Pick up Your Fears & Follow Me…

30/8/20 – 12th Sunday after Trinity

Matthew 16:21-28

Borrowed from St Mary’s. Kilburn Facebook page.

If you remember the gospel reading from last week, Peter did so well! He answered Jesus’ question correctly then received praise and blessing in abundance. This week – well… I hope it is comforting to know that all people, across the ages have their highs and lows. Peter was no exception, and neither are we. There are also things that we simply don’t want to hear, like Peter did when Jesus was predicting his death.

This is a challenging piece of the Gospel. I am sure many of us might prefer some nicer words right now: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, he leads me besides still waters, The Lord will keep you from all harm, he will watch over your life, The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness.’

However, Jesus is aware that much is at stake! He wants the disciples to know what is coming and to be prepared for it. They did not want to hear about suffering and death and betrayal. Rising on the third day?! When Peter tries to stop Jesus and deny what he is saying, he received the harshest rebuke ever recorded by Jesus.

Why? I had to ask myself this again. Jesus knew what we going to happen, what had to happen to him. Peter is suggesting that what Jesus was describing, didn’t need to happen. It was too awful to even contemplate. Peter likely held the belief, that many people hold, that if we are very, very good, God won’t let anything bad happen to us. We will be protected, be spared from whatever comes at us. This is a very human response. Peter held out a tempting offer to Jesus – who doesn’t want to avoid pain and suffering if possible?

Peter also only heard the first part of what Jesus was saying to them, the talk of death and suffering. Peter doesn’t seem to hear ‘the third day raised to life’ part. There is light in this darkness. God is at work, the body that suffers will be turned into the body that lasts forever. Amen!

Jesus’ instruction to ‘deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’ isn’t easy either. This would have been difficult for the disciples to hear. We live on the other side of the cross; we know that it ultimately brings good news. The cross of Good Friday leads to the joy of Easter Sunday. The disciples would not have known that. Yet. For them, a cross meant only death. It has no religious meaning at that time as Jesus had not yet died on one. They struck only fear into the hearts of people.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, ‘There were days when the road to Jerusalem was lined with crosses, each of them bearing the dead or dying body of someone whose public execution was meant to scare everyone who saw it. Crucifixion was not only a very efficient form of punishment; it was also a very effective form of intimidation. It reinforced the idea that death was the most awful thing in the world and that people with any sense should do everything in their power to avoid it.’

We can see why Peter wants Jesus to avoid death; he wants to as well. In telling the disciples to take up their crosses and follow him, Jesus is saying that death is not the worst thing in the world. Fear is. Pick up the thing that you fear the most and come with me says Jesus.

There is a lot of fear in this world right now. I will spare you a list as I am sure you will have your own. What are we going to do about our fears? Jesus is clear on what he wants us to do, pick up those crosses, those things that we fear the most and follow him. In doing this we will both lose and save our lives.

Barbara Brown-Taylor again: ‘In Luke, Jesus tells his followers to take up their crosses daily, which sounds more like a way of life than a death wish. He does not tell them to find their crosses, either because he is pretty sure they already know right where they are. He just encourages them to go ahead and pick the wretched things up – to stop covering them up and tripping over them and pretending they are not there. He urges them to squat down and get hold of them so they can find out there is more to life than being afraid of death.’

We all have crosses to take up. Our crosses don’t have much to do with the Roman government, but fear is timeless. We all have things that we fear and rightly so. However, it is what we do with our fear that matters. Jesus is not denying that there is anything to fear, or that his message isn’t difficult to hear. He doesn’t even say that he will take away the fears we have. He is saying that there is more to life than fear and that if we follow him, we will find that life. The full and abundant life that is promised to us.

Whatever it is that scares you, eats away at your life, the thing you would do anything to get rid of – that is your cross. If you leave it where it is – you will lose your life. Many people don’t pick up their crosses, they blame God, the universe, the world, these are the ones who lose their soul.

If you can believe God more than you believe your fear, you will be able to pick up your cross and follow him. You may find that it not nearly so scary once you get your hands on it. He isn’t asking you to pick it up alone but to pick it up and then follow him. You will find your life by following.

Remember Who I Am & Who You Are

It will be 24 years this week since my much loved and wise Dad died. I can’t help to remember one of the most valuable lessons he taught me as I reflect on who Jesus is.

