What I have here is a bag of stones. I rather like stones – or rocks – and I often pick up them up on my travels. I am no geologist; I just like rocks. There are many different types of rock from all round the World. I have just a small number of my rather unremarkable and ordinary collection with me now, but here I have examples from Canada, the USA, Mongolia, Iceland and the back garden of my block of flats in Kew. I could have brought more.
Jesus said to Peter that he was the rock upon which he would build his church and Peter of course went on to bring the Good News to Rome and there to suffer a dreadful death for his faith.
There are many different types of rock. And there are many different people who make up the church. We are all the rocks on which the church is built. The church, as we have said many times before and really found out during lockdown, is not the building, it is the people. The wise person does not build their house upon the sand, but upon rock or on firm foundations. All modern houses will be built with concrete foundations and concrete is usually made up of cement holding together a vast number of little stones. The church is like that. The cement is the love of God and our faith in him, which holds us together, but we are the little stones, the little rocks, that help give the cement strength and permanence and purpose and a presence in the World. God depends on us to build his church, to support his church and to be his presence in an increasingly secular World. This commission is even more important than ever for us now as we continue on our way through the interregnum.
So why was Peter so important and why did Jesus rely so much on someone who could be flaky and unreliable? Because Peter recognised Jesus for who he was and who he still is. Peter did not think of Jesus as a good man or just a prophet. Peter recognised Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. It was the right answer.
We are the successors of Peter and have to answer that question too. Who do we really think Jesus is? If we think, as many people seem to do, that he was just a good man or just one of the prophets, then we miss out the essence of not only him, but of the Christian faith. But if we really believe him to be the Son of God, who has come into the World for us, someone who is the Way the Truth and the Life, then this should have a life changing impact on us. Everything we think, hope, do, should have that wonderful message at its centre – here he is, here is the Son of God, here is what gives us meaning, purpose, salvation, eternal life. We should be shouting it from the roof tops and telling everyone we know. The modern World may not think that having faith in God is a rational thing to do. Poor them, our view is the opposite. When you are aware of a God who loves you, who cares about everyone and everything and has given you so many blessings, then it surely seems irrational to not believe in him.
My Father was a ship’s Captain. My sister and I sailed with him round the Mediterranean probably nearly fifty years ago. When we were far from land sailing towards Malta and thence Beirut, we used to stand sometimes on the bridge in the evenings and look at the stars, which were more than magnificent. My dad said one night – “When you look up at all this, how could anyone ever think that there is no God?” And he quoted the first line of Psalm 19 – the Heavens tell out the glory of God. Evidence of God is everywhere, so while it is irrational not to believe in him, it is also irrational to keep quiet about it too
Churches close, congregations wither, though we usually hear about this from people who never step foot inside a church. Congregations face challenges, as we will do over the next few months. But if we are firm, if we pray that we may be the rocks that support the church and God in Kew, we will triumph, we will excel, we will present whoever comes in due course to be our new Priest with a firm foundation for his or her Ministry here.
To finish, a short quote from the wonderful nineteenth century hymn.
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
Christ is our rock, we are Christ’s rocks, we will be strong for him and he will support us through anything and everything.