Thursday, August 10, 2023

A rather rocky place on which to build...

 Matthew 16. 13.23 & Numbers 20.1-13

Poor old Peter.  He so often got things wrong didn't he?  He cut off the ear of a guard who was arresting Jesus, and got soundly told off for it.  He failed to keep his eyes on Jesus when walking on the water, and had to be rescued.  He denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed, and had to make amends three times for his sin.  And in today's Gospel reading, Jesus compared him to Satan - because he refused to accept what Jesus was saying about the necessity of his forthcoming death.

And yet, this same, failing, apparently incompetent man is the Rock on whom Jesus said he would 'build his church'.  This same, failing, apparently incompetent man is the one to whom Jesus gave the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven - as depicted in the stained glass image of Peter to the right of our High Altar.

Peter gives me hope.  Because whilst I know you all think I am totally infallible and incapable of error (!), I know different.  I know that inside the charade of competence that I show to the world, I'm actually a complete mess.  Much of the extended time off that I had last year was a result of me not being quite so well put-together as I had thought. 

I think Jesus called Simon Peter 'the Rock' as a bit of a joke.  It would have been more like calling him ‘Rocky’ than ‘the Rock’.  The evidence of the Gospels is that Peter was anything but the steady, dependable type of person which the title of 'Rock' suggests.  He was flaky, he changed his mind a lot, he got the wrong end of the stick, frequently.  I think that when Jesus called Simon 'Rocky' for the first time, he had a great big grin on his face.  It would like someone describing me as 'skinny'!

This understanding of Peter should serve to give all of us hope.  Let's notice that Jesus said 'on this rock I will build my church'.  The growth of the church does not rely on me, thank God.  It does not rely on you - even though many of you are brilliant at building the Kingdom, in lots of different ways.  The growth of the church, and the work of the Kingdom, is Jesus' sacred task.  It is Jesus who will build his church.  Not me, not you, not even the amazing Sandra!  It's Jesus.  He is the author and perfector of our faith.  And he is the architect and master-builder of the church.

This, incidentally, is the lesson of our Hebrew Bible reading of today, from the Book of Numbers.  We saw Moses doing miraculous signs, by striking a rock with his staff and casuing water to gush forth.  Of course, it wasn’t Moses who performed this miracle, it was God, acting through Moses…a man who himself was anything but perfect.  He had murdered an Egyptian soldier, taking the law into his own hands.  And, later he had lost trust in God’s ability to deliver the Israelites from the desert.  For his failures, God said that it would not be Moses who would lead the people into the promised land…quite a punishment after a lifetime of speaking for God and leading the people.  But surely, God’s point was that it was God who was leading the people.  It was God who was building a nation, not Moses.  These were to be the people of God, not the people of Moses…and yet, God used Moses, another ‘rocky’ individual, to bring about his purposes.

What does this mean for us, in practical terms?  It means, perhaps, returning to a modern cliche which has lost some of its currency and power in recent years, through over-use and parody.  But I think this cliche still has value.  I'm talking about the old saying 'What would Jesus do?' - expressed on the wristbands and necklaces of thousands of young Christians in the 1980s.  Incidentally, in those days, my daughter used to wear a t-shirt with the phrase ‘who would Jesus bomb?’ which is a very thought-provoking question. 

‘What would Jesus do?’ is a pretty easy question to ask, in every situation, isn't it?  And its still an important question to ask of any effort new effort to 'build the church'.  If any church, and especially our little corner of the church, is to be built by Jesus (as he promised), then it needs to be built on the principles Jesus lived and taught.

When we consider the benefits of the latest money-making wheeze, let's ask 'What would Jesus do?'  That's what our PCC did a couple of years ago, when we turned down an offer to join to 'Postcode Lottery'.  We believed that fundraising via a professional gambling syndicate wasn't what Jesus would do. 

When we are thinking about where to focus our small resources of time and money, what do we ask?  'What would Jesus do?'   How much time do we spend on administration, versus how much time we spend directly engaging with our neighbours in need?  The question helps us to find some balance.  How much of the money God has blessed us with, individually, do we spend on ourselves, on our comfort, on our recreation – and how much do we give for the task of building God’s church?  Because, while it is God who does the building, he does so only in co-operation with ‘rocky’ individuals like me and you.

And it's a great maxim to apply in our personal lives, too. 

Someone has upset me.  Should I rage, or forgive? 'What would Jesus do?'. 

I've inherited a lot of money.  Should I hoard it, or use it generously for the Kingdom?  'What would Jesus do?'. 

I think you get the point.

The Rock on which Jesus builds his church is not one man, from 2,000 years ago.  It's every person who serves Jesus as Lord, and follows his ways.  Jesus said he could build his church on pretty messed up guy called Simon Peter.  But Peter (and Moses before him) stands for you and for me.  Jesus can build his church on anyone who is willing to let him use them and lead them, however much we fail, in the sacred task of building the Church of God.  Amen.    

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