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Commitment and the cross – Matthew 16 v 21-end

Ordinary 22 Year A

Trinity 10.

Matthew 16 v 21-end.

There was once a pig and a hen and realising it was shortly to be the farmers birthdaydecided to give hima  surprise. But what could it be? I know said the pig, we shall give him a shiny new tractor. But no, they decided they couldnt afford it. I know said the hen, we shall give him a brand new pair of boots. But no, they decided they couldnt afford it. What about a bottle of beer – or two said the pig – but no, even that was  expensive.

Then the hen exclaimed  – I know, we shall give him a lovely tasty breakfast. I shall provide the eggs and you pig can provide the bacon.

And the pig was seen no more……

 

Commitment is a long word – hard to spell and even harder sometimes to keep the commitments that we make. Commitments come in all shapes and sizes.

We might make a commitment to a loved person in a formal relationship such as marriage.  In marriage a couple make some rather awesome promises to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy for better for worse for richer and for poorer. I never fail to be moved by the sincerity with which these promises are invariably made at a church wedding.

Many people I have been meeting these weeks have made a commitment to look after a relative at home be they younger or older  and who for whatever reason need special care.

Many people make commitments often a little later in life to look after grandchildren whilst their own children are at work – there is huge army of grandparents out there looking after their grandchildren for many hours in the week – where would the nation be without them?

 

We may make a commitment to a profession or organization – when a priest takes

ordination vows they are a life long commitment to serve God and the church with the grace, the help of God sustaining those promises.

Many people give years of their skills, talents and loyalty to working for a particular firm, in a profession or trade and the bravery and commitment for instance of those serving in our armed forces or in the emergency services deserves our greatest respect.

 

We might make smaller commitments each day whether to ourselves ” I will leave that box of chocolates alone!” – or to someone who is reliant on us to carry out a task. The world around us wouldn’t function at all well if we didn’t keep out commitments.

Even children are encouraged of course to keep the promises they make – quite moving when the uniform groups renew their vows each year in church on St George’s day.

Scout promise.

On my honour I promise that I will do my best—
To do my duty to God and the King (or to God and my Country)
To help other people at all times and
To obey the Scout Law.

 

I’m sure you can all think of people who have made extraordinary commitments to help others. I have a colleague on the Governing Body of GP school who is undertaking to swim across the channel in September in aid of the Charity which does research into Parkinsons Disease. He is training every weekend and is determined to reach his target.

Our church community here is made up of you and me and together we made a commitment to repair the building and make its future more certain for generations to come. The commitment of so many of you is admirable and again please be assured of the appreciation of  village people for what you are all doing. Bells keep alive the rumour of God – so does an active and caring church community.

With every commitment there is a promise and with every promise there is
hope that the commitment will be kept. With each kept commitment trust is built. A commitment, when kept,  raises our self-esteem and allows others to more deeply trust and respect us. Ultimately, there is hope that life will be better because of the commitment.

The commitments we choose to make, define us as unique individuals. Commitments communicate loudly to the world that certain things/people/values, etc. are important to us. Our ability to make and keep commitments is a key factor in our capacity to function, in the world, as mature adults.

I never cease to wonder at the courage of   people who 2,000 years ago made a life long commitment to Christ, a commitment which often led to their own deaths. With the possible exception of St John – the beloved disciple recorded in St Johns Gospel – all the rest of his disciples  met with martyrdom and persecution. Countless numbers of early followers of Christ literally lost their lives following him in waves of persecution carried out by the Romans. Those of you who come to Wednesday  morning communion services will often hear about a saint who gave their life  in service to Christ

Then there were the  followers of Christ  in the early centuries of the faith  who gave up their lives to follow him completely creating religious communities.

Take some of the earliest Christian people in England – on the Island of Lindisfarne c 300 miles from here on the coast of Northumbria. It’s a place I love deeply and have visited on several occasions.

 

Sunset on Lindisfarne

 St Aidanwas an Irish monk from the monastery of St Columba in Iona and in AD 635 he and 12 other monks, at the invitation of King Oswald, settled on the island. They established an Irish-type monastry of wooden buildings and here the monks led a life of prayer, study and austerity.

