Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 12 September 2021.
• First Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a (The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue)
• Psalm 116: 1-8
• Epistle: James 3: 1-12 (Controlling the tongue: we praise our Lord and Father, we curse human beings)
• Gospel: Mark 8: 27-38 (Who do people say that I am? But what of you? Who do you say that I am?)
One of the effects of the pandemic has been to close down many of those occasional encounters. The sense in which we now keep our distance from one another also means that we talk to eachother less, and when we do then the conversations are often brief and polite but functional.
There is less social meeting and even what meetings there are have become stilted and awkward.
But gathering together is still important for getting to know one another and for maintaining those friendships. It is here that we obtain the local and personal news, we hear the jokes and get to share each other’s trials and triumphs.
So it is interesting that when challenging the disciples about who and what Jesus really was, He first asked them about what others said about Him.
What’s the gossip? What is the received opinion? The official and the unofficial versions?
Today there are also many opinions on who and what Jesus was – and is. There are books to be read, university and other courses to be followed up, essays to be written and of course the various dramas to be watched.
These go from the mystery plays of old to the satirical Jesus Christ Superstar, in which Jesus was the accidental victim and the real hero was Judas Iscariot.
There is the Man born to be King by Dorothy Sayers and Pasolini’s and Zeffirelli’s films on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
So yes, there is plenty of room for other people’s opinions and stories. But Jesus was not satisfied with this and so the question moved on:
And what about you? You have been Jesus’ intimate disciples and followers, you have heard the teaching and seen the miracles, you have heard the debates with the scribes and Pharisees, where do you stand in all this?
Now the challenge had moved away from others peoples’ opinions to their personal convictions. Now it was personal and indeed intimate.
Now they would have to commit themselves and be seen to do so.
And what was true then is true in every generation and every man’s and woman’s life. The Jesus of the academics and the playwrights, the film-makers and the novelists would have to give way to the personal. It is not what others say and believe about Jesus but about what each person in their heart of hearts believes.
Each of us meets Jesus in our own way, but it is still the same Jesus whom we meet – in every age and in every land.
But each of us is also challenged to make our reply: who is Jesus for me? How do and will I respond to all that I have seen and heard? And what will I say to others – or will I keep quiet?
And so Peter launched forth. He had launched forth as a fisherman into uncertain waters, not knowing what kind of catch he would land.
Now he was launching forth again but for even greater stakes. Now he was speaking for himself, but finding that his voice also spoke for the other disciples.
But there would be no going back – like a lifeboat on a launching ramp, once released from the moorings, Peter was going to be committed.
And so Peter spoke up: Jesus was not just a prophet, and certainly not a revived John the Baptist. He was far more than a travelling preacher and miracle-worker. No, Jesus was and is unique in all of creation, all of space and time.
Jesus was indeed the messiah of God, the anointed One, the Son of David, but greater in all respects and dimensions.
In this Jesus indeed honoured Peter, but there was something more in store.
To be the Messiah of God was far more than to being a wandering preacher who enjoyed winding up the scholars and law-pronouncers.
It would lead Jesus – and the rest of the disciples into areas of physical and spiritual conflict, and in the end it would put all of them in hazard of their lives.
There would be denial, betrayal, arrest, torture and flogging, abuse and absurdity before it was all over – and even then nothing would be over, indeed it would just be starting.
To see in Jesus the Messiah of God was to see also a vocation to a new and different way of life. Where He was leading then they would follow.
They also would find opposition even to the point of death. They would also find that besides Jesus nothing else was of any meaning or value. Nothing was ever going to hold that authenticity or reality. No note would ever ring true and no love would ever be as far-reaching or consuming.
Nothing else would offer them the vision of the glory and beauty of God, the fulness of His holiness and the security of His calling. No being or doctrine would ever rival the kingdom of God – even if many were going to try as hard as they could.