Material for Worship on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

As you prepare yourself for worship today, knowing that I, Nerys, am celebrating the eucharist at 8.30 and that some of the congregation are meeting in the church for services at 10.30 and at 8 p.m., I wonder how you feel? If there’s anything that’s troubling you, take a moment now to offer it to our Lord. If there’s anything that you are grateful for, offer that also.

Before listening to James reading our Gospel for today, you are invited to explore this painting by Paolo Emilio Besenzi. I wonder if you recognise the subject from his appearance or from the objects included in the picture? In today’s passage he is a much younger man with none of the inner peace suggested in this image. In fact, he’s the one from among the disciples who most often gets it wrong – who speaks without thinking, takes leaps of faith only to stumble, makes great promises only to break them. In last week’s Gospel he was the one who proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah and was rewarded with a powerful blessing and the keys of the kingdom of heaven. In this week’s passage, Matthew 16.21-28, he is cursed: the rock, the foundation stone of the church, becomes a stumbling block to Christ.

Peter is the most human of the disciples, struggling to understand Jesus and to follow in his way. I wonder what Matthew wants us, his readers, to learn from him? Peter is blessed, not through any virtue or wisdom of his own but because of his love of Jesus and his readiness to follow him. Are we, perhaps, being reminded that blessedness is not about being perfect but about being willing – willing to speak out, to take a risk, to allow Christ to speak and act through us?

Peter, despite his failings, did follow Jesus and obey him to the end, literally taking up his cross and losing his life for his Lord. I wonder what it means for us as individuals and as a church to take up our cross and follow Christ, to lose our life in order to find it?

Listen to Ramanie reading today’s passage from the letter to the Romans, 12.9-21 which fleshes out Christ’s call. Paul’s instructions give us guidance for a life of daily self-sacrifice. It would have been a revolutionary new way of imagining community for the early Christians in Rome where love was usually reserved for family and the needs of the poor were ignored. This list is challenging for us too. Read it slowly pausing after each command to reflect on how it might relate to your life and to the life of our church.

Our human reaction to Paul’s words may well be the same as Peter’s reaction to the words of Jesus as he explained what being the Messiah means. Surely there must be a less difficult way to live our lives? It’s easy for us to miss, like Peter did, the last part of Jesus’s message. Yes, he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and be killed but on the third day he would be raised to life.

I wonder if you asked yourself when you were reflecting at Besenzi’s picture of St. Peter what or who he was looking at? I like to imagine that in his mind’s eye Peter is seeing his risen Lord. Maybe he is recalling that last encounter on the shore of Galilee which must have brought him such peace and hope and renewed purpose. Like Peter, we can have that peace and hope and sense of purpose as we imitate and follow the risen Christ even when it is difficult.

Let us pray.

Thank you, Lord, that you do not call us to anything without also giving us the resources to cope. You do not ask us to go anywhere you haven’t been. Renew our commitment to your loving in all our relationships, our work and our prayer. In the hard choices, give us wisdom, in the painful decisions, affirm us, and may our words speak your truth, whether that is to encourage, to comfort or to challenge. Be with us, Lord, as we take up our cross and follow you. Amen.

You are welcome to use the following framework for your prayers of intercession.

Let us ask our loving Lord

to give wisdom to all those in positions of influence and power …

to encourage those who are living or working selflessly for the good of others …

to bring healing and wholeness to those who are suffering in body, mind or spirit …

to sustain all who are persecuted for their faith …

to bless those we love and hear our prayers for them …

Almighty and merciful God, by whose grace alone your faithful people offer you service and praise: grant that we may hasten without stumbling towards the things that you promise; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

The morning service in church today will finish with ‘At the name of Jesus’ on the organ with the congregation silently following the words. At home, you are welcome to sing along if you wish! Here is David playing the tune.

At the name of Jesus
every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him
King of Glory now:
’tis the Father’s pleasure
we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning
was the mighty Word.

Humbled for a season,
to receive a name
from the lips of sinners
unto whom he came,
faithfully he bore it
spotless to the last,
brought it back victorious,
when from death he passed.

Name him, Christians, name him,
with love strong as death,
but with awe and wonder,
and with bated breath:
he is God the Saviour,
he is Christ the Lord,
ever to be worshipped,
trusted, and adored.

Surely, this Lord Jesus
shall return again,
with his Father’s glory,
with his angel train;
for all wreaths of empire
meet upon his brow,
and our hearts confess him
King of Glory now.
Caroline M. Noel