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23 August 2011 @ 08:24 pm
Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam  
Isaiah 51:1-6
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

Who do you say that I am? Could probably be one of the preacher’s favourite questions. A solid and challenging sermon demanding response. Christ’s question to the apostles and in particular to Peter becomes his eternal question to us. Can we proclaim, with St Peter, that Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the living God? But I’m not going to preach that sermon although it’s a good question to reflect on.

I want to move on to the response that Jesus makes to Peter’s affirmation. Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

It might sometimes come as a surprise but Jesus founded the church and he did so on a rock. He did not build it on the sand – but like the man of his parable, he built it on a rock to stand firm against the storms of the ages. Two thousand or so years later, here we are: now a worldwide church but still founded on the rock as Jesus founded it.

That has not however stopped the church from facing challenges in her life. In every age there have been difficulties to overcome – both from inside and outside the church. Our time is no different in that respect: the difficulties we may face will be different but our identity as the people of God, as God’s church is unchanged. We still share in that community, founded by Christ, proclaiming him as Son of God and Messiah and seeking to proclaim the gospel to all peoples.

As we go through times of change and times of reshaping how we do things, we must remember that what we do we do only as stewards of all the good things that God has given us. We can never imagine that the church is somehow ours to do what we will with. We can never talk of starting again because the only start of the church that matters is the one made by Christ himself. Of course, we are always called to pursue the path to holiness, to become more faithful, to be more effective in our mission and we pray that God will guide us to do that.

So it is that Paul appeals to the Christians in Rome to present themselves to God as a living sacrifice, to be one body together as God’s church. We, who are one body in Christ, need each other. We cannot do this alone, and we cannot do this without all the people God has called together. We have different gifts, we bring different approaches, we have different experiences, but we need them all. Together, we can play our part in God’s church – apart we cannot.

It is as we gather together in worship and especially as we gather at Holy Communion that we are most fully God’s church. Through this sacrament, we are drawn into closer unity with one another and with all God’s church of every age. We proclaim every time we celebrate, it that it is with saints and angels and all the company of heaven that we proclaim Holy, Holy, Holy, God of power and might. We rejoice in our communion with the saints of every age, with St Peter and the first apostles gathered around Christ, with the saints of the early church, with those saints who first brought the gospel to these islands and who lived and prayed in these hills and valleys, with John and Charles Wesley and the early Methodists and with all those who have gone before us in faith and love. It is with them that we are united in worship and prayer and in succession to them that we engage in God’s mission in the world.

Through the church, we seek to share the message that Christ is the Son of God, we seek to draw people into our community of love and care, we seek to offer to God the praise that is his due. As God’s church, in whatever place we may be and in whatever form we find ourselves, that is what we must do. Against the challenges of the 2000 years of our history, the realities of early 21st century Cardiff might seem rather small. But we have the responsibility here and now of continuing this mission, of being the hands and feet of Christ in this place, of offering God worship day by day, week by week. So as we move to new ways of working, new ways of doing things, we all need to hold before us what the church is and why we exist, we all need to remember that we are one body together and that we need each other and we must remember that the church exists for the worship of God and for the mission of God. There will be challenges, as there have always been but God will always be with us. We can hear the words of the prophet Isaiah as words to us too:

Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
   you that seek the Lord.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
   and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
   and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
   but I blessed him and made him many.
For the Lord will comfort Zion;
   he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
   her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
   thanksgiving and the voice of song.