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” Who do you think you are” ? Thoughts on Matthew 16 v 13-20

Matthew 16 v 13-20

” But what about you? ” Jesus asked ” Who do you say that I am?”

Some of you may have been watching the new TV series of “ Who do you think you are”. If you aren’t familiar with it, the BBC take a celebrity and undertakes research on their behalf to reveal who their forebears were.  I’ve read that each celebrity  needs to have a fair amount of interest in their background in order to be suitable for the show. If their ancestors were all agricultural labourers  and domestic servants with no especial scandal, bravery or unusual circumstances  attached to them then  the individual’s past wouldn’t see the  light of day.

I find it a fascinating programme to watch and the stars of the show often  seem genuinely moved by many of the things they find out. How exciting it would be to have BBC researchers do all the work for you and wisk you round the country – or fly you around the world to see where your ancestors came from.

The title of the programme is interesting “ Who do you think you are” suggesting that if you know where you come from, you know a little better who you are now. That our identity is forged by our past to some extent and if we can understand why we are as we are then that self knowledge can help us to grow into the people we are meant to be.

Knocking on doors these past three weeks I have met a lot of people I had never come across before. To say it is a challenge is putting it mildly. I  ring or knock and have no idea in most cases who will answer and how they may greet me.  I realized early on that I needed to carry not just an umbrella but some degree of self confidence because if there is a rejection or cold response it’s important for me not to take it personally.

In a way I am representing the church when I knock on the door and that too is a big responsibility. How I am with people might just change the opinion someone has about church and even the Christian faith. If I thought about that for too long it would all feel very daunting. Maybe half of the people I’ve approached have invited me. I think I have been surprised by that. A visit can typically take up to an hour.

Hence my plan to get round the whole village in August quickly evaporated. Once inside someone’s home there is a process going on of the host sizing me up in the few minutes I’m with them and conversely me  picking up something of what the person or persons are like who invited me in.

Many interviews I’m pleased to say are very pleasant and it is a real privilege to be invited into someone’s space for a while and for them to share a little of what is going on in their lives. Money worries, the state of the country, the expansion of the village, the work we are doing in church, personal stories  not least about children and grandchildren and some reminiscing of what has happened in our church here in the past are just some of the topics that come up.

Some people are very  friendly from the outset and the tea is brewing before I’ve sat down. Others are more cautious but  warm to me after a while. Sometimes I don’t get past the doorstep and leave after a polite handshake. I shall continue with the challenge and hopefully keep going until every home has at least been approached – even if there isn’t anyone at home. I often come away  feeling that I know the people there quite well even after a short visit. Others I feel that there wasn’t much real connection.

The whole exercise has  for me been to do with getting to know who the people are that make up Little Paxton village.  The people who receive our regular flyers about our church events. The people who we pray for when we pray each Sunday for our neighbours.

The people for whom this church  exists – as we are a parish church and I am the Vicar with the cure of Souls available for all the people of the parish. As a congregation we all have the responsibility of assisting me in that task as so many of you do day in day out with unflagging zeal. It is easier to stay in our comfort zone and only reach out to the people we know or who approach us. I hope and pray that this initiative will commend our church life in a positive way to our whole community and even bring some people nearer to an awareness of God’s love  in their lives.

I am learning a lot about myself in this exercise and realizing how hard it can be to approach the stranger and if only in a small way find out who they think they are,  and what matters to them in life.  There are many people who say to me “ I am a Christian” but don’t go to church often in an apologetic way.

I think for many, there is a disconnect  between having some sort of faith and thinking that church going may be a safe and meaningful experience for them.  Early on in the adventure, someone was quite rude to me and I almost felt like quitting but fortunately the next visit went very well.  I have to learn not to be upset by how people may react to me and to have an inner sense of belief that what I’m doing is essentially good and constructive. I’ve leant too that I can’t say no to having tea…. and have drunk more in these last days than in the rest of my life!

I’ve been reflecting these past few weeks that it is so easy to think of other people as somehow very different to us, even alien. I’ve been aware of my reactions to the riots in London and other UK cities last week. TV interviews with victims of the looting in London variously described the offenders as criminals, even feral rats. The ensuing processes of the law have locked up huge numbers of them and our prisons  now house the greatest number of inmates ever. Its as if  this large mass of undesirable people have  to be locked away to be punished  and held up as a deterent to others even if their crimes wouldn’t normally deserve a custodial sentence.

I am struggling a great deal with this response, wondering how any sort of restorative work can be done with these people in overcrowded cells. It’s a political debate raging away at the moment. Behind it all are individuals many of whom have badly lost their way in life  and  seem to be disconnected with ordinary decent values and behaviour.  Many probably have little sense of self worth and regard for themselves or for others and their property.

We can only hope and pray that somewhere somehow there are sufficient  resources to help  these men and women   restore purpose and dignity to their lives and their families. They are Gods children as much as we are who live in nice comfortable circumstances. Many have probably never been asked by someone who cares “ Who do you think you are – what would you like to become?”

This question “ Who do you think you are” was one that seemed to matter a great deal to Jesus.  Infact he asks his disciples outright when the band of travelers came to Caesarea Philippi “ Who do you say I am?”

It is Simon Peter who replies: You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”

On account of this hugely significant admission, Jesus goes on to give Peter a preeminent role in what will be the new movement of followers of Christ  -the Christian Church.

He calls him by the name Peter – meaning rock and says that upon that rock he will build his church. So despite Peter’s lack of faith at times and even going on to deny Jesus, Jesus defines what Peter’s role is to be and to a large extent his character.

So today as we read about Peter’s confession of who Jesus is  and we are invited to ask for ourselves “ Who is Jesus for us?”. When he knocks on the door of our lives, how do we respond? Is there a warm welcome and an invitation to him to come into our busy day and sit with us for a while? Is there a cursory polite hand shake but ultimately no real  connection with him? In the Book of Revelation Chapter 3  there are some powerful words of Jesus received by the author in a vision “  Behold I stand at the door and knock”

 

How do we feel when we hear that call from Jesus?

I know in myself that how I respond to his call defines the sort of person I become. If I want to know who I am it helps me to answer that by asking “Who do I think Jesus is, the Son of The Living God? What is he trying to say to me? What does he want me to do?”

Ultimately following St Pauls writing we can say that our aim is to live in Christ and for Christ to be living in us. He dwells in us and our prayer is that we become more like him day by day.

Who are we? We are each of us precious children of God, made in his image, living in his love and by his grace. Together making one body, Christ body here on earth, each with our own gifts and talents and unique personalities. What a privilege it is to have as one of our tasks the opportunity to meet with other people and be channels of Gods love and peace and make connections with our neighbours.

We finish worship each week with “ Let us go in peace to love and to serve the Lord”

May God give us all the strength and courage and resources to do that day by day.

Amen.

August 20, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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