ST MICHAEL & All ANGELS CHURCH
(Church of England)
St Michael's Green,
Sermon / Talk given by Rev’d Camilla Walton Calling and Vision for St Michaels.
Talk 30th August 2014
(Matthew 16:21) “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
In the passage from Matthew’s Gospel immediately before the section we read today, Peter is commended and called “the Rock”, by Jesus for naming him as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v.16). He is the first to grasp and confess the “plot” of who Jesus really is.
Peter has grasped the role of Jesus,
his mission of bringing God into the now. He has grasped the vision of God played out by incarnation.
Jesus is God incarnate present in the world not just a holy man . He is THE messiah, not son of God as representing a holy person.
Moving on to today’s reading we find a marked contrast. Jesus starts to speak to his disciples for the first time about the necessity of the terrible suffering and death that he must shortly undergo in Jerusalem. The disciples’ shock is understandable: nowhere in the Old Testament was there any suggestion that the Messiah would die a shameful, criminal’s death. But when Peter rebukes Jesus, far from a commendation from the Lord, he is told, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me.”
In order to fulfill the Vision of God by incarnation the Messiah, Jesus, must know and act upon his calling to redeem mankind. The vision of God to redeem us is to be achieved by Jesus responding to his calling to be something particular. For him this was to be Gods son, the Messiah and to live out what that particular calling meant for him.
Peter is trying to affirm Jesus’ role as Messiah, but he has yet to understand what the Messiah came to achieve. He sees the role as it was popularly thought: establishing a politically independent Israel in which the Jewish people could worship their God in freedom.
He has not grasped the depth of Jesus’ work of dealing with the sin of all humanity, nor the length to which he must go to achieve it. So, ironically, Peter’s words echo those of the devil, the tempter, in Matthew 4 as he distracts Jesus away from his allotted path. The man who had been called “the Rock”, is now called a “stumbling-block”: a rock in the middle of the road over which Jesus might trip up.
Meanwhile, it is imperative for Jesus that this suffering must take place. (v.21) Indeed this is not a mere human imperative, “it must happen because it’s very important that it does”; this is a divine imperative: “it must happen and it certainly will happen!” this is his calling…….. to be acted upon
At this point Jesus does not go into the reasons why he must suffer the fact of his suffering is sufficient for now. And he goes on to draw out its implications for the disciples as they continue to follow him with the words, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”.
Again this saying may not have meant much to the disciples until after Jesus’ death, but at this point it would probably have challenged and puzzled them, thinking, as they were, of Jesus’ mission in political terms and probably imagining they stood a good chance of attaining some high office in his administration.
Their minds are set “not on divine things but on human things”. They have, like Peter, not got the meaning of Jesus’s teaching or call.
‘If anyone want to become my followers let them take up their cross and follow me’
In our time the challenging force of Jesus’ words can also be lost. People speak of something relatively trivial, some mild annoyance or discomfort, as “a cross I have to bear”.
Or they speak of some deeper challenge of life or illness as their cross……… But do either of these things bear justice to Jesus’ strange and frightening invitation:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
The cross, signifies not just an agonising death but also shame and humiliation. It signifies a discipline and dedication not often found in our culture today.
For us to carry our cross, therefore, implies that we are prepared to bear witness to Christ crucified, and to bear the shame, hostility and mockery that others may heap on us, for the sake of the Gospel.
It means being counter cultural by valuing the discipline of that decision to ‘be a Christian’
This means putting aside our desire to make Jesus into our kind of Messiah, following our storyline.
We may not be thinking like 1st centaury Palestinians in our expectations of Jesus’ call but may be we do still err on the side of projecting upon him and God what following means.
Putting aside our desires and ideas means following his plot, rather than ours. So we become stepping stones not stumbling blocks. Peter came to understand this and ultimately lived out this “plot” to the full, even to death.
Today some Christians are paying the price of mockery, violence and death because of following Christ. Right now people are persecuted for their faith and we pray for them that God will surround them with strength and protect them.
For us I don’t’ think we will be taken to our death for our discipleship. But that does not excuse us from our calling.
But what is our calling? Here in St Michaels what does Jesus call us to when we say we will follow him?
We are not The messiah, we are not Peter the Rock, but we say we are his people………… What are his people?
I spoke at the beginning of this that God had a vision for the world that he set about achieving by the messiah. The calling to Jesus was to save mankind from Sin and to point us all to relationship with God and with one another.
I believe God has a vision for us and I can in part guess what that is: it must surely include:
A willingness to stay close to God in prayer,
A willingness to listen and to be prepared to be working at our spiritual calling as well as our practical lives.
A willingness to act in the world to be agents of transformation….
Following Christ signifies a decision to listen to the calling for ourselves and our lives from God for now. Which may be different from last year or next, or a may be a period of time like the work and calling of Jesus, but following Jesus means following God’s call upon our lives.
As we get close to the start of our centenary celebrations please will you pause and pray about your calling.
Maybe to start afresh, to start something new
Maybe to start listening spiritually for the first time.
I will be offering you a vision for this church centenary and future in the coming month for us to pray for and work upon together. Please look out for it and help me make sure it is written from God’s point of view and not from mine or from the worlds.
And then I hope we will all work out what following Christ will mean to each of us as we find our calling to take up our cross and follow him – today, tomorrow and for the future.