Peter’s Confession of Faith

TheRoadLessTraveledToday we honour the apostle Peter, who represents that part of the Church which gives it stability: its traditions and the structures which help to give consistency and unity to the Church, spread as it is through so many races, cultures, experiences and geographical diversity.

In the Gospel today from Matthew chapter 16, Peter’s confession of faith begins as a dialogue between Jesus and the disciples. Jesus asks about popular speculations regarding his identity, and the disciples list some current opinions. Then Jesus moves the discussion to be much more personal, with the question that every one of us needs to answer: “who do you say I am?”

Peter appears as the spokesman for the group and proclaims Jesus to be the Messiah which is a Hebrew word that means “anointed one”; its Greek translation is Christos. Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah reflects the disciples’ hope that Jesus would deliver Israel from its enemies and establish God’s kingdom on earth. To this declaration, Peter adds further specification of Jesus’ identity – that he is “the Son of the living God” which helps to correct and transcend any false implications present in the title “Messiah.” What Peter was saying was: you are the true king. You’re the one Israel has been waiting for. You are God’s adopted son, the one of whom the Psalms and prophets had spoken.

In reply, Jesus gives a blessing to Peter declaring that Peter’s confession was a revelation from God. The next verse in very Semitic language promises that Peter is the rock on which the Christian community will be built after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Peter, with this declaration of faith, will be the starting point of a new community. Peter has much to learn, and many failures to overcome — including one in the very next passage. But even this is part of the process. Jesus’ new community, after all, will consist simply of forgiven sinners.

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Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul (8’46”)
Radio Program recording also available here.

  • The Sacrament of Confirmation was conferred upon 247 children from the parish this weekend across five ceremonies. I celebrated the Sunday evening Mass and recorded a homily – but the SD card containing the recording has been misplaced! If St Anthony helps me to find it, I’ll post the homily here.
  • Update – the SD card re-appeared and the recording is now available (10 July)

Encountering the Living God

battlefieldWhen you think about God and how God offers a relationship with him, it seems to me that the word encounter is one of the more helpful ways of describing this relationship. Yet, when you look up the word encounter, you discover that it comes into the English language via the Old French word encontre, which in turn was based on Latin roots (in + contra) – suggesting that the word originally had a much more negative meaning. Indeed, in its French usage, it was mainly used in a military context, describing that situation when two armies faced each other across the battlefield. Each commander would presumably be thinking about their own soldiers and resources and making a mental and calculated comparison to the might of the force arrayed on the other side of the field. At the heart of encontre then is a strong sense of fear and anxiety caught up in this moment before the battle. So perhaps it is a very appropriate word to describe the way that people have been in relationship with God across the multitudes – a God who is utterly holy and powerful and mighty and awesome – and then there is little ordinary us. How can we possibly compare and enter into this contest?

Yet with the Patriarchs God began to appear to certain individuals and began to speak in terms of covenant and promise. God began to show a new and different dimension to this relationship – where he demonstrates his tenderness and compassion, caring for this people and protecting them, giving them food and water in the wilderness. He begins to speak to them and teach them and form them – especially through the prophets. Even so, there remains a certain distrust of God and an anxiety not to get too close to him.

Until Jesus arrives. When he is born, the evangelist John tells us that now the very word of God has taken flesh. God is going to feed his people in new ways now. Indeed, the evangelist Luke tells us that when Jesus was born he was laid in a manger – a feeding trough. All of this culminates in the passage that is the Gospel tonight, taken from John 6:51-58. Now in the person of Jesus we are offered a new encounter with God – at a level more personal and intimate than anything anyone could ever have imagined before as we are invited to eat (esthein then trogein) his body and drink his blood.