23/8/20 – 11th Sunday after Trinity

Isaiah 51:1-6

Romans 12:1-8

Matthew 16:13-20

I grew up in Canada – just outside of Calgary; and I would say that I was a pretty good kid – a reasonable student, polite, well behaved, didn’t get into much trouble, etc. This carried on largely into my teenage years with the odd scrape, of course. Becoming a teenager means doing things independently of one’s parents and exploring night life. I grew up in a small town, so it didn’t take long to explore! Once curfew times had been negotiated and I got ready to go out, my Dad would almost inevitably say ‘Susan, remember who you are.’

Man! Sometimes it really bothered me! Especially if I hadn’t fully disclosed where I would be going or what I would be doing that evening. It was my Dad’s way of telling me to behave, to remember how I had been raised and what was acceptable behaviour. There were times when that sentence would pass through my mind and – I believe – steered my behaviour. As I grew up and matured, I have come to realise that ‘remembering who I am’ is a very valuable thing to know.

In the Gospel reading this morning we are asked to consider who Jesus is. This is a pivotal moment in Peter’s life and in the lives of the disciples.

Why is Jesus asking this question?

Over the last few weeks in the lectionary we have been talking about weeds, wheat, pearls, treasures, mustard seeds, bread and fish. These are all stories about Jesus taking very little of something and making it very, very big. The miracles displayed in these stories show us God’s power displayed through Jesus in the provision and generosity given to those who choose to follow. We also had the feeding of the 5000 and the woman with the demon-possessed daughter. These stories are pointing to the person of Jesus and who he is.

One of the recurring themes throughout these readings is Jesus having to continually prove himself to the disciples and the crowds. They are still doubting as they do not yet understand who He is and what he came to do in the building of the kingdom of God. Up to this point Jesus has been seeking to prove his claim of messiahship through words and deeds. Now it is time to see if the lesson has been learned. Jesus starts with a ‘public opinion’ survey: ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’

He is given a variety of public opinion answers and this opinion is divided. Some say he is John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. These answers are interesting – people did not think of Jesus, meek and mild; not the cosy friend of little children – but rather like one of the wild prophets of the Old Testament. One who stood up spoke the word of God fearlessly and against the rulers of the day.
Then Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter: “Who do you say I am?” Suddenly there is no public opinion to hide behind. They must make an intelligent, personal choice based on the witnessed miracles and heard messages.

Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’. An answer which gets him some serious praise and blessing. The importance of Peter’s answer is that he acknowledged that Jesus was not just God’s mouthpiece against injustice and corruption, but that Jesus was God’s Messiah – God’s king.

Take a moment now and consider that question for yourself. Who is Jesus to you? A good moral teacher? Jesus meek and mild – the baby in the manger that seems to stay there? Jesus on the cross who doesn’t seem to get down. Jesus the Prince of Peace, wonderful counsellor, Mighty Saviour, Name Above all Names. This is an answer with not only eternal consequences but with consequences for the everyday trials and triumphs of walking around on this planet.

Jesus had a word for Peter after his announcement. Tom Wright writes: ‘if Peter was prepared to say that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus was prepared to say that, with this allegiance, Peter would himself be the foundation for his new building. Just as God gave Abram the name Abraham, indicating that he would be the father of many nations, so now Jesus gives Simon the new name Peter, the Rock.’

Peter went on to do just that. This was not – of course – without trials and tribulation for Peter. As we know he denied Christ before the crucifixion and had to live with that guilt and shame. Never forget that Jesus restored Peter on the beach.

This is really helpful for as and when we forget who Jesus is – we – like Peter can be restored to the body. We need to take ourselves to Jesus, ask for the forgiveness and start again.

The opening verse of the Isaiah reading tells us to look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look at Jesus again. He loves us – loves you. His grace is sufficient.

It is through God’s grace that we have been restored and redeemed and it is also through grace that we have been given the gifts of God. Anyone need to hear this today?

In the Romans reading we are reminded that we are one body with many members and being members of one another. We have been given gifts – ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading and compassion. This list is by no means exhaustive and there are many, many more gifts of the Spirit. These are the gifts that we need, our families, friends and the wider world need us to use. The body of Christ is desperately needed! This is why we need to know who Jesus is – we are part of his body – best to know something of the person in whom we dwell and dwells in us.

By knowing who Jesus is – we can have a clearer picture of who we are. We can remember who we are and who we were we made to be when we know who Jesus. The beloved children of God.

We Need the Good News


Canaanite Woman, Très Riches Heures Duc de Berry circa 1410

Isaiah 51:1, 6-8 Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28
How is everyone doing in these hot and bothered days of summer? I think that we are in good company this morning with our Gospel reading as Jesus seems hot and bothered too. Bothered by travelling around, the Pharisees and scribes are on his case in an attempt to catch him out, the disciples are slow to understand, hungry crowds that keep following him around! And now a Canaanite woman with a sick daughter has turned up and is shouting the place down with her demands.

