As you probably know, the lectionary is on a three-year cycle and after six years of regular preaching, I am getting to the point where I have preached on most weeks of the lectionary. That means that I can look back on previous sermons and see what I have written.
What always surprises me is how what I wrote in the past seems largely irrelevant to what I would want to say now. (If what I said in the past is now not relevant even to me, I am not sure what that says about how relevant what I am saying now may be to you!)
However, when I last preached on this text my concerns were about identity – about how Peter revealed Jesus as the Christ – the anointed one prophesied by Isaiah, the Messiah. And how in turn Jesus helped Simon become Peter, about how Jesus called him from one identity to another. And I suppose that was because three years ago I was in the process of training and of being transformed myself from a member of the laity to being a priest.
Now when I read this, as a Priest, I am struck by the way that Peter is my ancestor – the first leader of the Church, probably the first Pope in Rome.
All current priests in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches trace their priesthood from succession from Peter and ultimately from this passage of Scripture.
Recalling Abram and Jacob whose names were changed to Abraham and Israel in Genesis, Jesus changed Simon into Peter – in Greek Petros – the rock, the rock on which I shall build my church. Just as in the language of Isaiah, Abraham was the quarry from which Peter was hewn, Peter would be blessed and would be the basis for the church of a great multitude – like the sand upon the seashore.
‘The Rock’, seems an ironic name for the impulsive, often erroneous and sometimes frankly disappointing Peter who would deny Jesus three times. But calling and transformation are not immediate processes. It took at least 6 years (and perhaps 49 years!) for me to get to this point of becoming a priest.
In an inadvertent imitation of Peter’s change of name, two years ago when ordained Deacon I asked that people call me Christopher – not Chris. Christopher which means bearer of Christ. This seemed an important name in the context of what I was about to do. To be the bearer of Christ to people – to bring them the Gospel of the Messiah.
And now I have been made a priest and have been given the power handed down from Peter to forgive sins – to help people know that they are forgiven by God and can start the process of transforming their lives – ‘by the renewing of their minds’, as soon as they are ready to do so.
But I do not presume that people will come to know God through me – ‘not through flesh and blood’ but rather through the knowledge of God through his son Jesus Christ. As Peter did we all need to find our own way, and also to discern our own skills, our own calling.
As we read in that great passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans:
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.
This is important as we look to build the church in Langley Vale upon the rock laid down by Peter. We each need to do our part using such gifts as we have been given. The rewards are great …
In Jerusalem, the temple stood on the rock – at the centre of the world. Below it lay Sheol, the underworld of the dead. Above it lay the heavenly realm
Jesus promised those in his church, built upon his rock, freedom from the fear of Hell – those in his church would be protected from whatever might lie behind the Gates of Hades should they be opened. But rather He offered the key to the gates of heaven.
As Isaiah said:
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and those who live on it will die like gnats;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my deliverance will never be ended.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, [in the Language of St Paul] by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, [as in our post-communion prayer] holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God– what is good and acceptable and perfect.
The way that we discern the will of God and allow for the renewing of our minds is of course through prayer.
So I am delighted that we have begun a new prayer group here at St Stephen’s, meeting every Wednesday evening to pray for the wisdom to discern our talents and the courage to use them for the building up of the kingdom of heaven upon the rock of St Peter, here in Langley Vale.
In case you can not make it on Wednesday., let us use this time now for silent prayer to listen for what God’s will for us in this place might be.
Lord, in your mercy – hear our prayer.
Sermon given by Christopher Hancock at St Stephen-on-the-Downs, Langley Vale
on 27th August, 2017.