Pentecost: The Old Made New

Acts 2:1-21

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Well, it’s 9:30-ish in the morning/6:00-ish in the evening, and we’re all gathered together in one place. Perhaps we should watch out for tongues of fire and listen for the sudden rush of a violent wind from heaven.

But I think we should pray first…

Creator God, as your spirit moved over the face of the waters bringing light and life to your creation, pour out your Spirit on us today that we may walk as children of light and by your grace reveal your presence. Amen.

It doesn’t matter how many times I read Acts 2, it always sounds crazy, chaotic and it makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I am sure a few people here this morning/evening who would love a little fire and wind to liven things up! I am equally sure that there are others who would prefer things a little more ordered.

I don’t think that being made to feel uncomfortable about this passage, or any other, is necessarily a bad thing. I don’t intend to leave you comfortable today either. Sometimes a sense of discomfort is needed to remind us of the areas in our faith that we may be ignoring or falling short in.

The Holy Spirit was sent to change people, including us; to send us away differently, refined, plucked or pruned. The process of change can be uncomfortable to downright miserable while in it.

Unfortunately being a Christian was never meant to be convenient or wholly comfortable. But it was meant to be lived together in both the joys and the sufferings. We are not alone either. Jesus explained to the disciples that ‘the Advocate, whom I will send, will testify on my behalf; will guide you in all truth.’

Jesus points to the Holy Spirit to teach and remind the disciples everything that he (Jesus) had said to them. This is not a one-off, show me, show us event. The work, the presence of the Holy Spirit is an on-going, lifelong affair. It is only the Holy Spirit that can make the connection between God the Father, Jesus the Son and us.

In John 14, Jesus explains that the Advocate, the Counsellor or the Holy Spirit will teach us everything and remind us of all that Jesus has said. The first thing we are taught about Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit is inextricably linked to the life of Jesus and his teaching. It is not some woo-woo spirit floating about like changing clouds.

‘IF you love me’ says Jesus, ‘I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate.’ IF implies a choice!

The love of the disciples for Jesus leads to Acts 2.

We do know that something astonishing is happening in Acts 2, barriers of culture and language are being broken down as the Spirit falls on those gathered that day. Luke in his writing is struggling to find the language to describe what is going on; things ‘seem like’ and ‘sound like’ which indicates he has never seen anything like what he is seeing before. God is drawing new people from every nation at the time towards him. The people, mostly Jews, are encountering the Holy Spirit and being changed. Jesus changes people. We are seeing an in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

When trying to understand the Holy Spirit it is helpful to remember that the Holy Spirit has been around from Genesis. It was the spirit hovering over the waters at creation. It is not/was not a new thing but that first Pentecost saw the most powerful outpouring that had been experienced.

The other thing to keep in mind was the timing of this event. God was using a long-standing appointment on the kingdom calendar of the Jewish people. The Feast of Pentecost was meant to pour out the ‘old’ spirit in a ‘new and powerful way’.

For centuries 50 days after the Passover, the Jews have celebrated with a feast, traditionally called ‘The Feast of Weeks. The number 50 points to fullness, ripeness, to a time that is ready for something to happen.

This was already a time of celebration. Pentecost happens 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus at Easter.

In the Feast of Weeks and at Pentecost, God was creating for himself a new people. When the disciples received the Spirit, they became witnesses for Christ. Here to Jesus is forming a people for himself; His church and we are that church.

Pentecost is not a random event! The feast was on the calendar and we see God take something old and familiar to the Jews to produce something new and fresh.

I now want to look at the 3 purposes of the Feasts of Weeks and Pentecost and how the Holy Spirit works and moves in the church today.

Firstly, the Feast of Pentecost is a time to remember and give thanks for what has been done for us. The Jewish people were to remember and celebrate their release from slavery by being generous to each other, feeding the widows, the orphans, the poor and other unfortunates.

Looking back to the past to help explain a current situation is a very common Jewish method of interpretation or way of coming to a new understanding called ‘midrash’.

Peter is doing exactly that in Acts 2 when he refers to the prophecy of Joel to explain to the mostly Jewish crowd what is happening beyond ‘we are not drunk at 9 am’!! Joel announced that God was going to do something very special on Mount Zion which is in Jerusalem and Peter is confirming that.

I think that it is important to remember where we have come from. But there is a caution when looking to the past; I am not suggesting we constantly rehash the past or not move on from it. Nor am I suggesting a rewriting or romanticising of the past either. We can remember again where we have come from, but we don’t live in that past anymore.

Secondly, the Feast of Pentecost was a time for great generosity; it was about generous grace and generous giving. The Jews of the day had a slightly different take on it. For the Feast, the Jews were not allowed to come to the Lord empty-handed. Deuteronomy 16:17 – ‘each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.’ (Read twice).

