Knowing Christ, the Pathway to Life 16 September, 2018
St Peter’s, Kaikoura
Reading: Mark 8:27-38
Loving God, open the meaning of the Bible to us in fresh and exciting way.
In Jesus name. Amen
Thank you very much for inviting me to preach on this occasion. Those of us from St Peter’s, Upper Riccarton in Christchurch have come to say thank you to those of you from St Peter’s Kaikoura for your generous support of the restoration of our earthquake damaged St Peter’s. What made your generosity even more remarkable was that you yourselves had just suffered an earthquake. It really moved us that in the midst of your own time of need, you sent us what help you could. Thank you, thank you, thank you. We have written to every church by the name of St Peter’s we can find to help us with our restoration, no small task. One parish of St Peter’s in the UK held a summer buffet lunch and sent us 400 pounds. The Cathedral Church of St Peter’s in Adelaide Australia sent us $500 while one enterprising vicar in Canada sent us a form to give him money for their restoration. There is a small church in Rome called St Peter’s but it seems our letter to them was lost in the mail because we are still to hear from the Vicar there.
There can’t be many who live in this parish who aren’t struck by its natural beauty. I always try and get a window seat on the plane to catch a glimpse of the Inward and Seaward Kaikouras. Perched here by the sea with mountains to your back if there is a more beautiful spot in God’s good earth I haven’t seen it. Mountains move us in a way that is hard to put into words.
What interests me in today’s Gospel Bible reading is the location. It could easily have been Kaikoura. The location for the Gospel drama is Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi is a city perched on the seashore with its back to the mountains and fertile plains to the west. Mark is very careful to record for us the location of today’s Gospel reading because, by naming it, he is making two points. It is a Gentile city which tells us that Jesus’ love is for all, not just for the Jews. Second, it is a place known for its shrine, carved into the stone of the mountain, to the Greek god Pan. Mark’s point is that in Jesus a new more life giving deity is in town.
Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do others say that I am?” Their answer is like multi choice or as we always called it at school, multi guess. Is the right answer: a) John the baptiser, b) Elijah, c) one of the prophets, d) the Messiah. But then Jesus gets up close and personal. Young people would say he gets in their grill. “Who do you say that I am?”
This can be a hard question for us.
But it’s okay if you aren’t there with an answer yet. Jesus is gentle with us. There is room for our doubts and our questions. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, explains how we see Jesus as divine. He writes, “When you see a great performer realising a piece of music, you are looking at one human being at the limit of their skill and concentration. All their strength, their freedom, you could even say their love, is focused on bringing to life the work and vision of another person… the composer. That has to come through, not displacing the human performer but saturating that performer’s being for the time of the performance. Now can we imagine what it might be like for a whole lifetime to be given up to the performance in that way? Because that is what we see in Jesus. His whole human life was about performing God’s love, God’s purpose without a break, without a false note… for this reason we say Jesus is God.”
Another way to frame it is who do we thank? Who do we ultimately thank for all the blessings of our life? Is it Jesus or do we thank ourselves? Is God the author of life or is it someone else? The Christian community is unique in that we are the ones who call Jesus the Christ. We are the ones who along with Peter dare to say Jesus is our Saviour, that in him we find meaning for our lives, hope for the future, and joy in the present.
Jesus goes on, having affirmed Peter’s answer, by highlighting the cost of following him.
How can the relationship of joy and peace that we find in Jesus also involve suffering and risk, surely the two cancel each other out?
There was once a small town circus and in that circus was an acrobat. His single act was to walk a tightrope without a safety net. Above the middle of the crossing was a ring soaked in petrol and set alight. Once the drums started rolling he would walk across the wire and jump through the burning ring landing on the other side, much to the delight of the crowd. He was asked about this trick. “Are you scared and why do you do it?” His answer was simple, “I am always frightened but I know my life is on the other side.”
When we follow the call of Jesus on our lives we give up our security too. Peter himself went on to die on a cross. But we know that life is found in this relationship. It is only in answering Jesus’ call on our lives that we find a friendship that truly gives us life. No other friendship except for our one with Jesus promises us life in all its fullness.
One of my favourite prayers was written by a St Richard of Chichester in 1197. I like it because it includes three beautiful images for Jesus: brother, friend and redeemer. It speaks to us of the Christian life as one of growing intimacy with Christ.
Thanks be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the blessings you have given me,
for all the pains and insults you have borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.
That is my prayer for you today.16 September 2018 – Knowing Christ the Pathway