St. Peter: 1 Peter 2, 19-end & Matthew 16, 13-19
Can I ask if anyone here has a friend who they love to bits and yet who drives them crackers at times?
The relationship between Peter and Jesus must have been a little like this. Peter gets some many things right and yet he also gets so many things wrong. He is an interesting character, full of bravado at times, and yet also a little bit fickle and unreliable. And yet, he is the apostle who Jesus ultimately appoints as the one on whom he is going to build his church. Imperfect, and at times flaky, Peter is to become the rock. This is something that we should all take huge confidence from: God’s strength is perfectly capable of working in, and through, our human weakness.
I love the today’s reading from the epistle, for what we see is the mature Peter; the Peter who has come through numerous trials and tribulations, the Peter who has had to face his own character flaws and yet who has grown into full spiritual maturity. Peter teaches us that growing into a mature faith is a life time’s work. In the epistle what we hear is a full exposition of Christian maturity and understanding. Peter it seems has finally got it. He, finally, understands everything that is to be understood about Jesus. He understands that Jesus came to do one thing and one thing only: to ‘set us free from our sins.’ He also, again finally, shows us that the way to real and eternal freedom is to ‘entrust’ ourselves to ‘the one who judges justly.’
Just pause to think about this: the man who rejected his best friend, and his Messiah, at his hour of need, has come to the radical understanding that God is above all else merciful. It is an incredible thought isn’t it that Jesus, despite Peter’s rejection, sees though our human frailties to our potential. If you ever feel that you fall short in your faith can I invite you to reflect on the relationship between Jesus and Peter. But can I also invite you to look beyond the perceived frailties and shortcomings of others, just as Jesus did.
If we see the mature Peter in the epistle we see the heroic yet immature Peter, in the gospel reading. Peter is of course correct in his affirmation that Jesus is the ‘Messiah the Son of the Living God.’ Like Peter we too must continually make this affirmation of faith. The entirety of Christianity is contingent on agreeing with Peter’s declaration. And, of course the basic job of the Church is to bring people to the place where they too can answer the question Jesus poses: ‘but who do you say I am.’ This is the most basic job of this church.
When, however imperfectly, we are able to say with Peter that Jesus is the ‘Messiah the Son of the Living God, then the door is opened for the Holy Spirit to begin the journey of bringing us, like Peter, to a mature and living faith; a faith which allows us to live radically different lives, a faith which becomes characterised by our willingness to endure pain and suffering with a sense of hope, a faith which allows us to become the sort of people who extend the hand of friendship and offer forgiveness, a faith which frees people from the burdens of their past and offers them new hope and a new identity as children of God, a faith which doesn’t simply look to the after-life but which brings the Kingdom of God into the here and now, a faith which accepts and works with imperfection, frailty and vulnerability as its essential ingredients.
By mediating on the nature of the relationship, the friendship, between Peter and Jesus we get to understand a whole lot more about God, for we see the tenderness, compassion and mercy of Jesus. We begin to understand that God is good at working with and through the messiness of our lives and that God can, and will, bring us to maturity.
Surely that is a faith worth having and a faith worth sharing? Amen.
St Alban: Wisdom of Solomon 3, 1-4, 2 Timothy 2, 3-13 & John 12, 24-26
I wanted to celebrate St Alban this year, whose actual feast day is on the 22nd June, because this church was established way back in 1290 as a minster of the then St. Alban’s Abbey; now St. Alban’s Cathedral. Being a minster meant that the church existed to serve both the local community and a number of surrounding villages. It's a vision I want to re-capture for this church. With our liturgical and musical tradition it is something we can do.
Alban himself was a man of great courage; like our patron Laurence he was martyred for his faith. In often wonder, why the great martyrs were prepared to face death firmly in the face and embrace it. Its a sobering thought isn’t it? Would we be prepared to follow in their footsteps if asked to do so? In Winslow physical martyrdom is unlikely, but around the world there are still many, many, places where to be a Christian is to risk life and limb. We should always pray for those whose faith might mean paying the ultimate sacrifice.
So why would the likes of Laurence and Alban be prepared to risk all for their faith? As is said last week I suspect its because deep down they were utterly secure in their own identity. They knew that their primary identity was in Christ. Such knowledge is the source of ultimate, maybe even eternal, peace and freedom. St. Paul in the reading from the epistle captures this dynamic when he writes:
‘If we have died with him we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.’
The red martyrs who died for their faith, such as Alban and Laurence, challenge us to reflect on the depth of our faith. Faith in this sense doesn’t just mean belief, or even believing the right things, it means something far deeper: knowing that our deepest and eternal identity is in Christ and that this simple fact changes everything.
