Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 27 August 2023.
• First Reading: Exodus 1: 6 – 2: 10 (Moses hidden at home then placed in a basket in the Nile. Rescued by daughter of Pharoah)
• Epistle: Romans 12: 1-6 (Do not conform to the pattern of this world, be transformed by the renewing of the mind)
• Gospel: Matthew 16: 13-20 (Who do you say that I am? Peter’s declaration of faith. You are Peter and on this rock I will build My church)
The pressures to conform can be suffocating. As a child I was hopeless at soccer – and all other ball games, so I was already a misfit.
Growing up I saw the popularity of CND – nobody really objected to Russian nuclear weapons – and since then it has been human generated – that is, white capitalist – or English speaking interests that are responsible for all instances of climate anomaly.
Then there are Me Too and Black Lives Matter. And you question these at your peril – especially if you are active on social media.
In the past, countries had their won compulsory opinions. Reformation Scotland would not have been an easy place for free-thinkers, and come to that Nazi Germany and Communist regimes were not known for their tolerance of alternative opinions.
So yes, the pressures to conform to the current social, political or cultural doctrines can be suffocating.
Picture then the resistance to the orders of Pharoah to the Jewish midwives that all Jewish boys be killed at birth. See also their determination to resist these orders, at some considerable personal risk.
They may not have had the 10 commandments but they knew an evil order when they heard one and they resisted anyway with vaguely plausible excuses. But God saw and rewarded them anyway.
Then picture the desperate anxiety of Moses’ mother as he grew and started crying and laughing as a baby. The fear of being found out or being betrayed. There would always be some tempted by money.
Eventually it became too much – for her own peace of mind and the safety of the household as much as the safety of the baby. So new measures were put in hand and he was launched into the waters of the Nile delta.
The rest would be up to the Lord. And yes, rescue came in the shape of the daughter of Pharoah. The rest we know.
Living dangerously had become part of the lives of the Jewish people, when put to work making mud bricks. Some of them are still around today because there is no rain in Egypt and what would have been washed away in a Scottish summer is still there to be seen a few thousand years later.
Now look at Jesus’ time out with the disciples.
So: “What do they say about Me? Who am I said to be?”
“Well, there are the prophets, a holy man, doer of good and great preacher.”
“OK. That’s the vox pop. And what about you? What do you say?”
A shifty silence. A bit or rustling. That piece of stonework looks really interesting. And it is a nice day, isn’t it?
Simon breaks. He can’t stand the tension. He has to speak out. “You are the Anointed One – the Christ. Son of the Living God.” How else to explain the healings, the deliverances, the walking on water, multiplying of loaves and fishes, stilling of storms?
Oh Simon, you really have done it, haven’t you. You have now let the cat out of the bag. This cannot be withdrawn. You are committed. No going back.
You could have kept quiet, continued to think about it, kept your counsel. Many do, even those who have seen and heard the same things as you.
And this is not going to change down the years. In every generation there will be people who rely on their good works, an occasional smile to a stranger, a donation to a street person and of course the almost compulsory badges of honour for contributing to some establishment charity.
But no, keep religion out of it. This is a private matter. Far more private than sex. Don’t stand out or make a fool of yourself.
But Jesus’ question was not what do you feel about Me? What do you think about Me? How do you assess the output of biblical scholars and critics?
No: it is about what do you say when you have the chance to do so? (And those chances may not come as regularly as you might think – not in general or polite social circles, anyway)
Keep the conversation safe. Talk about poverty, the arts, babies and children, education and health. Even the church. Anything except about Jesus and who and what He is.
You can talk about His teaching and miracles. The life of the early church. Just don’t upset non-believers, agnostics, and certainly not other world religions.
And there are plenty of other things to talk about: poverty, climate change, global trade, global security – anything except about Jesus and who He was, and is.
Paul says that we are to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God. It also applies to our minds, our thinking and our speaking.
It applies to our willingness to speak out. It is the mainspring of all our work in the church. And no there is no substitute for who Jesus is and what He has done.
And for the avoidance of doubt, He really is the Son of the Living God: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.