This actually makes me more uncomfortable than the wind and fire. I am not suggesting that we can out-give God, but we are to give him thanks and offer ourselves to Him and his service. We are called to be generous with our time, talents and possessions to meet the needs of others and the church.

Imagine for a second if our churches and we as people gave to God in proportion to the way He has blessed us? We would live and love in a completely different world and probably wouldn’t have budget shortfalls.

Rev Bill Albinger was an Episcopal priest in Hawaii whose small parish has a generous heart for the local people who face many social problems. I had a look at what Rev Bill had to say about Pentecost and giving. This is what he writes:

‘This is where the power of the church is – the Spirit is not a power to boost us up and make us feel good, but it is power and presence of God to bring a wholly new perspective in the way we live and love. It doesn’t matter so much if we are ‘slain in the spirit’ and knocked to the ground – what matters is the kind of changed person you are when you are on your feet.

What matters are the gifts you bring to the building up of community and the gifts you bring to the healing and repair of the world. This is where the power of the church is.’



At Pentecost we need to remember where we have come from and give thanks. By way of thanks we are to be generous with our time, talents and possessions for the benefit of the church and others.


Thirdly, The Feast of Pentecost is a corporate harvest, the first fruits of church. The specific time of this event on Pentecost offers little doubt that God intended a highly significant feast of harvest.

The harvest of people in the streets of Jerusalem who met Jesus and went away changed. They went back to their towns and villages and they began to sow what they had learned and seen in Jerusalem, a call to a life in Jesus. We know they did as the church still exists today.

If the Jews are simply said, ‘well that was interesting, Peter spoke well, etc…’ and went on their way without being changed, who knows what would have happened. But they went and sowed.

But sometimes we don’t sow and therefore don’t see a harvest. Instead we tend to eat the seed. The American writer and bible teacher Beth Moore explained the principle of eating the seed after visiting villages in Kenya. Beth writes:

’One of the most frustrating things is that in the villages where they receive seed, they often eat the seed rather than planting and bringing forth the harvest. I couldn’t get that statement out of my mind and suddenly had an answer to the questions I most often ask God: Why do some people see the results of the Word and others don’t? Why do some study the Word of God yet remain in captivity?

Some just eat the seed and never sow it for a harvest. You want examples? Why have many of us read books on forgiving people, known the teachings were true and right, cried over them, marked them up with our highlighters, yet remain in our bitterness?

Because we ate the seed instead of sowing it.

We think we accepted the teachings because we were so moved by it. But you see, the seed of God’s Word can fill our stomachs and give us immediate satisfaction and still not produce a harvest – that is when we eat it but don’t sow it.

Many times we apply biblical truth to our theologies without applying it to the actual practicalities of life.’ God repeatedly says that a harvest is to be sown and not eaten as seed. We were meant to eat from the sheaves and not the seeds. God wants to sow into our lives so we can sow into the lives of others.


On this Feast of Pentecost as we pray Come, Holy Spirit, let us remember what God has already done for us, show our thanks for what He has done by being generous to others and to the church. Let’s also think about what it is to harvest. If we can’t seem to find anything to harvest, have we sown anything, or have we eaten the seed ourselves?

To ask for the Holy Spirit is a choice as is to do any of the above: to be thankful, to be generous and to be changed. Jesus sent the Advocate, the Spirit to help us, to guide us; we never have to do this alone.

Pentecost was a very public event and meant to be shared. Live beyond your convenience and comfort! The Holy Spirit came to change us, the church and the world – apologetically, wholly and completely. And uncomfortably when necessary. We are part of a greater story that involves the past, the present and the future; giving and receiving; sowing and harvesting.

All a bit chaotic.

All true to the life and ministry of Jesus.

All true to the life and faith of Christians.


Few short minutes of asking ‘Come Holy Spirit’

Lent 2: Holy Living in the Leafy Hambleden Valley

28/2/21

Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16
Mark 8:31-38

At Friday prayers in Fawley churchyard this week, we were reminded of the Lent watchwords: discipline, repentance and growth. These are some of the keys to holy living. Underpinning these three activities is practice. The season of Lent echoes the 40 days of Christ in the wilderness, preparing for this ministry.
Jesus had been practicing – directly after his baptism, Jesus is flung into the wilderness to face the temptations of Satan. Jesus rebuffs and refuses Satan’s offerings by using the teachings of scripture. In doing this, Jesus demonstrates for us what it is to live a life of discipline that has come through practice.

In this passage of Mark, we get a number of Jesus’ more quotable lines, ‘Get behind me Satan!’; ‘Take up your cross and follow me’; ‘What is it to gain the whole world and lose your soul?’. There is often great temptation to take these verses out of context and apply them to just about any situation. Much like taking Churchill quotes or lines of Shakespeare and reducing them to coffee mugs and tea towels.

