Sermons from Rev Julie Wagstaff
Sunday 13th September
Have you ever been completely wrong about somebody? Thought they were somebody that they turned out not to be? Perhaps when you got to know them, they really disappointed you .... or turned out to be far better than you had thought or just completely different.
Have you ever wondered why your first impression has been so far off the mark? Sometimes people do set out to create an image that is misleading ........ indeed, we all do to a certain extent don’t we – we present our public persona.
But often we form an image of somebody, based upon our own bias, our own understanding. If somebody is a certain age, if they dress in a particular way, what type of accent they have, where they live, who their friends are - all these things ... and many more .... cause us to form an image – albeit perhaps unconsciously, of who a person is and what we can expect of them.
That’s what was going on with Peter. He had got it right in saying that Jesus was the Messiah but he, along with the Jewish nation, thought they knew how the Messiah, when he arrived, would behave and the things that Jesus was telling them about what was going to happen, about suffering and dying, did not match up at all to their expectations.
Peter and the other disciples had been waiting and watching for their Messiah to come and save them, they had given up everything and thrown in their lot with Jesus in the hope that he was the one. They had followed him, witnessed amazing things, seen prophecies fulfilled – ‘Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.’ But now, it seemed, that they may have got it wrong. Were they still going to trust Him, trust that he was the Messiah, their saviour and continue to follow Him?
Jesus tells Peter ‘get behind me Satan’ in other words you’ve got it wrong, you are putting the ways of the world before God’s way. Then he calls the crowd around to make sure they all understand and tells them ‘if you are going to follow me then you must allow me to take the lead, to be in front of everything else, in fact to give up your life to me – it won’t be your life any longer but my life in you – but that will be real life.
Without the life of Jesus in us we are dead. We are bound up in the ways of the world, caught up in the demands and expectations, trying to be in control, to make sense of things, to keep ourselves at the helm. It’s a bit like struggling with the tentacles of an alien creature, and the more we struggle the tighter its grip becomes. Or, in the words of the Psalmist ‘the cords of death entangled me; the grip of the grave took hold of me’... but ‘then I called upon the name of the Lord’.
It is only by knowing Jesus that we are set free to be our true selves. If we let go, if we lose our lives – that is our preoccupation with ourselves - and make Jesus our first priority, accepting that suffering may well be part of it, that being out of step with those around us and considered foolish will almost certainly be part of it, we will be free to be who we truly are – Children of God, loved beyond all measure and with the knowledge that whatever we are going through we are safe in Him, in the words of our own Canon Douglas Davies, quoting Julian of Norwich, ‘all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well’.
But first of all, we have to be prepared to answer that question that Jesus asks ‘who do you say that I am’ – nobody else can do it for us and we have to examine our long held ideas and beliefs, hold them up to the Holy Spirit and his light and be prepared to let them go if they are preventing us from meeting with the real Jesus ..... and from my understanding of today’s Gospel story it is something that we need to be constantly alert to, it’s not a one off thing – the disciples had already made their choice to follow Jesus, had been close to him through profound experiences, but they still needed to re-adjust their understanding in the light of what he was now explaining to them – something they had to continue to do during the events that were to come. The arrest, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and even following the coming of the Holy Spirit and their subsequent ministry.
What does the prophet Isaiah say in today’s OT reading? The translation from The Message says ‘He wakes me up each morning. Wakes me up, opens my ears to listen as one ready to take orders. The Master, God, opened my ears, and I didn’t go back to sleep, didn’t pull the covers back over my head. I followed orders, stood there and took it while they beat me, held steady when they pulled out my beard. Didn’t dodge their insults, faced them as they spit in my face. And the Master, God, stays right there and helps me, so I’m not disgraced.’ ..... ‘my champion is right there’.
In our NT reading James paints a picture of how to get it wrong. A vicious tongue is an outward sign of something very wrong going on inside a person – something that desperately needs the healing power of God’s grace.
We have all been on the receiving end of an unkind or thoughtless remark – and we have all said things that have hurt or upset somebody.
Either way, if we begin to allow Jesus to have his way in our lives, to transform us, then what we say will be encouraging and nourishing – even if, at times, it needs to be admonishing - and we will not be affected by the unkind and hurtful things thrown at us by the words of others, because our focus will be, not on ourselves, but on God. It isn’t after all about us – it’s about Him.
OK, perhaps that won’t be our instinctive reaction to the deadly poison of the tongue but we have a choice – we can chose to retaliate, take umbrage, remain wounded or we can chose to take the anger, the sense of injustice, the hurt to the Lord and ask for his help to heal us. If we’ve been hurt by others, we need to understand that while yes, words can hurt; Jesus can heal. In fact, the only thing more powerful than the tongue is God’s grace.
When he was insulted, Jesus kept silent. In a moment when everyone was heaping criticism upon him and speaking hateful, unfair words against him, Jesus may have been tempted to justify himself, to call down curses upon them but instead he spoke words of grace. And if Jesus spoke words of grace to those who crucified him, he has words of grace for us today. Let’s at least attempt to allow his words to direct our words. Let his grace set the course of our life, not our anger or our bitterness, not our need to be right or appear strong. We don’t have to appear strong, we have to acknowledge that we need his grace.
Peter was quite right in the conclusion he had reached about the identity of Jesus. He is the Messiah – the Christ – Son of the Living God – God himself. So he has every right, if we are to follow Him, to our total allegiance, no matter what the consequences may be.
Let’s end with a short prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living
Let us make progress in living like you
May your grace go before us and follow
Direct our thoughts and words and