Homily for 27th August 2023
Texts: Romans 12: 1-8, Matthew 16: 13-20
Quite recently I did a baptism and afterwards needed to take down the details for the Baptism Register which include the occupations of the parents. The father told me to write down ‘retired’ which I knew was only true in part. Yes, he had retired from a truly prestigious and incredibly demanding job in a very large and successful firm with a world-wide reputation and was now content to be a visiting professor at one of the London universities while at the same time building up his own company. But for him that day as his daughter was baptised what the outside world knew him to be was of no consequence; this baptism was not about him it was about his daughter.
For some people who they are, the position they have attained, the size of the hat they wear, and who they are conceived to be by others are all hugely important. In this very ego centred world fame and fortune can become overwhelming goals; humility is not it would seem a greatly prized virtue. And I think if we are honest most of us have a secret pride in at least some aspect of our lives although at the same time we may actually, unlike so many others, be able to boast the humility which ensures that our secret pride does not become generally known except to God himself.
Today’s gospel reading is all about who exactly Jesus is. What would go down as his occupation on any official form. And, being Jesus, he does not choose to answer the question himself as to who he is but looks for an answer from his disciples. ‘But who do you say I am?’ Already the disciples have told him what others think but it is their response he is truly interested in; what have they learned from being his chosen and closest companions about his true nature. And it is Peter, dear old impetuous and innately flawed Peter who recognises the truth and blurts out: ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Wow! What a moment that must have been as all the disciples but most especially I think Peter himself take in this astounding revelation which has been given to Peter. This Jesus who to others might just appear to be just another member of the human race albeit a very special, very gifted member is so much more than this. Just as the father at that baptism was so much more than merely ‘retired’ so Jesus is infinitely more than just a man. Jesus is indeed the Son of God, The Messiah, the Beloved, sent to redeem and save God’s children; sent to redeem and save each one of us and reveal the infinite love that God has for each one of us.
Today of course there are plenty who would dispute this claim and question that Jesus could not possibly be the Son of God. A prophet, a healer, a preacher, a role model, yes, but the Son of God, no. But with Peter’s testimony and with our own acquired faith we will shortly be declaring our belief that Jesus is also the Christ, the Saviour, the Son of God. We can’t prove it as scientists prove or disprove theories but does that matter? To me it’s having the faith and having the confidence given by the power of the Holy Spirit to echo Peter’s words: ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
But having proclaimed that faith is more required of us as it was of Peter? Peter’s resounding declaration led to his becoming the rock on which Christ’s church was built. The rock which has stood firm through two thousand millennia. I don’t suppose for a minute that at that moment when given this responsibility Peter had a clue what might be involved but what we do know is that after the death and glorious resurrection of Christ Peter did indeed do all in his power to feed Christ’s sheep, feed Christ’s lambs with the incomparable sustenance of the gospel, the good news of God’s redeeming work realised through the life and death of Jesus Christ his Son.
What are we going to write as our occupation when maybe we make our application for a place in God’s kingdom. And I am sure like me you could think of a number of occupations that you have done or indeed still do to write in that blank space, but which one does God really want to see written there? Some I suggest might think that the word ‘Sinner’ should be the one written shamefacedly but although this would be a true description of all of us I personally am sure this is not the one God wants to see. No, the one I think he would most like to see is Child of God. Child of God where we recognise with all humility the amazing truth that God has indeed adopted each and every one of us as his beloved child. And as his beloved children, united as one body, we are called to respond to that loving presence in our lives with love. Love for God, our Father, love for all God’s other children. We are called as Peter himself writes to ‘have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart and a humble mind.’ And in addition to these our Romans reading urges us to have among other attributes generosity, compassion and cheerfulness Unity of Spirit, sympathy, love, a tender heart, a humble mind, generosity, compassion and cheerfulness not qualifications which today’s ambitious and ego centred world would even begin to consider but ones which we are certainly called to have if we can designate ourselves Children of God.
If we were asked who we were I doubt if any of us would have the courage to proudly announce we are indeed Children of God partly through humility at making such a boast but also fearing the disbelief and ridicule such a reply might well elicit. But that is what we are and even if we are unwilling to personally proclaim this let us pray that by our actions, by our way of living and by our acts of love others might be called to realise the truth and write the words for us.
Rev’d Virginia Smith 27th August 2023