The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s054g11  Sunday 21  21/8/2011

"You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."   Matthew 16.16

As I read these words I am struck by the fact that Jesus seems to have attracted and chosen the least religious, devout or orthodox of people.   Peter and his companions were fisherfolk, in the estimation of others, illiterate Galileans. On the first Pentecost, the astonished hearers of the disciples exclaim: 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?' (Acts 2.7)  No doubt their illiteracy was not just about reading and writing, but also theological.   Peter and the others seem a very curious group of people to found a church whose central marks remain theological rigour, orthodoxy and devotion.

It is also curious that Peter's confession of Jesus' divine status to Jesus was not something to be broadcast to others.   The church makes much of people confessing themselves to be 'christians', their belief in God and Jesus, before others, so that I often wonder: 'Have we got it all wrong?'

It needs to be said that Jesus did not go around telling people that they had to believe in his special divine status, or that they would be particularly favoured if they did so.   The divine voice proclaimed him to be the son of God at his baptism and on the holy mountain, the demons did similarly.   Jesus did not bribe Peter to make this confession.   Jesus says that it was his Father in heaven who inspired Peter's words.

And this makes me ponder if the church doesn't trust God to continue to point to Jesus and point out to others Jesus' relationship to God, that we have to argue for it?   Our arguing about it suggests to me a lack of trust in God's continuing work in the world rather than trust in God.

I remember in theological college, last century, the then Warden saying that he had been invited to join a new society 'for the defence of the Catholic Faith'.   While he was of this persuasion and church-person-ship, he declined saying that if the Catholic Faith needed him to defend it, it wasn't much of a faith to believe in.

And we so embellish our confession with theological rigour, orthodoxy and devotion - OUR theological rigour, orthodoxy and devotion - that we are blind and deaf to God speaking through others, to the confession others might make to the divine - because that can only come in OUR way.

For the reality is that there are far more people than Anglicans who are prepared to say of Jesus: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."   In fact there would be many more people than those who claim to be 'christians' who would be prepared to say of Jesus: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." but they have been so disillusioned by the actions of the church over centuries that they maintain their faith in Jesus yet deny any allegiance to a church structure.   And the Muslim who is happy to affirm Jesus as one of the prophets - is Allah so unforgiving that Allah would condemn such a person to hell?   Who is the 'compassionate one'?   It is certainly not the staunch 'christian'.

Neither religion, devotion nor orthodoxy are the keys to the kingdom.   The keys are placed in the hands of an un-ordained and uneducated blue-collar worker - the very antithesis of the average clergy-person!   And perhaps it is here that we see what the keys and the kingdom is about.   It is about our relationship with the common person - the person who has to get their hands dirty for a living.   We have to lose any airs and graces we may have and come into relationship with others.

It is not that anyone else has the power to admit one person to the kingdom and to bar someone else.  It is our relationship to the common man and woman that determines whether we are already in the kingdom, or excluding ourselves from it.   Our entry into the kingdom is determined by our preparedness to be as incarnated as fully into humanity as Jesus was - or not.

I made the comment above that there are just so many people who are prepared to affirm that Jesus is 'the Son of the living God' yet how many of these recognise the confessions of faith of other christians?   Confessions of faith in Jesus seem to inspire people to separate themselves from people of other denominations, people of other faiths, as well as the ordinary man and woman in the street.   The confession of faith in Jesus becomes a distraction and a hindrance when Jesus calls us to follow him, and following him into incarnation, not into separateness.   The real question remains our relationship with others, our relationship with others regardless of the embellishments of faith or lack thereof.   This is what is important, this is the kingdom.

So much of our self-esteem comes from our occupations.   Tailors point to Genesis 3.20 to suggest the primal importance of clothing for humanity.   Prostitutes claim their's is the oldest profession.

Recently we have all been shocked to see the reports of mayhem, looting and violence in England.   I have no doubt that these stem from un-employment, under-employment and menial employment where people feel that if they have a job, they are simply being used and abused, rather than valued.   This is hardly confined to England of course.   The importance of our relationship with the ordinary man and woman in the street must be obvious.   We in the church are called to give dignity to all people, not just the theologically erudite and orthodox supporters of our own particular brand of 'christianity'.   No doubt the mayhem, looting and violence will continue and escalate while the church is busy concerning herself with defining who is in and who is out, playing with herself, and blinding herself to the needs of others and particularly the need for her to confer dignity on others as Jesus did.

I work in a hospital and I ponder what is the most sacred space in the hospital, the chapel - or the birthing unit, the theatres where surgery is performed, the wards where people are cared for, the kitchen where the food is prepared, the admin areas where all this is planned and co-ordinated?   This is a vitally important question.  And in the end the most sacred thing in the hospital is not the chapel or the chaplain per se, but the patients and the staff.   It is our acceptance of these things, our incarnation into the sacredness of ordinary human life and ordinary human beings that is our key to the kingdom.   And it seems to me that the devout, the religious and the orthodox are particularly prone to be blind to this.

We are the people of God and what we do has eternal consequences - but not just for ourselves and those in our holy huddle.   If this were true I suspect that God would be quite happy to dismiss us as irrelevant.   But if we claim to act in the name of God, then we have to do as God would have us do.   We have to do the same things Jesus did, becoming fully incarnated into humanity - not hiving off into our little coterie of devout, religious and orthodox brothers (usually neglecting the other greater than 50% of the population).   Our acceptance (or not) has eternal consequences as we can expect the fallout from the riots in England will be felt for quite some time to come.

So indeed, no one comes to the Father but by Jesus, but by the Jesus who associates with the tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, the fisherfolk, the ordinary people who have to get their hands dirty for a living; not the pretend Jesus made in the image of the devout, religious and orthodox holy huddle.

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