Similarly, we can lose the meaning of what Jesus is saying if we lift these verses out of their context too. The context that Jesus is teaching into was his death; this is the first time that Jesus predicts his death. “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering,” Jesus tells his disciples quite plainly. He must “be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Standing on this side of resurrection history, we easily miss the bombshell effect these words must have had on Jesus’s disciples. Their great hope, cultivated over the three years they had followed Jesus, was that he would lead them in a military revolution and overthrow their Roman oppressors.
What then could be more disorienting, more ludicrous, than the news that their would-be champion was determined to walk straight into a death trap? To surrender without a fight to a common criminal’s death.

Peter, in a moment of confusion and shock, scolds Jesus for his dire prediction. And Jesus, in what might be the sharpest and most surprising rebuke in all of Scripture, puts Peter in his place with one swift stroke: “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
You can hardly blame Peter, how often are our minds on human things rather than the divine? Holy living requires higher thoughts, and this takes some practice. It is easier to think holy thoughts when all is well. Much more difficult to do when faced with death, threats to security and uncertainty.

Then Jesus turns to the crowds and captures the essence of his message in two sentences: “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, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

Even now, centuries removed from the context in which Jesus lived and taught, what exactly is Jesus saying? That he wants us to pursue suffering and death? That a holy life is not about living at all, but about dying? About martyrdom?
What does a holy life look like in 21st century England?


Where does our discipline come from? How repentant are we? Are there any signs of growth? What does it mean to deny myself? Living, as we do, in a culture that does not imprison, torture, or kill Christians for our faith, how shall I deny myself so that the gospel might thrive, here and now? How shall I save my life by losing it for Jesus’s sake in the leafy Hambleden Valley? How shall I die?

‘If any want to become my followers’ – would imply there is a choice to be made. Jesus is speaking to a crowd, lots of people watching and listening. I would suggest that not all of them decided then and there to deny themselves and pick up their cross. There are always lots of people to stand and watch others do the heavy lifting. These are the ones who think they are saving their lives by not getting involved, or staying quiet or think that all religions, God, etc. are the same and get you there in the end, just be good or a nice person. The reality is though that lives will be lost.

Let them deny themselves’ – This is not the body and I am not living the life of a person who denies herself very much! I am not always good at living beyond my own convenience. What would it look like to deny ourselves those things that prevent us from living a life that follows totally after Jesus?

And take up their cross and follow me.’ We use it as a throw-away sometimes. ‘We all have our crosses to bear’ to explain or give meaning to the circumstances of another. We all have situations, issues, stuff going on that needs bearing up; we can’t ignore, dismiss or wish it away. Pick it up!
If we pick our crosses up to follow Jesus we are not going to have to carry it by ourselves. In Matthew 11 Jesus says, ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Who can we look to for a holy life? We see an example in Abraham. All that Abraham was promised came through his righteousness and God’s faithfulness. Abraham’s great age is not to be overlooked! It took a lifetime of practice, of discipline, repentance and growth. It was certainly not an easy life, but it was worth it in the end.

I think that one of the best examples in recent history is Billy Graham. Billy Graham died in February 2018, at the grand age of 99 and in his own home. He is a shining example of what it is to live a holy life of faithful service Jesus until the end. Carrying your cross daily and faithfully. Giving up your life, your convenience for others. We probably will not influence millions of people around the world – that’s okay. How about we influence those around us – in our homes, families, villages, our workplaces, schools, the stranger on the train or in the coffee shop.

Billy Graham lived a scandal free life – both financially and sexually. Is that not refreshing given what is being reported in the news almost daily? Money, sex, pride and power have a death grip on so many people. Mark is presenting us with Jesus’ idea of what real life looks like; a ‘real life’, a holy life that does not have space for the misuse and abuse of money, sex, pride and power. This real life includes death – death to these things and to ourselves.

Mark ends this passage by making it clear that following Jesus seems the only way to go. There is some good news: the crosses that we must bear are so much lighter than the cross that Jesus had to bear

What is the reward? From Billy Graham: “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

In the presence of God who loves us deeply, gave up everything so we can be with him, who repays us with a life spent in eternity. By losing and denying – we gain much more.

Blessed are those who carry
for they shall be lifted.

Forgive and Don’t Be Afraid!

Sermon for Sunday 13th September 2020 Proper 19/Trinity 14
Genesis 50:15-21 Romans 4:1-12 Matthew 18:21-35

As the children have gone back to school, we find ourselves being educated at the Jesus School of Hard Teaching over these few weeks in our lectionary readings. It is not that we haven’t heard it all before, but we can be slow to learn sometimes. In Robin’s sermon and in the kid’s story last week, the focus was on how we should behave when people do wrong to us. This is continued today as we look at that old chestnut – forgiveness!

