Sermon for Petertide 2014 – St Peter’s Caversham
‘For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid;
that foundation is Jesus Christ.’ 1 Corinthians 3:11
One ‘benefit’ it might be argued of living in a house with members of ‘the younger generation’ is that from time to time they alert me to ‘things that are going on ‘out there in the real world’. So just a few days ago they drew my attention to the advertisement for paywave – that supposedly liberating mechanism for paying for all things whereby you only wave your debut card vaguely in the direction of the till and automatically money is removed from your account. Why we don’t see this as troubling in the extreme I don’t understand, but what I found compelling was the form of the advert, in which the mechanistic, indeed robotic actions of the people in the video all ground to a halt when some ‘less Advanced’ human decided to pay by cash . . . I will come back to this chilling description of the ‘Advanced’ human so mechanistically described in a moment or two.
Just this week, clergy and other members of the Diocese have been gathered at Holy Cross, Mosgiel for our annual Ministry Conference. During a lecture on the Acts 2 Church from the Revd Dr Christopher Holmes of Otago University, Father Hugh pointed out that Peter in his sermon at Pentecost breaks every rule in the preachers handbook . . . which is good news for me as your visiting preacher this morning. For of course if Peter does it, then why not me 🙂
Peter of course is a most convenient clothes horse on whom we are all invited to lay all our own failings as disciples of Jesus, and thereby to excuse them. His refusal to accept that Jesus must die which led to the most stinging rebuke from our Lord; and of course his three fold denial – these amongst other things are held up as a reminder that this ‘Rock’ is far from rocklike, and that all our failings are thereby somehow perfectly acceptable behaviour . . .
This approach however does a disservice to Peter, and I say this not as an act of politeness to your Patron Saint rather that purely to understand Peter in terms of his failings is untruthful. Peter in and through the Living word reveals his devotion to Jesus, and calls us to the same.
You will remember the incident with the Rich young man, whom turns away from Jesus’ gracious invitation to follow – Peter declares truthfully ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you’, and he has, along with the other disciples. Peter three times declares his love for Jesus, yes haltingly but with increasing exasperation as Jesus encounters him following his resurrection. That Peter loves Jesus is in no doubt . . . and for this costly love alone, I think one might well say ‘If only we had more like Peter . . .’
Not primarily because of the virtue of devotion in and of itself, but because of its focus. Peter leaves his nets, at the call of Jesus, his devotion, albeit fragile when enacted, is to Jesus, and it is for Jesus that he will at the last bear the fullest martureia, the witness to Jesus Christ at his own crucifixion at Rome.
Peter, humanly speaking is the lens through which the evangelists most sharply focus our attention on Jesus Christ. And so for this aspect of his life, his witness, we may well cry out ‘Oh that we had more Peters!!’
A further presentation during the week was from Kevin Ward from Knox College on his research into the place of religion in our national life here in New Zealand. Amongst many all too familiar statistics of decline and the inevitable rehearsal of the line ‘people are Spiritual nowadays not religious’ – for which read, we are more ‘Individuallistic’ than ever before – in the midst of this were some findings on people’s ‘spiritual’ beliefs. That there is an increase in people who believe in some sort of life after death, and in heaven, BUT that belief in a personal God was on the decline; the understanding of God as ‘spirit or life force’ was on the rise; AND Belief in ‘Jesus as Son of God’ was also in decline.
Of course, one does not need to be too close an observer of the life and liturgy of the Anglican Church in New Zealand to recognise how deeply these changes in the wider society are endemic in the life of this church. So reference to God by that name which is revealed , Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, is sidelined for the deeply impersonal ‘Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life’ – thus without a backward glance, Jesus Christ wiped from our liturgical consciousness.
Devotion to Christ becomes a rather quaint historical relic, as we shop for a psychotherapeutic, Christless and thus more advanced and ‘spiritual faith’ . And so the church withers . . . for as Jesus declares, it is precisely upon the confession of Jesus as Messiah or ‘Christ’, as the Son of the living God that the church is built, or better, that Christ himself builds his church upon that confession. The very foundation of the Church is the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord to the everlasting glory of God the Father. Without which there is no Life in the Church, for He is Her life
Now of course in focussing upon Peter’s confession, it may seem that I am coming down on the side of the confession of Christ in that age old dispute: that is ‘is it Peter or his confession upon which Christ promises to build his church?’ Not so! Peter and his confession cannot be so undone, however much we have been trained to think they can. That move, that determination to see this as ‘either-or’ is part of the philosophical undoing of word and person, of heaven and earth, of the disappearance of Sacrament – which has increasingly bedevilled [sic] the church since the late middle ages – and in that undoing denies us the very life which we seek to declare, the Only the one in whom Is Life, which is the Light of all people. The One whom the Father reveals to the faithful heart as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Our words will be shouted from the rooftops – we are our actions, we are our words. Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Son of the living God goes beyond mere words – it is lived out in his ongoing witness. Person and word woven together; and through this, Peter’s witness, Jesus declares ‘whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’. In the confession of Word of Life made flesh, the participation of heaven in Earth and Earth in heaven is revealed, most apparently to the eye of faith in the Eucharist. Everything held together.
We live in dangerous times. Those ‘Advanced’ thinkers amongst the flock who seek often with good intent to disconnect the person of Jesus of Nazareth from ‘the eternal spirit which we have come to call God’, in so doing deny our true humanity, which can Only be known in Jesus Christ. Formed from mud yet also God breathed – the pinnacle of creation, the joining place of heaven and Earth, human kind is made for fellowship with the Triune God, revealed to us in the Second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ. Where, most especially in the Church, that is denied, we who are called to reveal the truth of human existence instead leave the door wide open to those who will redescribe human being in terms of the machine. Robots in a queue with our paywave cards.
Quite literally for our part, Everything hangs together in and on the embodied confession of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of the Living God, the daily work of the Church in the pattern of St Peter.