What is up with everyone?! A question we might be asking ourselves about others these days too. I want to focus on Jesus and the woman for a few minutes. I think that we see Jesus at a point in his ministry where he is trying to test his disciples in their reactions (one explanation for his response to this woman). We also see something of his humanity as Jesus comes to understand his own ministry more deeply as well as the frustrations that being human brings.

The woman is looking for some good news, some help and relief in a deeply troubling time. At the outset, she does not receive the welcome that one might expect from Jesus! Anybody else a little short of love and goodwill these days?

We are living in a world that is hungry for good news, maybe even starving for it. It seems like all the news is bad – the pandemic carries on, the economy is failing, the planet is ailing, Beirut blew up, the migrants are washing up on our shores again, students are struggling with their grades, racism and injustice blight far too many lives. Where is the good news?!

As Christians, we are to be the bearers of, not the hoarders of the good news of a God who loves and cares for us. In every situation, no matter how bad and terrible it seems, we must share the promise that God’s liberating, saving and reconciling power is available for all people, in all places, all the time. This is a hard calling. It is easy to proclaim it theoretically, much harder to live it out in real life, which is the exact place where it is needed most. I think that in this complex and often confusing Gospel reading, we can find some hope in working out the call to share the Good News.

Jesus, like us, seems to be working out his calling. Jesus and the disciples have been sharing the message mainly with the Jewish people: ‘Israel’. They were God’s chosen people from the beginning, and this does not change in the New Testament. Israel had to hear the message first. Along the way, other people like the Roman Centurion, the Samaritan woman at the well, hear the message of Jesus too. The future is breaking into the present and it seems to take Jesus by surprise.

I wonder how she heard. The news of Jesus was spreading. Who told her about Jesus? Maybe someone who had been at the feeding of the 5000? Or at the Sermon on the Mount had told her and the neighbours about this Jesus? Clearly this woman has heard about Jesus even though she is a Canaanite – a Gentile, an outsider to the good news. Whatever she had heard obviously had made a deep impression and gave her some level of faith.

Jesus’ first response is silence and then when the disciples urged him to send her packing, Jesus looks to refuse to help her. She does all the right things, she addresses Jesus by his Messianic or Jewish title – ‘Son of David’ – so she acknowledges his Jewishness. When he finally does answer – it seems harsh. ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’ It helps to remember that Matthew is the most Jewish of the four Gospels and he is trying to get his first readers – Jewish Christians to know and believe that Jesus really is the Messiah they have been waiting for. Jesus is trying to explain that he came for Israel first.

Then we have the interesting exchange about taking the children’s bread and throwing it to their dogs. The children here mean the Jews and the dogs are the Gentiles. I don’t think that many people would take kindly to being referred to as a dog! This would have been a derogatory remark – suggesting that she and her children were inferiors because of class and race.

Just a quick scan of the news these days and we can still how race and class divide us in our community and country. Black lives matter protests, migrants in boats arriving in the UK. I wrote about a same piece in the news sheet this week about migrants and being an immigrant myself. One of the great moral and cultural issues of the last hundred years has been racial identity. It is an issue that will not go away (nor should it) until we all see and treat each other as equal.

Anyway, the lady presses on and gives a brilliant rebuttal – ‘but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Here she is saying that even if Israel is to be first, the promised people – then the Messiah (Jesus) will ultimately bring blessing to the whole world. The Isaiah reading: (v6-8) ‘and the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to love the name of the Lord, will be accepted on my altar’. This woman is joining herself to the Lord. Jesus’ countenance seems to change in her answer, he sees her faith and grants her request.

What is also so great about this answer – if we think back to the feeding of the 5000 – what do the crumbs of Jesus look like? 12 full baskets! This woman wants what she believes so badly that Jesus can do – she will take the crumbs off the table to help her daughter. She just wants a few crumbs – not the whole loaf bread. And for a few crumbs she is joining herself to the Lord. This is the faith that she is rewarded for. Back to mustard seeds and pearls – small things that get made large in the hands of Jesus. This is good news!

Sometimes we need reminding that even God’s crumbs can satisfy us completely! Her daughter was healed from that very hour. In our hot and bothered states, we too can lose sight of the bigger picture, the good news that we are meant to share, the promise which we have been given in the great love of God. What do we need to be reminded of today – what do we need a crumb for? Take a few moments to bring those things to the Lord and ask for some bread!

Lord God, we thank you that you hear our prayers and feed us with your bread of life. Thank you for your abundance of love and grace. Help us to have faith in every situation that we face – today and always. Amen.