 

From Lindisfarne , they went out on their mission. Aidan’s simple missionary method was to walk the lanes, talk to the people he met and interest them in the faith when he could. His monks visited and revisited the places where he sowed the seeds and in time local Christian communities were set up.  One story tells that the king, worried that Aidan would walk like a peasant, gave him a horse. But Aidan gave it away to a beggar. He wanted to walk, to be on the same level as the people he met.

 

Aidan ensured his efforts did not die with himself and his monks so he taught young Christian boys the practical work of being monks, priests and missionaries. Irish monks were very keen on Christian education which required the new skills of book-learning, reading and writing Latin. The essentials to be learnt were the 150 psalms and the four gospels. These novices gradually took on the mantel which Aidan passed on to them

After 16 years as bishop on Lindisfarne, Aidan died at Bamburgh in AD 651AD. What he had achieved might not have been clear to him at the time. Bur subsequent history showed the strong foundation and lasting success of his commitment to mission.  The missionaries at his school went out and worked for the conversion of much of Anglo-Saxon England.  Neither did Aidan just train men for the church. He discovered Hilda who was to become the most famous abbess of her day – Abbess of Whitby who herself trained 5 men to become bishops.

 

Another great Saint of Lindisfarne  is Cuthbert, a man  whose calling was to lead an essentially hermetical life on islands off the shores of Lindisfarne in prayer and contemplation.  He was a shepherd boy from  Scotland who reluctantly became a Bishop of Lindisfarne despite a preference to remain in prayer on Farne Island.  Many legends and mircales attached themselves to the life of the saint not least recounted by the Venerable Bede who wrote about these early Christain saints with much passion and sincerity in his Ecclesiastical History of Engalnd. It was in honour of St Cuthbert that subsequent monks of Lindisfarne produced the exquisite  Lindisfarne gospels.

 

I found the peace and beauty of Lindisfarne breathtaking and whenever I am there go  back in time, imagining  these devout and Holy people, infused by faith in God The Father, Son and Holy Spirit  giving  their lives over completely to him. Their daily routine  unpinned by the  pattern of monastic offices, their lives in tune   with the  changing seasons and tides all around them.  Who knows whether to these ancient Christian people, this life style was a cross to bear or a sheer joy to follow?  Their lives cannot have been easy either physically or emotionally. Yet from the little we can glean from them they were utterly devoted to their calling, prepared to endure the hardships there must have been to follow their Lord Jesus Christ, living in community and spreading their faith by example and care.

 

In the gospel reading, we meet St Peter again, living 600 years before these early monks of Lindisfarne, with his fire and determination – getting it wrong again! Jesus had just praise Peter for getting it right that he was The Messiah, the Son of God. But then, as Jesus begins to tell  his disciples that he must suffer and be killed – Peter objects and tries to dissuade him from talking in such a way. “ Come on, don’t talk like this “ we can hear him saying, “ Don’t be so negative – think positive”

 

But Jesus drops on him like a ton of bricks – and from praising him for recognizing his divinity, he chastises him very sharply “ Get behind me, Satan!”

 

Peter might well have been knocked back by Jesus’ rebuke. But then at times Jesus didn’t mince his words. His love could be a very tough love. It wasn’t sentimental but single-minded, unflinching and selfless.   He was so in tune with God that nothing else mattered but the truth. The truth was that Jesus had to walk forward towards the darkness of crucifixion where he even found himself witha  sense of being forsaken by  God.

 

But Jesus could see it through to the end because he had the deepest of convictions that  crucifixion was followed by resurrection. “ On the third day I  shall be raised” he said to Peter. Peter couldn’t  really take that bit on board.

 

The holy men of Lindisfarne could only have lived their lives the way they did and walked miles and miles sharing Jesus’ love if they knew deep down that all that they did and all that they were was rooted in Gods love. That any hardship they had to bear, any danger, any risk could be faced because ultimately God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit encircled them in Love.

 

Our lives are so vastly different to that of these early Christian saints outwardly. Yet whatever our setting and place in life – the same depth of faith and conviction of Gods love encircling us can be ours. The same faith that whatever may  happen to us and our loved ones, Gods arms are there to hold and sustain us. That in Gods love and power we can be enabled to go out into the world to share the good news of the gospel in what we do and in what we say – on the same level as other people, giving and receiving in return.

Amen.

August 27, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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