As I have already said in Winslow it is highly unlikely that any of us are going to face the possibility of risking our very lives for our faith. But, we are all called on to become what the church came to call ‘white martyrs.’ Each and everyone of us should be prepared to own the name ‘Christian.’ Each and every one of us must be prepared to profess to the truth of Jesus Christ in both word and deed. Each and everyone of us should be prepared to become ‘a good (foot) soldier of Christ Jesus,’ and so what if we take a little stick, or if people think we are a bit odd? We should take great courage in the notion that if we seek to live as disciples of Jesus Christ, things we happen around us, for as St. Paul says ‘the word of God is not chained.’
Like Alban we too are called upon to be people of prayer. It is through prayer, talking to God and more importantly listening to God, that our lives are changed and that we become the sort of people who serve others secure in our own identity. Its through prayer that we become resilient. It is through prayer that we develop that deep sense of peace that we hear about in the Old Testament reading where Solomon writes that ‘their departure was thought to be a disaster, their going from us their destruction, but they are at peace.’
Alban and Laurence were men of deep prayer. Through prayer they cam to know and own their deepest identity as beloved children of God. This sense of Peace allowed them to act courageously. The fact that we still tell and celebrate their stories today proves one thing above all else: ‘that the word of God cannot be chained.’
My invitation to you this week is to reflect on the lives of Alban (and Laurence) and let their stories lead you into an ever deepening faith.
John the Baptist, Luke 1, 57-66, 80: Jacqueline’s first Eucharist.
I would like to start by saying what an honour and privilege it is to be here to preach at Jacqueline’s first Eucharist. Thank you for inviting me.
I thought this morning that I would talk briefly about various aspects of priesthood, through the lens of John the Baptist. Now, I know that John the Baptist wasn’t a priest but the last of the prophets, so please do indulge me.
I think that through the character of John the Baptist we can gain an insight into four of the attributes of priesthood: the call to repentance which is of course followed by the act of absolution; the call to bring people into the sacramental life of the church; for John this was through baptism, for priests following the death, resurrection and ascension this has meant baptism and celebrating or presiding at the Eucharist and, perhaps, most problematically the call, like John the Baptist, to act as a prophetic voice, calling the people of God to act like the people of God, whilst simultaneously daring to speak truth to power.
If I were a participant in the Radio 4 show ‘Just a Minute’ I would have been buzzed out of contention by now, for repeating the same word over and over again. That word is ‘call.’ Jacqueline like, I hope, all priests didn’t choose to become a priest; she was called, by God, to this joyful yet challenging and unsettling state we call priesthood.
Priesthood can often feel strange, us priests can frequently feel as though we are in the ‘wilderness.’ Sometimes it can feel as though there isn’t really much solid ground beneath our feet; priests you see frequently stand in the breach between God and his people. Jacqueline is going to spend much of the rest of her life feeling as though she is the ‘wilderness,’ not knowing what she really should say, or could say. But, the really good news is that although this is true she will, like John the Baptist, become ‘strong in spirit.’ God will give her the words to sing salvation's song with humility, pointing away from herself and towards Jesus.
My hope is that Jacqueline will become strong, or stronger, in spirit simply by living out her priesthood; by being a person committed to calling people into repentance and then giving the life changing gift of absolution, by celebrating the sacraments and, by continuing to speak prophetically; daring to say those things which might occasionally be unpopular, challenging or disturbing always in the interests of a more Christ-like church and, a more godly world. All of this must of course be underpinned by a deep commitment to prayer, for it is through prayer that character grows and we slowly, but surely, grow into the image of Christ. It is through prayer that we begin to realize that it is character rather than mere competency that makes the compelling difference. It is through prayer that we become living icons for Christ.
So what of you, and your relationship with Jacqueline and indeed all priests?
Maybe I have already given the answer: to commit through prayer and the quality of your relationships to help Jacqueline, like John the Baptist, who was so nurtured by his parents Elizabeth and Zechariah, to grow and become stronger in spirit, so that she, and all other priests can, live out our priestly calling.
One last thought: if you commit to praying for Jacqueline, perhaps asking in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, that she may be ‘endued with righteousness’ and be blessed by the ‘healthful Spirit’ of ‘grace,’ you too will change and grow in Christian character and, as we all grow together we become what the New Testament describes as a ‘royal priesthood,’ or the ‘priesthood of all believers,’ or even a ‘Holy Communion,’ of God’s people; we become God’s partners in achieving the breaking in of the kingdom ‘here on earth as in heaven.’
Jacqueline today our prayers are with you as you preside at the altar for the first time. Our prayer for you is that you may throughout your priestly ministry build authentic Christian community by leading God’s people to repentance, absolving them of their sins, and feeding them prophetically through word and sacrament.
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