Readings: Exodus 1:8 – 2:10, Psalm 124, Romans 12:1–8, Matthew 16:13–20
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.’
I wonder how many of you at some point can say to yourselves that something was revealed to you by God and not by humans. Perhaps it was a feeling, or a dawning realisation, or a point that you can identify in your life where you suddenly knew God, or something of God in a way that you didn’t know before.
Sometimes, I feel, we are too shy to talk about these moments. But in fact, these moments are the points in our lives that help us to build and move in faith. God is alive, he is lives in us and we in him. If we choose to, we can allow God to reveal Scriptures or situations to us where the first activity we are expected to do is to pray. Much of what God reveals is to us, personally, and to pray into that revelation. That is our faith. Our spirituality is bound up in our decision to follow Christ.
During one of my holidays in a remote part of Scotland with no mobile reception, a friend of mine suddenly popped into my mind. I knew in that instance that another friend had asked her to marry him. When I returned home a few days later, I sought my friend and that engagement was confirmed. Sometimes we might have what we call ‘gut-instinct’. These, I believe, are part of the spiritual connection we have with others. Sometimes of course, we can go so far off in the other direction that there is no spiritual connection, but instead, what we are experiencing is all in the mind.
The mind and knowledge can be a mixed blessing when it comes to choosing to follow Christ. If we’re not careful, the mind leads the way. We aim to garner knowledge about God while choosing to be in utter control of our lives, thinking that is the way of Christ. Yet, Paul in his letter to the Romans – one of the last letters he wrote, incidentally – requests we should not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. In order that we might discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.
The mind, in control, seeks those things that the world expects – dominance, rule, importance, success. Fear can often accompany these, as losing control or importance downgrades us in the eyes of the world. But we are not of this world. We are in it, but not of it. Paul writes of grace:
‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.’
Paul never met Jesus. Paul wasn’t taught by him – he wasn’t one of the disciples. Having learned the rabbinical teachings of the Law, he knew off by heart what we know as the Old Testament – the Hebraic Scriptures. These Scriptures were what he was using to persecute new followers of The Way – the new movement that gathered pace after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, before it was known as Christianity. Where therefore did Paul gather his knowledge, his theology?
It was grace that brought Paul to Christ. His single point of conversion on the road, followed by three years of unlearning and relearning the Scriptures. That shows us some of Paul’s character. He was so single minded and focused that it took a visual showdown to wake Paul up to the reality of a God who is loving, kind and compassionate. We will never know if there were several ‘coincidental’ encounters before Paul was blinded where God was trying to get his attention. Certainly, I always find with hindsight that there are a number of incidences where God has nudged me in one direction or another. But he gives me the choice whether to follow up on that nudge.
Moments of epiphany like that aren’t always experienced. Some of us take years, if not decades, to realise who God is. Some people retain the mind as being the focal point of their worship of God, and some go with their heart. Often though I suspect that it is a mix of the two. We cannot simply make the difference of heart and mind a dualistic comparison. But it is something I think we need to be aware of. Knowledge of God is not the same as knowing God.
If we return to the Gospel passage, knowledge of God is quite clear in the first response Jesus receives. A hedging of the bets. “And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Knowing God comes in the next sentence. We will never know when that moment occurred for Peter. He might have been carrying around that understanding for some time before voicing it.
Then comes the revelation of that meaning. “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Reread my last paragraph again. And if necessary, again. So often we don’t think about our actions having consequences. Our words reverberating through space and time.
Knowing God comes through prayer, through our lives and our devotions. Through the way we use our gifts according to the grace given to us. We are not limited by the list that Paul provides. These are examples of what is good and kind. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil. Hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection. Be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
Please pray with me…