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Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Today’s Readings

Psalm 116: 1-8, Isaiah 50: 4-9a, James 3: 1-12, Mark 8: 27-38

St Peter was a very interesting and complicated person. He often blew hot and cold – one minute doing the right thing and then getting it wrong. Just like he did when he betrayed Jesus on the night before Jesus was crucified. But I have always had a bit of a soft spot for Peter. He reminds me so much of how I and so many of us behave. Yes, we want to follow the Lord, but how often we get it wrong and stumble and fail. So, two minutes after Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah in one of the most significant declarations by anyone except Jesus in the Gospels, he gets it wrong again. When Jesus starts to talk about his death, Peter rebukes him. And Jesus rebukes him back. But, goodness, Lord that seems pretty harsh, doesn’t it? Peter, Satan? Surely not, he is one of your best chums, most ardent followers. What do you mean?! Well in Hebrew the word Satan originally meant “adversary”, so what I think Jesus meant was – work with me Peter, not against me. And as we know, Peter did, becoming a hugely important leader in the early Church and himself being crucified in Rome – upside down as he felt unworthy to suffer the same death as Jesus. In Mark, Jesus goes on to talk about what it means to be a follower of his – how we need to take up our crosses and make him the most important focus and objective of our lives. And one major part of that carrying our cross is in being true to ourselves. To be a true Christian is to never be ashamed of Jesus, but it is also in being the real selves that God made us – facing up to who we are and searching out that place, that role that God has prepared for each and every one of us. God gave us the free will to accept or reject the message of Jesus. It is up to us to choose, but if we accept the way of Jesus and the road to heaven, we also accept the way of the Cross. This is not always easy in a World full of temptations and different measures of success. I spoke last time I was here about Bonhoeffer’s concepts of cheap and costly grace. Being a Christian is not cheap, it costs us in many different ways. And, as the former Archbishop of York, John Sentamu once said, the World can and frequently does think of us as being a little strange – un poco loco as would be said in Spanish. Well, that’s the World’s problem not ours, as we follow a way that leads only to salvation. This passage in Mark defines a fork in the road – the point when Jesus’s ministry takes a decisive turn towards the Cross. We find him moving on from the preparatory things -the miracles, the loaves and fishes, the water into wine to the more serious stuff. The revelation that Jesus would soon be rejected, scorned and killed and that they would share his suffering shocked the disciples. But Peter’s “Oh come off it, Lord” didn’t impress Jesus. The disciples must have been all of a dither – they were expecting triumph, victory, glory! And here he was talking of suffering and death and a pretty darned hard time! The Disciples had to make a choice – to follow Jesus or to deny him and go back to the World. Except for Judas Iscariot, for whom it has to be said, God had a different and devastating plan – they all chose to follow Jesus. And follow him they did. So many of the disciples suffered traumatic deaths for their faith. For example: Matthew was slain by the sword in Ethiopia Peter was crucified in Rome Thomas died in India – pierced with a lance Jude was shot to death by arrows Barnabas was stoned to death All for Jesus, all for Jesus. We are fortunate to live in a country where Christianity is still the predominant religion and where people have freedom to worship as they wish. But there are Christians today in many parts of the World who suffer horrific persecution because of their faith – in China, for example, in North Korea, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Vietnam and even in Nigeria, which has one of the biggest Anglican communities in the World. And in many other places. We need to pray for and support these our fellow Christians who have so valiantly taken up their crosses. And we might think of giving practical support to organisations such as Release International, which helps persecuted Christians Worldwide. Bearing our cross is about far more than coping with the troublesome and trying problems of our individual lives. It is about making a decision to share in Jesus’s Cross. And Jesus’s cross means not thinking about ourselves but adopting an all-embracing concern for others, living a life of service and generosity of spirit, a life living out and proclaiming the life-giving path of the gospel in any and every way we can. It is by no means easy, but it is worth it, this way of the cross. Let us pray that we have the strength and determination to live it as best we all can. Amen Richard Austen


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