Keeping Faith

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Opening Hymn

Reading: Matthew 16:13-20 (NLT)

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

20 Then he sternly warned the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Sermon

Simone Biles is an outstanding American gymnast. She has won 30 Olympic and World Championship medals. She is the third most decorated gymnast of all time and has invented gymnastics moves that no one had tried before. When someone that special comes along, of course the comparisons to other sporting greats begin. But when asked about this, she simply said: “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.”

I was reminded of that by the exchange between Jesus and his friends in our Gospel today. Who do people say that the Son of Man is, Jesus asks, and his disciples list John the Baptist, Elijah and Jeremiah or another such prophet. All these people were recognised by those around them as special – they were people who had spoken God’s life-giving words to them at various times in Israel’s history. In Jesus, people saw this same divine life at work.

And then Jesus asks again. His wording changes, though, and rather than an impersonal third person enquiry – who do people say the Son of Man is – his question is intimate, relational, personal: But who do you say I am?

His disciples had been travelling with him for almost three years. They had seen Jesus in all kinds of circumstances. They had heard him tell all kinds of stories. They had seen him do any manner of inexplicable things. They had seen him happy and hungry, angry and tender, grieving and determined. They recognized that divine life, but knew that Jesus wasn’t just the next prophet, however special. He was the first – and last. He was the one that had been promised from God.

The disciples didn’t know this because they were brilliant. They weren’t the best educated. They weren’t the most spiritual. They just had spent a lot of time hanging around with Jesus. And when you do that, you begin to see things a little more like God does. And so they saw that Jesus wasn’t the next great prophet, he was the first and only Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the one God promised.

I find it peculiar that Jesus finished by telling them not to tell anyone! But perhaps this truth about Jesus is not something you can be told. It is something you can only really grasp, now as then, by hanging around with Jesus. You don’t need to be brilliant. You don’t need to have a degree in theology. You don’t need to be as spiritual as Mother Theresa. Just hang out with Jesus. Read his words. Talk to him in prayer. Spend time with people who remind you of Jesus. Enjoy the world a little more because Jesus is in it.

As we grow in our faith and understanding of who Jesus is, then, like Peter, Jesus can use each of us to build his church, stand against all that is dark and sad in our world and show people God’s love. So in this coming week, hang out with Jesus and let him show you a little more of who he is…

Prayers

We trust you, Lord, to answer our prayers.
Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory.
Your will be done, O Lord.

We pray for people who struggle with their faith:
through self-doubt,
through difficult circumstances,
through bad things happening,
through being led astray,
by wanting fame and fortune.

We trust you, Lord, to answer our prayers.
Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory.
Your will be done, O Lord.

We pray for people who feel in the dark,
locked in a situation where they can find no answer,
that they might come to understand
that you are the key to everything they need.

We trust you, Lord, to answer our prayers.
Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory.
Your will be done, O Lord.

We pray for ourselves:
when we are in difficult situations,
when we try to unlock doors that aren’t ours to unlock,
when we don’t focus on the kingdom,
when we don’t share our story.

We trust you, Lord, to answer our prayers.
Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory.
Your will be done, O Lord.

Closing Hymn

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