I trust that this won’t be the first or last sermon you hear preached on forgiveness, but I do hope you find something new in it. It is a tough subject. I am sure we all have stories we could share about times when we have needed to forgive or be forgiven. I would also venture to guess that we have stories that we do not share about times and situations of forgiveness and unforgiveness. It seems that the untold stories are that ones that often go unresolved; they often come out around the deathbed and by then – let’s be honest – it is usually too late to do anything about it.


Why do we let it get like that? Pride, needing to be right, needing to get one up on another? Not wanting to let whatever happened go – keeping the offending party on our hook for a little longer? Sadly, none of these apparent rewards live up to what we want them to be. They don’t satisfy!

Forgiveness is an act of the will. It acknowledges that something negative, awful, traumatic and damaging happened but that it will not rule our lives. We take the power out of the event. It is not in any way saying that what happened was okay or acceptable. Forgiveness does not mean that we must continue a relationship with the person/people who caused the event. We don’t have to trust them again.


In the Genesis and Matthew readings this morning we see something of the power of both forgiveness and unforgiveness. The story of Joseph is a remarkable one. Joseph was the first-born son of Jacob and Rachel but not the first born of all Jacob’s sons. Joseph was a tattletale and generally disliked by his brothers. The abridged version is that the brothers disliked him so much they decided to kill him, make it look like a cover-up but changed their minds and sold him to some traders. Joseph ended up in Egypt and working for Potiphar and becomes hugely successful. Time goes by and famine hits the rest of the family and the brothers are sent to Egypt and meet Joseph, whom they no longer recognize. Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, big family reunion ensues and Joseph gets to see his father before he dies.

Jacob has now died, and the brothers are nervous about what might happen next. All through the story of Joseph is the tension between him and his brothers. The fighting, jealousy, the arrogance and finally the brothers do something that frankly seems unforgivable. Finally, the brothers admit they have wronged Joseph and go to him. Joseph’s response is amazing – ‘Do not be afraid! Even though you intended to harm me, God intended it for good. I will provide for you and your little ones.’ He spoke kindly to them, he reassured them. Can you picture how those brothers must have felt at those words? Oh, the relief that comes when we are let off the hook! It is physical sometimes.

Now I know, you probably do to, that this seemingly ideal model of asking for and receiving forgiveness might not happen in real life! But we will still have to do it. We must ask for forgiveness if/when we have wronged someone else. We also must extend forgiveness to those who need it from us. This can be a slow process! We may have to remind ourselves repeatedly.

This is what Peter wants clarified in the Matthew reading. Jesus has taught the disciples about forgiveness when he taught them how to pray. What Peter wants to know is how this works out practically – what is the limit? The Jewish rabbis were teaching that forgiving someone 3 times for the same sin was good enough. Peter thinks that by offering seven; he is doing better. Seven being the number of fulfilment or perfection.

Jesus’ reply is much greater than that – Jesus tells Peter and us that there is no limit to forgiveness. It is something that we are always going to have to do! As long as human beings exist together in community, in families, in church, school or at work, forgiveness will need to be a cornerstone to good relationships. The parable that Jesus goes on to tell about the king and his servants is to underline what Jesus has just said about unrestricted, unlimited forgiveness.

The debt of the first servant is beyond what he could ever pay back. The king was within his rights to order the man, his family and possessions to be sold to pay it off. The man falls on his face and asks for mercy. The king was moved with compassion; the only other times this word is used in Matthew is in relation to Jesus. This king showed the compassion of Jesus. This is a show of the unlimited grace of God. The servant has a rather short memory. When he encounters a fellow slave, who owes him much less, the scene is repeated but the response to the plea for forgiveness is different and wrong. The consequence for the first servant’s lack of forgiveness is a life sentence in prison.

There are consequences if we don’t – our own forgiveness can be revoked! This is scary stuff. We will be treated as we treat others. Therefore, we must love our neighbours, forgive our neighbours as ourselves. I need God’s forgiveness – a lot. I need to forgive and be forgiven. This is not easy, and I am not trying to make light of that or suggest that it can happen in the blink of an eye. It can take a long time – but if we can hold to and remember the unlimited grace of God – we can do it.

Let him help you! The prison of unforgiveness is not a place you want to be in.

Joseph freed his brothers from the prison of their anxiety and worry. Not only that, he looked after them, cared for them and their families. The king and the servants show us what happens if we don’t free others. Jesus has all the love, grace and mercy we will ever need – we can use his when we don’t have enough of our own. Forgiveness comes at a high price – but ultimately a price paid for by Jesus.

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.