Confession of Peter

Confession of Peter 2009

Matthew 16:13-19

Marian Free

In the name of God, who calls us to know him and to share what it is that we know. Amen.

The keynote speaker at the recent Clergy Summer School, Clive Pearson, told us that he had the lyrics to between 70 and 80 rock songs that use the name Christ. This did not include, he said, songs that implied Christ, or songs that referred to a Biblical theme or story. This does not mean that the name is used in a way that we would appreciate or that we would even recognise in the words the Christ who is presented. The relationship between Christ and the lyrics may not be at all clear to us, but the fact that it is used at all tells us something of the way in which Christ is known to and part of today’s culture. The reason Pearson has listened to more rock music than “is good for someone of his age” is that he believes that in order to relate to the world in which we find ourselves, Christians need we need to hear the biblical language as it is used by different groups within our culture” and “having heard it we need to create space to listen to what is going on.” It is clear from this that Christ is not absent from today’s society, just present in a different way. Pearson argues that we should be attentive to the all the ways in Christ is present – even if we find the use of the name offensive or unpalatable. So, for example, he explores the use of expression: “for Christ’s sake” seeing its use as evidence of the presence of Christ in our culture. Paying attention to the presence of Christ means taking seriously art that challenges or affronts, listening for the name of Christ in the language of the people around us and looking for Christ in the experience and practice of those of other cultures and even those of other faiths. We need immerse ourselves in the world around us so that we hear what people are saying about the one in whom we place our faith. We may discover that Christ does not look or sound as we have been led to expect, but we may find him anyway. Pearson argues that a problem facing the church today is an increasing privatization of belief. This is reflected in the way that many of us have come to feel that our faith is a personal matter, that we don’t have a right to impose our faith on others, that our voice has no place in public affairs. As more and more people have chosen not to come to church we have drawn in on ourselves and lost our voice and our confidence in our place in the world. A loss of confidence can mean that instead of taking the opportunity to ask people why they have stopped coming to church, we simply let them go. As a consequence we don’t hear the pain of their stories and we miss out on learning of their criticism of the church. We haven’t asked where do they find Christ now. By listening for the ways in which Christ is present in the world, we can begin to have a conversation with those who are hurt, those who are lost and those whose views are different from our own. If we take the time to listen, we may be shocked, we may be disparaged, but we will hear their stories of Christ and we will learn where their ideas originate – whether from misconception or inspiration. Listening and hearing, we will find the places where we can connect and we will create a space for conversation. This model of mission is far from new. Today’s gospel balances the need to listen to the world with the need to be clear about what it is we believe. After warning the disciples to beware of the Pharisees, Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do people say that I am?” At this point in his ministry, Jesus is seeking to learn what people think of him, how they are relating to his presence, how they are responding to his message. The disciples respond – in the religious milieu of first century Palestine a teacher or holy person could be any one of a number of people – Jeremiah, Elijah, John the Baptist or one of the prophets. In other words, according to the disciples the people don’t quite know what to make of Jesus. He is not like their teachers, but neither is he like the miracle workers with whom they are familiar. He is something of an enigma. Then Jesus asks: “Who do you say that I am?” and elicits Peter’s confident response: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. Jesus questions represent two requisites of mission – understanding the world and how it sees Christ and at the same time being clear about what it is that Christ means to us. It is only when both are present that we are properly able to engage with others – to willingly and confidently listen to their stories and at the same time be competent to tell our own. Pearson’s research reminds that in a variety of ways Christ is present in the secular world today – in its language, in its songs, in its media, in its movies and its art. It is our responsibility to pay attention, to hear how and where Christ is present and how faith is perceived. Together we can discover Christ as if for the first time. The letters and the gospels demonstrate that the first disciples engaged with the society around them, that they tried to tell the story of Jesus in ways that it would be heard by those who had no lived experience of Judaism as well as to those who did. The differences between the four gospels remind us that the authors re-told the story for the world in which they found themselves – working out how they could connect in different culture milieus. During this year, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Brisbane Diocese, we have a wonderful opportunity to share with others what Jesus means to us and to other Christians. We can begin by listening to the stories of those outside our community and hearing what Christ means to them and sharing our own story in response. The dialogue which will result has the potential to enrich us all.

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