Vicar’s Sermon – 30th August 2020

Matthew 16.21 -28

A picture paints a thousand words so I’m grateful when the news presenters put up a graph or chart to explain some of the more complicated bits of the business or economics’ news. In the press correspondents debate the long-term effects of the pandemic on our economy but it’s hard to know what they’re talking about until you see it. The terms they use relate to lines on graphs, production and GDP levels. Will there be a V shaped recovery, they ask, as businesses get back to work? I suppose that means ‘will everything ‘bounce back’ quickly to the way we were before ‘lockdown’ ‘– probably not!

Well, will the lines on the graph resemble more of a U shape? A sharp and steep drop as the economy fell off the ‘cliff edge’ at the end of March followed by a period in the doldrums and then a miracle rise to economic health? Well, where the miracle will come from is not known.

A new one on me seems more likely. This is a K shaped recovery and it seems to be already on the cards. The sharp cliff edge we’ve already experienced followed by the divides between rich and poor becoming ever wider.

The disciples in today’s Gospel reading wanted to know the ‘shape’ of Jesus’ ministry. He laid it out for them. The journey that he was on would involve suffering and death. He spoke of ‘taking up his cross’, and of ‘losing his life’. The cross? – a symbol of total humiliation, the most extreme form of capital punishment that displayed to all who witnessed it just who was in charge. Jesus would suffer this. But he also spoke of ‘being raised on the third day’, of ‘gaining his life’, of his kingdom coming and of the ‘Son of Man being clothed with the glory of God, the Father’.

We know the shape of this life, this movement. We make it a part of ourselves most especially as we journey through Holy Week on to Good Friday, the emptiness of Holy Saturday and then the rising of Easter. If we were to draw this movement on a graph it would look more like a U than a V. Following Jesus really does mean letting go of our lives and entrusting them to God and His grace. This is a daily action that is repeated and learned but it needs a beginning: a decision to start to follow Jesus. And if even that is too hard then a prayer to want to decide to start to follow him.

It is as we ‘lose our lives’ in the service of God and others that we find them again and discover who we really are. But learning this doesn’t come easy. Sometimes we sit at the bottom of that U wondering whether we have chosen the right way: whether the service of God and neighbour, the giving of time, money, energy…ourselves really is worth it. BUT it is at our darkest points that there seems to come a new flood of energy, a sharing in God’s life that lifts us to a new place and gives us a glimpse of what Jesus’ kingdom is about.

Peter in our reading had a different picture in his mind of what Jesus’ ministry would be like. On his graph Jesus’ stock and reputation would go from strength to strength, a continual rise until it shot off the top of the graph with the arrival of the Kingdom of God upon earth. Jesus had to disabuse him of this. In fact, the reading tells us that ‘he began to show his disciples’ the way things had to go. ‘He began’? Those words suggest that this was not a lesson that could be learned quickly. It would take time. Perhaps Jesus would need to talk his friends through a different way of reading and understanding their scriptures. But what is for sure, is that what persuaded them was actually seeing Jesus live out this movement ‘down’, entrusting himself to God…and then rising on Easter day. Seeing his life changed their lives. Perhaps that’s what our friends and neighbours need from us. Show me what it looks like, this discipleship, then I’ll understand.

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