Sunday Worship 23rd August

Opening words:

Psalm 13:1-2

I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; before the ‘gods’ I will sing your praise.

I will bow down towards your holy temple and will praise your name for your unfailing love and your faithfulness, for you have so exalted above all things

Your name and your word

Prayers:

When Jesus asked, Simon Peter answered:

‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’

Let us make the same bold answer,

and let us come together to worship

Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Lord, do we really believe that we are in the presence of the Son of the Living God? Still our hearts now, so that we may truly appreciate who you are. As we hear these words of power, we bow down before you and praise you.

This was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.’

The Lord blessed Simon because he finally understood who Jesus was. He called him Peter, and said that great things would come to pass through him. He promised him the keys to the kingdom.

Lord, we already have so many keys on our bundles. Help us to find the right ones to open the doors you choose for us.

Make us ready to be like Simon, and to become Peter, doing great things in your strength and for your kingdom.

Lords Prayer

Bible Readings:

Isaiah 51.1-6 Psalm 138 Romans 12.1-8 Matthew 16.13-20

Comments on Bible Readings:

Who is Jesus? I wonder how we would answer that question. Who do we think Jesus is? Perhaps it will depend on who is asking! What if it was a young child visiting a church for the first time? Or a person from another faith? Someone who has declared they are an atheist? A Christian?

The following picture is of Caesarea Philippi in the time of Jesus. Who do you think built this town and why?

The Sanctuary of Pan

There was a spring there that was/is the source of the River Jordan. The Ancient Greeks worshipped their god Pan there. The nearby road was used by conquering armies. King Herod the Great built a temple there and then his son, King Philip, built this city. To keep in with the ruling Roman emperor, Augustus, Philip called it Caesarea, but it became customary to give it his name too – so it became Caesarea Philippi. The Roman cult of the emperor, which gave the emperor divine status, meant that a place named Caesarea took on a kind of religious status.

And it was just outside this place, this city, that Jesus turns to his disciples and asks, in effect, ‘What are people saying about me?’

In this charged atmosphere, Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is. Peter shoots back, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ In the shadow of the walls of the seat of government, this was dangerous talk; if Peter is saying that Jesus is Lord, then he is saying that Caesar is not!

Jesus comes here to ask a pointedly political question about his identity. For Jews the newly renamed city of Caesarea Philippi is a blasphemous, idolatrous horror, a headquarters of the foreign rulers and a symbol of oppression. There, in temple and inscription, Caesar is worshipped as ‘Saviour’, ‘Son of God’. There, despite all the evidence to the contrary, Peter gets it right (for once!). Seeing beyond the might of the Roman empire, and that of Babylon and implied by the reference to the figure of the ‘Son of Man’ well known from the Book of Daniel, it is this unarmed figure who will be given ‘everlasting dominion’. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey – an animal of peace, coming lowly and without armour. This statute to an unknown god – Paul goes on to identify as Jesus (although this did occur in Athens! (Acts 17:23)

For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship--and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

The disciples said something similar about Jesus in the boat when Jesus calmed the storm (Matthew 14.22ff.), the story we looked at two weeks ago. What is significant here in this bib le passage is that Peter dares to say the same words in an Eastern capital of the Roman Empire, as indeed he will proclaim it in person in Rome. The message is deeply subversive. ‘The gates of Hades will not prevail’ against the Church. The implication is of the gates being unable to withstand the Church bursting out of the tomb to risen life. These gates are broken and those of heaven simply unlocked.

Peter the failed, impetuous disciple is the very one who Jesus says the church will be formed on, he is the very rock, the foundation of the early church. But it is to him that Jesus gives the very keys of heaven and hell, it is him who is allowed to decide who is let loose and free on earth as in heaven. ‘Whatever you allow here’ says Jesus, ‘will be allowed in heaven’. How amazing that this broken man should be the very one that the church is founded on. There is indeed hope for us all! But Peter had seen in Jesus, who He was and had at last recognised Him as the ‘Son of God’ This is an enormous step in the life of Peter, for at last he has recognised that standing before God, the only thing he can do is to acknowledge and worship and offer his life. This is ultimately what Peter did, not at Easter but years later in Rome, just prior to his own crucifixion. (He was not worthy to be crucified like Jesus and so was crucified upside down – even more agonising).

We can get too hung up on ‘whatever you bind on earth…’. We are all capable of binding ourselves quite adequately by our own sins without any help. What is needed is loosing – or forgiving, and surely Peter is one who acknowledges he has much that needs forgiveness. Indeed, rather than ‘the Rock’, Peter may appear to be ‘rocky’ – like the stony ground on which grain is sown – springing up quickly and then falling when things get tough because he isn’t firmly rooted enough. We are all far too much like Peter, but take courage from where Peter ended up. He was the leader of the early church and without his fortitude the church as we know it today may not exist. We owe much to Peter and at this point in the ministry of Jesus, Jesus saw in Peter the man that he would become. Just as when he looks at us, He too can see the people that we can become, if we are rooted in and through him. We can all become that good soil.

Throughout history, empires have told the same story: they all celebrate power and self-interest, and crush anyone who opposes them. But there is an alternative story to be told: one that champions forgiveness, compassion and self-sacrifice. This is the agenda loosed by Jesus and his followers. Jesus offers something different from the narrative of power and self-interest: a better story than the one told by Caesar and other earthly empires.

Empires today, like that of Rome, demand our allegiance, and indeed may require our worship in some way. And besides nations there are giant multinational businesses, media organisations and the like. So, for empires, it isn’t just Russia or China or the USA – think also in terms of Tesco, BP, Facebook, Amazon, broadcasting companies... On a day-to-day level, who do you give allegiance and offer worship to? In the news yesterday was a story of Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings and apparently the exam fiasco has partially been caused by a company of friends of theirs, who were given the contract to re-calculate the grades. It is all wheels within wheels, and the incompetent are left in charge as they continue to support each other. So, who should we follow, who can we trust, so much self-interest and self-preservation. We need to look to Jesus, who gave His life for us, his whole life was about selfless actions, to show us love beyond measure. Jesus kingdom is so far removed from the ones of today and in His time. We need to follow Him, to worship Him, to give our lives to Him. His kingdom is what we should strive for. The starting point is acknowledging that he is the Son of God. We are to become as Paul says in Romans ‘living sacrifices’, we are literally to give ourselves to God everyday because He has already given Himself to us unconditionally and wholly, He has sacrificed His life for us, therefore in worship we have to sacrificially give our lives back to Him.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.