The Rt. Rev. Frank Sargeant is Assistant Bishop of Manchester and Liverpool. He is honorary assistant curate to the parishes of St Philip and Sacred Trinity Salford. His new book ‘A Complete Parish Priest’ about the life of Canon Peter Green will be published in October, 2011.
The Rock and the Keys by Rt. Rev. Frank Sargeant
‘And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’ St Matthew 16:19
When Rev. Rebecca Craven introduced her sermon last week by saying that an indication of absentmindedness was losing one’s keys, she didn’t develop the theme as I anticipated. She has given me the opportunity to do it today. I will discuss Peter who Jesus named the Rock and who, in St Matthew 16:19, is also entrusted with the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Before I begin the sermon, I just like to emphasise an important point. Those of you who paint in water colours with me know how important it is to make contrasts. If you don’t paint contrasts strongly enough, the painting becomes bland and its parts indistinguishable. The writers of the Gospels use contrasts so that one incident stands out from another.
In this morning’s Gospel readings, we have Peter declaring Jesus to be the Messiah and Jesus calling him the rock – the rock of faith on which the church will be built. Jesus then handed Peter the keys of the kingdom, the keys opening the Church to the Jews and Gentiles. Therefore, the Church that is built on faith is contrasted with its mission. That demonstrates how God, our heavenly Father, is active in our world. As we say every Sunday in the Lord’s Prayer, His Will is ‘to be done euen in Earth as it is in heauen’.
Jesus then went to the crux of the matter by saying that the rock of our faith, and the key to our faith is his death and resurrection. By being killed and raised from the dead, Jesus would save his people (us) and God would reclaim them (us) for his own. Jesus’ sacrifice was in God’s plan, which was made clear to Jesus at his baptism when God put his trust in him. Likewise, Jesus placed his trust in Peter, whom he named and blessed as the rock. As Jesus was tested by different temptations, so Peter is tested by being entrusted with the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet Peter does not want the keys. He rebukes Jesus for talking of his death. The contrast now is that only a moment ago Peter was the Rock, now Jesus condemns him as the tempter, ‘Get thee behind me Satan: thou art an offence unto me’ (St Matthew 16:23).
So Jesus implied that the Christian faith, based on his Cross, required sacrifice. It is a matter of losing one’s life based on secular thoughts, values and belongings to embrace a spiritual life of love, joy and peace. We must deny our narcissistic needs by putting others first; and we all know how difficult that is. We also know how difficult it is to build up the Church based on faith in Jesus, how difficult it is to make an impression on the world as we turn the key of the church to open the door on our community. It is significant to me that last week a poll was published asking what folk thought was the root cause behind the recent riots. Lack of parental control came top, followed by lack of discipline in schools. It was clear to me that folk were looking for scapegoats. What was not mentioned was the fact that the Christian religion has ceased to play a part in how people behave. But how we regard others and their needs assumes more importance if we regard them and ourselves, as those for whom Christ died. We must move away from concerns about the maintenance of the Church and turn the key to open the Church door to seek equality and justice for all. That requires sacrifice.
St. Peter understood the message of the Rock and the Keys and the Cross. In contrast to Jesus’ crucifixion, he died crucified upside down so he could look towards Heaven and towards the Messiah, his saviour.
Closer to our own day is a modern day Saint, Oscar Romero (1917-1980) who was said to be ‘an example of life in faith for all Christians throughout the world’ (Lacalle 150). He had been a timid, retiring, conservative priest for thirty-five years, seven as a bishop. When he was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador he witnessed the oppression of his people and he changed. He had found his base, his rock, his life in the Church with traditional prayer, worship and theology, but he turned the key to go into the world to speak for the oppressed and the poor and against corruption and injustices in society. Does that ring any bells? The day after Romero had made an appeal to the Army and the police to listen to their consciences and stop obeying immoral commands to torture and kill, he paid the ultimate price. He was shot dead whilst celebrating the Eucharist, a brutal act that connects the Eucharist with the Cross of Jesus in a very vivid way. It is the cross which stands at the centre of the Gospel, at the cross of world history, world religions, at the crossroad of all our lives, as the Rock and key in which we believe as Christians.
Lacalle, Saenz. ‘Oscar Romero’ in Spiritual Stars of the Millennium. Eds. Selina O’Grady and John Wilkins. London & New York: Continuum, in association with The Tablet, 2001.
