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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 21, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
August 27, 2017

Psalm 124; Matthew 16:13-20

‘What we believe and how we believe it’

Last Sunday, late in the afternoon here, two people renewed publicly the wedding vows they’d made privately seven years before. Rachel and Ankit, surrounded by close friends and family (from Indonesia, China, India and Australia), professed their love for each other, celebrated the love of their parents and siblings and friends – and we read from the First Letter of Saint John: “God is love” (1 John 4:7-18a). So much revealed in that short sentence. Our idols, our fixed images and concepts (of God, of love) are shattered by it.

Such an occasion invites us to reflect on faith, our profession and confession of faith – what we believe and how we believe it. God be with you …

God is not a being “up there” or “out there”, a being that happens to be loving. God is the loving. And faith is ever this movement from idols to icons of love – from slavery to freedom as the Bible story presents it – from stale answers to nourishing questions, from staid conventions to renewed commitments, from cruel arrogance to prayerful awareness, from objectification of the world to something the mystics (following Saint John) call “mutual indwelling”.

And we imagine this love in and through our being caught up in it – in and through our being included. Divine love, John says, is “brought to perfection in us” – the passion of Jesus the supreme heartbreaking, liberating example.

For to see in the Cross, in the Christ story (of Jesus and his brothers, sisters, friends) both disaster and indomitable freedom (John calls it “glory”) is perhaps the very definition of Christian faith. It’s a special kind of seeing – akin to blindness – something like weeping, like seeing through tears. “We have seen for ourselves, and can testify, that God has sent the Only Begotten as Saviour of the world.”

Our Gospel for today from Matthew 16 centres on Peter, and, by way of confession, bears similar traces. The two texts, like heaven and earth in today’s Gospel, intertwine.

We might interpret it thus: To see in a poor man from “nowhere”, a wandering teacher of Torah and critic of smug religion with whom the suffering seek healing and hope, the fulfilment of Israel’s deepest yearnings, the fulfilment of prophetic promises, is no simple feat. No ordinary human feat. That which is folly, curse and nonsense in the eyes of many – a poor Christ/Messiah who shares the very life of God – flesh and blood as divine presence – is the distinctive contribution the church has to make in the world.

Indeed, when and where the churches forget this, or seek to found identities on other “confessions” – seduced by other ideologies (big business, consumerism, magical powers, the power of positive thinking) – they degenerate and collapse.

Peter is blessed, says Jesus, because his confession is no ordinary human confession. God/Love has been at work in him – and in the hearts of the other disciples – to make such a confession possible. In other words, Peter’s confession is divine revelation – in and through fidelity and fallibility.

Peter’s name is the same as the Aramaic word for rock. Simon Peter, son of Jonah. Rock Johnson we might call him, or Rocky, a word that, in English, conveys an apt ambiguity, reminding us of the rocking boat and the Peter who, taking his eyes off Jesus, began to sink like a stone beneath the waves.

Peter is, says Jesus, the “rock foundation” of the church. The person of faith – open to and in need of revelation as gift of God every day, again and again. People of faith, like Rachel and Ankit renewing their vows – open to and in need of salvation as gift of God every day, again and again.

Jesus said, “Who do you say that I am?” What is it about Jesus that means most to us? And what kind of salvation do we seek?

Like the psalmist who sings “The snare has been broken!” we seek to be saved from states of slavery to new freedom (freedom for one another). We desire this movement from stale answers to nourishing questions (Oliver, Luke and Skye have shared their thoughtful and prayerful questions – already inspiring future faith columns in the South Sydney Herald); from staid conventions (patriarchal marriage is one example of a staid convention) to renewed commitments (marriage as mutual care, respect and joy; marriage equality); from cruel arrogance (blindspots, obsessions, addictions) to prayerful awareness (however named or achieved); from objectification of the world (dualism, cynicism, speciesism) to something the mystics call “mutual indwelling” …

What is our favourite word for Jesus? Perhaps in that key word there’s already a sense of salvation – of wholeness and wellness – implied. What is your favourite word for Jesus? Let’s complete the homily together … Amen.