The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
30 August 2020
jeremiah 15: 15-21
O Lord, you know;
remember me and visit me,
and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors.
In your forbearance do not take me away;
know that on your account I suffer insult.
Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart;
for I am called by your name,
O Lord, God of hosts.
I did not sit in the company of merrymakers,
nor did I rejoice;
under the weight of your hand I sat alone,
for you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain unceasing,
my wound incurable,
refusing to be healed?
Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook,
like waters that fail.
Therefore, thus says the Lord:
If you turn back, I will take you back,
and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
you shall serve as my mouth.
It is they who will turn to you,
not you who will turn to them.
And I will make you to this people
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
to save you and deliver you,
says the Lord.
I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.
Romans 12: 9-end
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Almighty and everlasting God,
you are always more ready to hear than we to pray
and to give more than either we desire or deserve:
pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid
and giving us those good things
which we are not worthy to ask
but through the merits and mediation
of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Matt 16: 21-end
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘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 will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’
Sermon for Benefice Service
I guess this opportunity to come together as a benefice is a time to re-assess just how committed we are as Christians. We come to church for comfort, to restore us to live our Christian lives during the week, but does it ever get any further?
I think Jesus’ disciples must have had a relationship with Jesus which was a bit like ours at first. They followed him, they watched him, they listened to him. They had even turned their back on their old way of life. But had they really understood what he really wanted of them?
I don’t think so. We can just imagine, Jesus changing his tone and taking them aside for a serious talk. It seemed a good moment to do so. Peter had just grasped who Jesus really is and he had found the way to put it into words. When Jesus asked Peter, ‘Who do you say that I am?’, Peter had replied ‘You are the Christ!’
Peter could say that, in much the same way that we can say the words of the Creed. What Peter could not take on board was Jesus’ prediction that he must undergo great suffering, be killed and rise again on the third day. It was as if Peter did not even hear the third part of Jesus’ prediction. No, it was the horror of Jesus’ suffering and death that he could not believe.
I guess we can all say what we believe, as we shall do shortly in the words of the Creed. The question for us is can we actually live what we believe?
That is the challenge.
What do we have to do to take up our cross as Jesus tells us? Firstly, let’s think about our identity. We each have a family name or surname. That is a given. But, at our baptism, we have also been given a Christian name, a name which is given in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Most of the time, we are not conscious of the seriousness of that baptism which we underwent. We need to think about it and of its implications. We need to ensure that we live our lives in a way that is worthy of the God in whose name we were baptised.
Secondly, in order to do as Jesus says and deny ourselves, we may have to let go of thoughts or things that we hold dear if we are to take up our cross. Did Jesus have any prejudice? It would seem not. He loved the simple fishermen who were his first disciples. He loved the tax collector which others found almost impossible to talk to, let alone like. In a society where women were excluded, Jesus freely conversed with and respected women. But what about us? We may be unconscious of having any prejudice. The problem is that it emerges when we least expect it.
For us during this time of interregnum, it is particularly important for our love for one another to be genuine. Maybe verse 12 in the passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans sums it up best. 'Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.'
As Christians, we do rejoice in the hope that God through Christ has given us. It is not always easy to feel a great deal of rejoicing with all the restrictions within which we have to conduct our worship at the present time. When the prophet Jeremiah was feeling despondent, the Lord spoke to him and assured him 'I am with you to save and deliver you.'
Perhaps we need to hear these words again and again. It is during times of difficulty that we become more aware of God’s presence. No wonder Paul encourages us to 'be patient in suffering.'
We really do need to remember these words. From within the church here, we feel the lack of an incumbent. During this pandemic, it has been particularly hard. I know that some of us have joined together with online worship in the benefice and that others have watched services on television or You-tube. However, none of this is a real substitute for coming together physically in God’s house.
Then, I feel that it is very difficult too for us to live our faith in the wider society. If we are honest, we know that our culture no longer supports faith and its expression in public. Being a disciple today is costly at all sorts of different levels, socially, personally, spiritually and intellectually.
What should we do? Paul again has the answer, to 'persevere in prayer'. Consciously being in the presence of God is a start. Letting Him speak to us through His word or even through His creation is what we need to do. Praying for others comes next. It is easy to pray for those whom we love, for those we know and like. It is much harder to pray for those who threaten us.
I wonder if it feels as hard to pray for those in need, those who are poor, those who are hungry and thirsty. Maybe we feel we can do something practical by either giving money or contributing items to the foodbank. Giving to charity is not difficult; it is something people in our 21st century culture do.
What is difficult is to live as a Christian. It really is difficult to love as Christ would have us do. It is only by persevering in prayer that we can discover the way forward. It is by consciously giving time to be in God’s presence that we might one day be able to understand that 'those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.'
At this difficult time, as we seek a way forward for our world stricken by this dreadful pandemic, and as we pray for the future of Christ’s church, let us pray:
Lord of heaven and earth,
As Jesus taught his disciples to be persistent in prayer,
Give us patience and courage never to lose hope,
But always to bring our prayers before you;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.