The 11th Sunday after Trinity
Matthew 16: 13 – 20
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Any of us who have had children will remember them reaching the stage in their developments when they started to ask questions! It begins very soon after they find their wee voices. What’s that? That’s a spoon! Who’s that? That’s Terry Wogan! Where’s that? That’s the back of beyond and you don’t want to go there! Why’s that? Just because! And on and on and on it goes from dawn to dusk, from one end of the house to the other, as they learn new words, make new discoveries and get their own particular handle on this big, wide world that they are going to grow up in.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus, the ace poser of questions, asks his disciples a stoatir as he checks to see if they’ve worked out who he is and what he’s about. He asks: “who do you say that I am?” And as quick as a flash good old Simon Peter blasts out: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” It’s a fantastic answer – and Jesus thinks it’s a fantastic answer too, so much so that he calls Simon Peter “blessed” for it! I’m sure we’d be no different to Simon Peter if Jesus were to ask us to tell him who we thought he was. I’m sure we’d come out with a string of answers like: “you, Lord, are… wonderful counsellor, prince of peace, Son of God incarnate, the ground and source of all being, the word existing beyond time, both source and final purpose, bringing to wholeness all that is made, the word made flesh, the Lamb of God, the Redeemer, the Saviour of the world. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear any of those answers coming from any one of us because, for people of faith, that is precisely who Jesus is.
But Jesus goes on to pose another question today and it’s a harder one. He wants to know: “who do THE PEOPLE say that the Son of Man is?” Who do THE PEOPLE say he is?” And did you notice? The answer he got was a lot more reticent, a lot more sticky, a lot more tentative as if the disciples are struggling to come up with an answer. Some, they say, think he’s John the Baptist… fumble, fumble… Others, they say, think he’s Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets… scrabble, scrabble. It’s clear they’re not so confident at answering that one. And I suspect we’d be the very same. “Who do the people of today say that the Son of Man is?” It’s a good question and it’s one that I’m going to ask us to think about for the next few moments.
Go into any school these days and ask: “Do you know who Jesus is?” And I guarantee, the vast majority of children will look blank. They’ll maybe have heard the name, they’ll maybe know he’s some figure from the past, but they won’t have a clue who he really is because we are now, in the words of the psalmist, “unto a third or fourth generation” of slippage away from Christianity as the dominant, practised faith of this country and Jesus is a stranger to most youngsters.
Or, enter the company of any group of social progressives and ask: “Who is Jesus?” And the vast majority of them will say he’s a conservative figure, rooted in the past, and that he no longer has any relevance in today’s fast, forward moving, free thinking, individualistic and secular world. Jesus is an obstacle to social progressives and so he is to be avoided, ignored at all costs.
Or, speak to the poor and needy, the lonely and the desperate, and ask: “Who is Jesus?” And, if their experience of church has been a negative one, they’ll reply that he is the figure-head of a middle class, private club, which looks after itself rather than the less fortunate and that it channels its energies into serving itself rather than serving others.
Who do THE PEOPLE say that the Son of Man is? What a question that is for today’s world. And we Christians have a huge role in helping the people to find out. What is clear to me is that we’ll never achieve that if we peddle platitudes to our young people, if we moralise and judge the secular, if we perpetuate a model of church that resembles a holy huddle or a 1940s bubble. Instead I believe we have to focus on the outstanding humanity of Jesus and the utter genius of his upside down kingdom. I believe we have to work with the secular and offer humbly the alternative vision that Jesus gives. I believe we have to take a leaf out of our master’s book and become servants again, yes of one another, but more importantly of the entire community that lies round about us, beyond the holy walls of our churches. And I believe we need to do all of that urgently, creatively, intelligently, communally, using all the resources of technology and communication at our disposal, working together to uncover the kingdom already at work, doing our utmost to be a personal, living example of who and what the Son of Man is TO and IN us.
If we do that well I believe the people of today will want to ask questions. And if, by asking questions, they just happen to discover Jesus and get a handle on the kingdom of God, then we will have done our duty, we will have fulfilled our vocation, we will have played our part.
The Revd Canon Drew Sheridan
Lord Jesus, you ask us: “Who do you and the people say that you are?” With that challenging question in mind and with you very much on our hearts we lift up our prayers for others according to their needs.
Lord Jesus, you are the Prince of Peace. Send your peace into our troubled world, and especially to those nations currently at war, remembering in particular at this time the on-going plight of the people of The Yemen. Send your calming spirit into areas of turmoil, to temper violence, to still aggression. Send your restoring love to those who have lost lives, homes, everything in places where natural disaster has struck.
Lord, Prince of Peace, hear our prayer.
Lord Jesus, you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Give the spirit of your wisdom, love and courage to those in leadership positions in the church. Give your reviving presence to congregations struggling in these times of pandemic. Give your energising grace to Christian communities eager to reach out in mission. Give your blessing to Kevin our Bishop and the people our Diocese, that they may be strengthened in faith, renewed in witness, emboldened in outreach.
Lord, Messiah, Son of the living God, hear our prayer.
Lord Jesus, you are the healer, the restorer of all that is. Touch with your healing hand those known to us here who are passing through difficult, anxious, painful times: Christine, Ian, Les, Sam, Olive, Chris, Bill, Joyce, Ann, John, Avril, Helga, Colin, Margaret. Send healing and wholeness into their bodies, minds and spirits.
Lord, healer and restorer of all that is, hear our prayer.
Lord Jesus, you are the resurrection and the life. As we commend to you once again the souls of David, Graham, Steven and Sadie, so we ask you to fill us with the vision of the heavenly bliss promised to them and to all who love and follow you. In that place of eternal peace and joy we leave them and all our loved ones departed this life in the hope of resurrection to eternal life.
Lord, resurrection and life, hear our prayer.
Lord Jesus, son of God incarnate, Redeemer, Saviour of the World, carry these and all our prayers to the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.