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Recorded at St Paul’s 5.30pm (9’23”)

The recording from St Mary’s, 8am is also available here.

encounter

ɪnˈkaʊntə,ɛn-/
verb
verb: encounter; 3rd person present: encounters; past tense: encountered; past participle: encountered; gerund or present participle: encountering
  1. 1.
    unexpectedly be faced with or experience (something hostile or difficult).
    “we have encountered one small problem”
  2. 2.
    meet (someone) unexpectedly.
    “what do we know about the people we encounter in our daily lives?”
noun
noun: encounter; plural noun: encounters
  1. 1.
    an unexpected or casual meeting with someone or something.
    “she felt totally unnerved by the encounter”
    • a confrontation or unpleasant struggle.
      “his close encounter with death”
Origin
Middle English (in the senses ‘meet as an adversary’ and ‘a meeting of adversaries’; formerly also as incounter ): from Old French encontrer (verb), encontre (noun), based on Latin in- ‘in’ + contra ‘against’.
Scripture references:
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16
John 6:51-58
Leviticus 17:10-14
2 Sam 23:14-17
Matthew 24:38

Trinity as Community and Relationship

Rublev-TrinityWhen it comes time to celebrate Trinity Sunday it can be tempting to settle in for another discussion on this abstract and irrelevant theological idea. Yet the readings that are offered for this Year A cycle give the clear basis for why the divine dance of love that describes the relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit is anything but abstract and in fact offers us a profound reflection about our very nature and identity.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8’21”)
Trinity Sunday (ETA) Exodus 34; John 3.

Pentecost – renewing the face of the earth

shutterstock_47808574When I was a kid it was uncommon for my parents to come and visit the school; in part this was because we lived on a farm and caught the bus to and from school almost every day; the exception was on Tuesdays which was mum’s shopping day and we could go home with her in a car chock-full of groceries. But as a young boy this was all quite fine. You learn how to function and relax and be yourself at home; and then how to behave and function quite differently at school. All of this works well enough until you are presented with those inevitable awkward situations where the two normally separate worlds crossover – such as being picked up from school and your mother tries to kiss or cuddle you – behaviour that is perfectly acceptable at home, but which you want no part of at all in this particular environment. Perhaps even as adults we continue to keep the various parts of our lives nicely isolated. We are happy enough to do certain things in church – like pray aloud and sing hymns and respond to psalms and stand / sing / sit /sing / stand / sit / sing / give and pass / stand / kneel / stand / kneel / stand / shake / sing / process / sing / kneel / sit / give / stand / sing / exit. Of course there is very little of this that we would do in any other environment. Last week we saw that this tendency to break down our lives into little compartments is a very western response and that the church has taken some of this onboard as a result of the influence of Greek philosophy which quickly began to invade the eastern spirituality of the teachings of the Jewish Messiah Jesus. It is little wonder therefore that we so often attempt to compartmentalise the Feast of Pentecost as a quirky and awkward invasion of heaven attempting to disrupt our ordinary spiritual lives.

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Recorded at St Paul’s 6pm (10’58”)
Solemnity of Pentecost.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.
Enkindle in us the fire, the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created.
And you shall renew the face of the earth.

Recording from the 8am Mass is also available (8’27”).

The Ascension, Jesus and Heaven in Western thought

christ_pantocrator_mosaic_hagia_sophiaWhen we come to celebrate the Ascension of Jesus all manner of things can tend to get in the way. For a start, many people can overstate the literal details in the first reading today, from the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, what with all the information of Jesus being lifted up into the clouds and the disciples lost in wonder as they look up into the sky. But it is in the Gospel today, the final verses from the end of the Gospel of Matthew that provides the best context to understand the Ascension.

It is only in understanding the Trinity that we understand the place of the Ascension. It is only there that the declaration of Jesus on yet another mountain that all authority in both created realms – heaven and earth – have been given to him. It is the Ascension that demonstrates the unity that Jesus has with the Father as the unseen source of all life and the Holy Spirit as the breath of life that sustains us now and always. The mission is the centre of all of this – the God that Jesus reveals is the missionary God who sent his healing love into the world in the person of Jesus and now because of the Ascension, his followers are sent out into the world with the same healing love. Baptism is then the sign and seal of this mission.

Although the instruction to baptise people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit quickly became a liturgical formula in the life of the church, it probably is here a powerful description of what kind of life disciples are being incorporated into. This life is nothing less than the very life of God. This life is offered to any person who is willing to repent and believe in Jesus as the fulfilled Messiah, now reigning in the realm of heaven, but whose spirit is now available to all believers. And that is very good news indeed.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (9’55”)
Ascension Sunday, Year A.
Acts 1.1-11; Ephesians 1.17-23; and Matthew 28.16-20

Also available: Evening Mass recording and Journey Radio Program (text above)