus as it were blindly and with humility, trusting him to bring you home?
Ultimately the saints and especially St James remind us that our lives are journeys; journeys if we choose to the very heart of God and to our eternal destiny and that making the journey successfully requires us to embrace the virtues of humility, service and, trust; trust in Jesus Christ and his saving grace, whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.
Inspired by St. James, and indeed Willie John MacBride, let’s make those journeys together, for then will we truly conquer, Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown
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