October 8, 2017: A Question of Identify by Rev. Beth Hayward (Matthew 16: 13-120)

Thank you, thank you, for the gift of these past four months. Thank you for the space to just be, for the time to rest and renew and for the sheer gift of having the weight of responsibility lifted from my shoulders. I’m glad to be back, ready to be back and I very much look forward to reconnecting with all of you and especially meeting those of you who are new in the time I’ve been away.

While I was gone this summer I was very privileged to be able to spend a month in the UK. It was a once in a lifetime experience of visiting the homeland of my ancestors. I’ve brought some photos to share today. It was funny to see that the pictures we took seemed to fall into several unintentional categories.

There were the castles and palaces, there were the beaches and coastlines and there were the pictures of my husband stopping to read street maps. More than any of this there were pictures of stones, so many stones.

This stucco on stone house that is beginning to crumble is where my grandparents stayed on their trip to the Hebrides in the 1970s. This is the rock foundation where my great grandfather stayed when he visited the island during World War I. Talk about reminders that nothing is permanent.

This is the old stone church in the village of Luss on Loch Lommond. We stopped in Luss for some scones and clotted cream. But as it turns out this is the village where my paternal grandmother’s people came from. A local shopkeeper told me that if my grandmother was a Colquhoun with a “q” her people certainly came from Luss. Which means my ancestors may have built this wall, and certainly stood on these shores.

Just up from this rocky slope is the sandy earth where my maternal relations are buried. This is the rocky landscape of my people. The rocks were a thread that carried through to the west side of the Atlantic too, when we visited both Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

Perhaps the most striking rocks of our time away were these ones: the Calanais Standing Stones, on the Isle of Lewis. These date back some 5000 years. They are believed to have been set into place through rollers, wooden frames and brute strength. We can only guess at their original purpose, it seems to be astrological, and if you ask me, it had to be at least a little bit spiritual.

When you think about all these rocks really why do they matter? Why did they strike me so much? Why was I compelled to take pictures of them? I think it is about the life they attest to. These standing stones speak to the conviction of those who first erected them. The fact that they stand some 5000 years on, speaks to the fortitude of creation, it’s timelessness.

The crumbling houses really only matter because of the stories of life that they hold; babies born, visitors hosted, meals served, the dead laid out to wake on dining room tables. The crumbling houses matter because this man, a distant relative, connected me to the stories of life once held in their walls.

It turns out my journey was as much about the people as the land. This woman is my best friend in the world, we grew up together on the east coast but now we both live in the lowermainland. What are the odds that we would both visit London for the very first time in the very same week? Here we are after our visit to the very stone structure of Westminster Abbey. She matters to me for a whole lot of reasons but it all began with my first broken heart. She was the one that listened and didn’t tell me to just get over it.  She never once told me to just stop crying.

I hadn’t seen this friend, from Argentina, in twenty years. We first met attending a conference that sought to empower women church leaders from around the. She’s now a priest in the UK. After spending time with her this summer she sent me a note asking, if we might be able to support one another in prayer.

This woman single handedly kept me alive when I lived in Newfoundland. I was the minister of her church and her next-door neighbour. At a time in my life when I felt so isolated, so lonely she brought me into the warmth of her home and family and fed me nearly every other night of the week.

These people are rocks in my life, those who root me in the land, who have held me in times of heartbreak, walked with me when I was wandering, welcomed me when I was so lonely it hurt. These are a just a few of the people who have taught me what it is to live and what it is to press forward when staying still seems so much easier.

I didn’t go to Scotland to find myself but there is something to be said for the way we begin to know who we are through the places that are part of us, and the people who reveal a Holy presence to us.

 

Finally to my point! There are three lines from here that I want to lift up today. (Lifting up Bible) Jesus’ question: Who do you say that I am? Peter’s response: You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Finally Jesus’ reply: Peter, on this rock I will build my church. The rock that Jesus will build his church on is all about the Living God, revealed in Jesus. I’ll come back to that in a moment.

The first question Jesus asks of his disciples is this: Who do people say that I am? This straightforward question elicits some solid historical answers. Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist. The disciples go right to the best and brightest prophets they can conjure up.

Jesus’ asks the same question again but this time with more focus: “But who do YOU say that I am?” Now it’s personal; who do you say Jesus is? Not because of what you’ve read. Not because of what the church says. He isn’t concerned with the opinions of those who have read the reviews on him but never bothered to open the book for themselves. Who do you say that I am?

Peter braves a reply, believe me, not because he’s the best student, certainly not because he has any track record of getting the answers right. In spite of all that he blurts out the right answer. You are, the Messiah, The Son of the Living God.

Jesus is the child of the living God, not static, not some historical figure confined to dusty pages of ancient texts but a force for life at work in our lives. God is alive, in our world in our lives, in a hurting creation.

I wonder if we really believe that our God is alive, active, in each breath and each step and each moment? Are we even looking for a living God?

Peter knows this to be true because he’s seen it with his own eyes.

  • He was witness when Jesus fed 5000 with a couple of fish and five loaves because a Living God says there is always enough to go round, when you think outside the box
  • He was witness when Jesus touched untouchable lepers because a Living God says everyone is worthy of touch.
  • He was witness the time Jesus stilled a storm and said “Don’t be afraid” because a Living God does not demand our fear but seeks our trust.
  • He was witness when Jesus healed on the Sabbath because a Living God insists that no institution decides when mercy should be doled out.
  • He was witness when Jesus went to the other side of the lake to pray because you can’t do the work of the Living God if you don’t take time to pause and listen for the Living God.

All those healings of the poor, the women, the lepers, because a Living God insists

everyone regardless of status or race or orientation is worth loving, liberating, saving.

The text insists that this is the rock on which the church is built; a foundation of love and mercy and life where no one is left behind.

These days there seem to be a lot of rocks being thrown. We’re called to stand firm on a foundation that insists Love wins. The message of this book is as counter cultural as it has ever been.

Things are about to turn bad for Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, in short order even Peter will seem to forget that he worships a Living God and the consequences will be deadly. But the story of Jesus is one of life, not one of life without pain or loss or grief

but one where life wins. The gospel story tells us that the Living God wins, that even Roman cross can’t extinguish the light of the Living God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.

We can sit here and say what happened in Las Vegas is an American problem, or that the genocide in Myanmar is proof that hate wins. We can sit here and ignore the person sitting next to us and say that things will always be this way. What would it look like if we acted as though we trusted in a Loving God?  If we looked for the healing and the praying and the welcoming and the grace, the evidence of the Living God in our midst?

Father Richard Rohr says that: “Until we can live every day motivated by love, this whole gospel will not work, will not change the world, will not change you or the people around you.”

What would it look like if we stood firm on a foundation of love, and if we dared to behave as if we trust that the Living God is showing up in the stranger, the neighbour, in our communities, in our hearts and in our hands? I wonder…