Building on the Rock – Christopher Hancock Sermon on Matthew 16:13-20

Image result for peter you are the rock

Readings for Proper 16A

Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

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.

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Shiny happy people – sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration

Readings  

Daniel 7:9-10,13-14

2 Peter 1:16-19

Luke 9:28-36

 

You know what it’s like when someone looks different

They’re beaming

Perhaps they have had good news

Perhaps they are pregnant

Perhaps they are in love

Perhaps both

You see them differently – they are changed – transformed

The outward appearance reveals an inner, hidden secret

That is what is going on here

The secret of Jesus being the Messiah cannot be hidden any longer

Peter has already guessed it: earlier in this chapter we read:

Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘the anointed one’, [in Greek, the Christ; in Hebrew, the Messiah] of God.’ (Lk 9:18-20)

But having been revealed as the Messiah, Jesus has a warning for them:

Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  (Lk  9:23-26)

We had a foretaste of the Son of man coming in Glory at the end of time in our reading from the prophet Daniel

As I watched, thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One[d] took his throne;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;

I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.

 

So now when we see Jesus transformed, with his face shining like the sun (says Matthew) and clothes dazzling white (whiter than bleach could make them says Mark) the disciples should be thinking perhaps of the prophesy of Daniel

Instead Peter is thinking of Moses in the desert in Exodus on a mountain receiving the 10 commandments from God and having his face shine having seen God

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God (Ex 34:29).

Peter sees Moses and Elijah and so starts thinking in OT terms about building tents for them

But this is not a return of Moses and tabernacles and the old laws

We are in the world of the prophesies of the coming of the Messiah

We are in the book of Daniel not Exodus

This is made clear when we hear that a cloud appears – the clouds of heaven.

If we were in any doubt then we have a voice from heaven to tell us – this is my beloved son – listen to him.

The disciples are terrified

In Matthew’s account:

When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. (Mt 17:6-7)

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. (Mt 17:6-7)

How do they react to this dramatic encounter – do they go and tell the world that the Messiah has arrived?

When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Disappointing

 

Well what are we to make of this?

Where are we in the story?

Surely we are the disciples?  As in 2 Peter – the “eyewitnesses”

Perhaps, like them, we have difficulty in recognising Jesus as our saviour

Perhaps, like them, we have difficulty telling people about our experience of God in Jesus Christ – though I know we all have those experiences

The good news from the Gospels is that this secret cannot be hidden

The truth as revealed by Jesus that God is love – the ultimate creating, renewing, restoring power in the universe, cannot be kept a secret

We will shortly meet with one another and with Christ in our holy Communion

We will meet with Jesus, face to face

Is it a co-incidence that the communion wafer is a gleaming, shining white circle like a face?

And as we receive Christ into ourselves should we not let that shining become a part of us?

Let ourselves be transformed by the knowledge of the love of God?

So that it shines out into the world through our faces and through our lives

So that people will look at us and say:

“you look different, what has changed?”   Amen

Sermon given by Christopher Hancock for the Feast of the Transfiguration at St Martin’s Epsom and St. Stephen-on-the-Downs, Langley Vale (6th August, 2017)