Completed sermon notes for Aug 21st
As some of you know I have been on holiday this last week, so this sermon had to be written a week early, for once. As I was writing it, the news was full of the riots and looting in London and various other cities. Whatever else has happened in the intervening week, I’m sure the riots are still fresh in our minds.
Paul’s letter to the Romans, with it’s call to 'Be transformed not conformed' feels like the good news many people need to hear as we contemplate what makes the think veneer of society break down so dramatically. Don’t follow the crowd, and be conformed but allow God’s love to change you: be transformed.
There have been many theories as to why the disturbances have happened, and I’m sure there isn’t one simple answer. But I saw struck by three comments in particular I heard from people at the centre of areas of trouble.
A mother in Manchester stated “if you treat them like scum, they’ll act like scum”
A resident of Tottenham reflected “these boys in gangs have no sense of belonging or self-worth, except what’s given to them by belonging to a gang”.
And someone caught looting a shop brazenly said ‘I can afford this stuff, but if you can take it for free, you’re going to, aren’t you?’
It is awful to see violence and arson, to hear reports of people losing homes and livelihoods and even lives in the face of what looks like mindless violence. And it is shocking to hear that at the core of some of this there is such a sense of despair and true poverty - the sort of poverty of thought which says you are only worth something if you own the right goods, or belong to the right gang, or are paid huge sums or treated like a celebrity.
- it's time for the church to speak out about what really makes people happy & to stand out against consumerism - not just moaning about 'the state of the world' but offering an alternative.
Maybe we need Peter’s honesty & forthrightness to speak to the world.
Here we are, back with Peter in our Gospel reading. Despite the confidence-inspiring nickname – the Rock – there has always seemed to me to be something very human about Peter – more rocky than Rock.
Last time we ‘met’ Peter in the lectionary he was acting before thinking – jumping out of the boat to join Jesus walking on the water.
In today’s reading we meet another example of Peter’s impetuousness – as well as someone who acts before thinking, Peter is also, it seems, is a blurter-out of what’s in his head.
When Jesus asks ‘who do you say that I am,’ the others disciples don’t have much to say. They’ve been quick enough to talk about what other people have been saying, but when they are suddenly asked what they think, they go very quiet. You can imagine finger-nails being examined, clothing being picked at for imaginary fluff and sandals being drilled into the floor.
But Peter splurges ‘You are the Messiah, the son of the living God’. He must have glowed with pride to hear Jesus respond ‘Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah’.
Perhaps it is Peter’s very humanity, his ability to be open to what God can do for him and through him, and his readiness to speak out that makes him the Rock on which Jesus can build his church.
Jesus chooses an ordinary person – perhaps better at using his heart than his head – and definitely fallible and imperfect. This is Peter - a rock in the sight of Jesus – someone Jesus will take and teach and forgive and fashion into a stable foundation.
As well as exhorting us to be forthright like Peter, you might be wondering whether what Peter says has any relevance to our troubled world. I think it has.
Peter says to Jesus ‘You are the Messiah, the son of the living God’.
In Jesus Peter sees God beside him – speaking with him, healing the wounds of the world, listening to what Peter has to say.
If one of the great ills of our world is a lack of self-worth and a vacuum where there should be a sense of value, our own value or the values of others; then here is the Good News for that situation. Every single person – every young person, unemployed person, black person, every old person, disabled person, overlooked person. Every single one of us can know God alongside us – not as a vague sense of good, or even as a moral compass to help us steer clear of trouble – but as a loving friend, a guiding Spirit, a heavenly Father.
I can think of no better word of Hope than the word ‘Love’. Yes, it is love which binds families and communities together and enables them to re-group and re-build. But first comes the love of God – the love which would hold each one of us like a precious child and which whispers ‘you matter. I care’.
This is what produces the transformation that Paul writes to the Romans about – this is the love which changes and enhances and empowers lives.
As we give thanks to God for the Rock which is Peter, let’s also give thanks for the God who by the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ can take each one of us, rocky as we may be, and build us up into the body of Christ, the church founded on Peter, God’s agents in the world. The people who are here to declare to the world – you are loved and precious.
To God’s praise and glory