All quotes from St Matthew are from the Geneva Bible (1602).
Oscar Romero, http://www.victorshepherd.on.ca/Heritage/Oscar%20Romero.htm, date accessed 03/09/11.
First preached on Sunday 28th August, 2011 at St. Philip’s with St. Stephen’s Church, Salford, Manchester.
Truly you are the Son of God by the Rt.Rev. Frank Sargeant
Notices fascinate me. Some are easy to follow – others not so easy. Let me give you two examples. The other day I saw a bus being towed away by an articulated lorry. The bus displayed the notice ‘Not in Service’ – that was perfectly obvious. The second notice was outside a pub. It read, ‘Sunday Lunches Now Being Served’. It was Tuesday morning! What did that mean? That it was possible to have a lunch similar to the ones served on Sunday on a Tuesday? Or that at one time lunches were not being served, but they are now served on a Sunday? You had to think about it. In the readings we hear week by week some meanings are very obvious, some you have to think about. Some are totally unexpected.
1 The Lake.
Last week’s and this week’s Gospel readings (Matthew 14:22-33) are based on the Lake of Galilee – the Lake itself is obvious but other details are not so obvious. For instance, the Lake is eight miles in circumference. Therefore, five thousand men, women and children had walked eight miles to hear Jesus teach and be healed by him. It had taken them a lot of effort, as it sometimes takes us a lot of effort to get to church when obstacles stand in our way. But like the people of Galilee we are fed by the Lord’s word and sacrament.
Another thing that is not so obvious was that although most of the time the Lake of Galilee is calm, storms can appear in a matter of minutes. Huge waves toss the fishing boats around like bits of drift wood. In today’s reading (Matthew 14:22-33), the disciples found themselves in such a storm. While, at last, Our Lord Jesus had found time to pray alone on a mountainside. He needed to get away after John the Baptist had been beheaded by Herod. However, the temptation for Jesus was to hide in case he was next for the chop. But just as Jesus allows himself to be interrupted by the feeding of the five thousand, he also allows himself to be interrupted by the needs of his disciples caught in the storm. In order to rescue them quickly, Jesus takes a short cut by walking on water. Now that is a tale of the unexpected, the not so obvious, as are all the miracles of Jesus. He breaks the routine rules of life to rescue those in need as he shares the creative power of his Father. When Peter tries to emulate Jesus by also walking on the water he begins to sink because he lacks faith.
But the experience was not wasted on Peter or on the other disciples. Despite his frustration of not being able to walk on water, Peter was reminded by the others in the boat that Jesus was the Son of God. They already knew that Jesus was their Lord because they had chosen to be his disciples– now they realised that Jesus was the Son of God. After the crucifixion of Our Lord, the Roman soldiers also realised the same fundamental truth about Jesus.
2. Message for today.
That is the message of today’s passage (Matthew 14:22-33). We come to worship God, not just Jesus a good man who lived his life for others, but Jesus the divine-the Son of God. If that is obvious, we tend to forget it. When we feel sorry for ourselves, we can do well to think of the times when God has come to our rescue. They are times for which we can’t account, and become obvious only when we reflect on life’s experiences.
Today, we are all faced with frightening experiences some with sudden results, into which I need not to go into because they are obvious – but they must not destroy our faith in God. We must hold on to the disciples’ words, “Truly you are the Son of God” when we try to marry our faith with life.
3.Action and Devotion.
This brings me to someone who did marry faith and life, Saint Teresa of Avila (Saint Theresa of Jesus 1515-1582). She was noted for her extreme action for others and her extreme devotion to Our Lord. She left two prayers which sum up her attitude to faith and life. One states that God has no hands but our hands to do his work – we must remember that. We are commissioned to solve life’s frightening problems by rescuing others – but we can only do that if we allow our lives to be interrupted and have constant faith in God. St. Teresa’s second prayer is called her ‘Bookmark’ because it was discovered posthumously in her prayer book. (Incidentally, a bookmark is used to remind us how far we have got in a story; and so St. Teresa’s ‘Bookmark’ reminds us to remember God in our own stories.)
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
The truth of St. Teresa’s prayer may not be immediately obvious, but we shall find it to be true on reflection. Amen.
Originally preached at St Philip’s with St Stephen’s Church, Salford, Manchester on 07/08/2011.