The reflection below was used as part of our Morning Prayer on Sunday which you can view on our Facebook page of on this YouTube video.
Everyday through the week:
Morning Prayer at 9am and Evening Prayer at 6pm
streamed on facebook.com/parishesbythewall
Wednesday 2 September 2pm-4pm: Private Prayer
St Cuthbert’s, Haydon Bridge
Next Sunday 6 September Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
9am: Morning Prayer with Hymns and Reflection
Streamed on facebook.com/parishesbythewall
10.30am: Said Morning Prayer followed by time for Private Prayer
All Hallows’ Henshaw
10.30am: Benefice Eucharist
St Cuthbert’s Haydon Bridge
As we move into September we are beginning to develop our patterns of regular worship still further. Please look out for more information on this in the coming week.
Matthew 16: 21-28
From that time on, 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. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
You've got to feel sorry for Peter!
Sometimes when we encounter him he can’t put a foot wrong, but then sometimes that foot that seemed so sure ends up firmly in his mouth, like today when he receives the sharpest and deepest rebuke that Jesus uses in any of the Gospels.
When Jesus gives Simon the fisherman the name Peter he names him in Greek “Petros” or rock because when asked by Jesus ‘who do you say I am’ Peter correctly answers: ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Peter’s answer could not be more right; for the first time he articulates clearly the basis of all Christian faith, that Jesus Christ is Lord. But in our Gospel this week it all goes horribly wrong for Peter.
The problem is that it is all well and good knowing the right answer, but you need to know what to do with that right answer once you have accepted it. The truth that Jesus is Lord is not an abstract truth, but a fact that changes our reality, which fundamentally changes who we are and how we are asked to live. Peter’s failure to see that the truth he recognises necessarily leads to the Cross leads Jesus from praise for Peter to rebuke: Get behind me Satan.
What Jesus is teaching us here is that the truth of Christianity cannot be a static thing, an abstract truth which we realise in a moment of inspiration.
The truth of Christianity is a path we have to follow, a way we are called to live, it is the way, and the truth, and the life. Our faith, as Jesus tells us, is not simply about right and wrong, our faith it is about cross and resurrection.
This reality that we have come to live with over these months of pandemic and lock-down. We focus rightly on what is the right and wrong thing to do. Endlessly running mini-risk assessments in our head, we try to decide whether we are doing the right thing or not.
On a wider scale we judge our leaders and government on whether they did the right thing or not. Did we lock-down in time, did we open up too early. Do we need masks for this, should we be allowed to do that?
Questions of right and wrong are important, but what Jesus guides us towards in our Gospel today is that these decisions of right and wrong cannot be our single starting point. To know if something is right or wrong we need to look to the deeper pattern of relationships on which these are built.
Speaking at another time of national crisis the former Bishop of London Richard Chartres summed this up well when he said that we not only need ‘clear teaching about right and wrong’ but also to build a society where this knowledge is communicated by ‘nourishing relations’.
This is what underpins Paul’s teaching in his letter to the Romans. Taken at face value he seems to ask us to live by sets values which require a heroic standard of personal virtue:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
How many of us can truly say that by ourselves we could do that?
Well the truth is that Paul does not expect us to do this alone. These are not a set of abstract rules to live by, but the characteristics of a community which lives by the defining term of Paul’s teaching: to live in a community of nourishing relations in which love is genuine.
To live in a community which, following the words from earlier in the same chapter of the book of Romans, “is one body in Christ, individually…members one of another”.
As we begin to take stock of these past few months and the world it has created we will naturally and rightly ask whether decisions which were made were right or wrong. Was it right to move people so quickly to care homes, was it right to maintain certain levels of public movement, was it right to limit peoples freedoms so deeply to protect others from an unknown and unseen threat?
But these adjudications of right and wrong will only take us some of the way. The deeper truth is what patterns of relationship informed these decisions. Were we seeing others a members one of another, part of the rich tapestry of personal nourishment and growth. Or were other people commodities, problems to solve, and challenges for us to overcome as we looked chiefly and firmly at our own interests?
On this deeper question Jesus is clear. The deeper pattern Jesus calls us to live is one where we recognise the absolute dignity and beauty in the others we are called to serve. So much so that in serving them we might follow his pattern and take up our cross, and walk this new way of living.
As we look to the world beyond this pandemic our call as the Church is not simply to look to whether decision were right or wrong, but question the deep patterns of our society and show in the pattern Christ sets out for his Church this new way of living one for each other.
All of these acts build up a tapestry of love and care, they show to world needing to find a new way of living what it is to be part of a community of nourishing relations, built one for another.
However we are called to live out our vocation as Church we need to continually take up the cross and follow Jesus, not simply because we have found out what is right, but because we know that it leads to a new way of living, that leads us in our world, and in our faith to restoration and resurrection.
Questions for personal reflection
- What things do you think have been right or wrong in these last months?
- What relationships have nourished you?
- How can we build on these relationships into the future?
Collect for Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
God of constant mercy,
who sent your Son to save us:
remind us of your goodness,
increase your grace within us,
that our thankfulness may grow,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Please keep in your prayers: Those in need… Lesley Towers, Dorothy Hartley, Margaret McAllister, Allan Munns, David Lench, Sue Cantwell, June Henriksen.
Those who have died…. Dorothy Furlong