Church of England Diocese of Leicester Burbage with Aston Flamville

Sermon - Sunday 23rd August

24 Aug 2020, 9:15 a.m.


When people have masks on it is not so easy to work out who everybody is.

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”, or “Who do people say that I am?”, two questions that are in the Gospels of Matthew (Ch.16 v13) and Mark (Ch.8 v27). Matthew used the conversation that Jesus has with the disciples to begin his disclosure about his messiahship and the suffering that he must undertake for us, and the sacrifices we must suffer if we really want to be his followers. Matthew uses the passage in the same way as Mark but uses the description that Jesus often uses of himself – “Son of Man”. This is a description of himself, which has been interpreted in many ways by Biblical scholars, I choose to explain as “Jesus the human” or even “This bloke Jesus”.

There was for many years a programme on TV called “Who do you think you are”, which could be quite entertaining as a sort of history programme, but could be quite excruciating when a celebrity would break down in tears when they found out that their great-great-grandmother, who had died a hundred years before they were born, had been confined in the workhouse. People don't like to dwell on how hard life for ordinary people was in generations past and still is for so many people in this country and even more so in vast areas of the world. Something for us all to think and pray about.

But who do say you are? Do you know who you are? We can all do our family tree and look back a couple of hundred years quite easily and genetics can have some influence on our appearance and perhaps even some health issues, but not much else. But being born into a reasonably wealthy family can still improve your life chances considerably – but that's another sermon.

Who do you think you are? Can be used as an insult, implying that you are getting above yourself and need putting down a peg or two.

Before I went to Theological College I did a 2 year part-time course, which was known as the Aston Training Scheme. It was quite vigorous both academically and psychologically, as the powers that be tried to assess whether the students truly had a vocation, or were just interested in the high pay and conditions of employment in the Church of England (I jest). Just prior to one's final interview with the Course Director a self-assessment had to be written and handed in. Now that was perhaps the most difficult part of the whole course, because it stretches one's truth capacity to the utmost.

Whilst not quite the same, you know those questionnaires that ask you to tick boxes, perhaps a question might be, how honest are you? With box 1 being an absolute rogue and 5 being a saint, what do you answer? You don't want to admit to exaggerating your work expenses, putting you in box 1 and you don't want to exaggerate the amount you give to charity every week, so you tick number 4 (reasonably honest) and hope nobody enquires further.

The thing about the self-assessment for the Aston Scheme was that after much praying about it, I came to the conclusion that the Course Director could probably be fooled, but if I tried to fool God I was only fooling myself. A warts and all self-assessment was thus handed in and it was obviously thought to be satisfactory as I am here 36 years later, still trying to work out who I am and if it coincides with God's picture of me.

So! Could you write a letter to God to tell him all about your life, honestly telling him about all your sinfulness, confessing how you fall short of his expectations of you and honestly asking him to help you be a better person. It is not an easy exercise but one that might be worth a try, and when you have done it offer it to God in prayer, and then put it through a shredder or burn it in your garden. Writing things down is often a good way to get rid of all those frustrations we have in our lives some of which are noble and some of which are just selfish desires. I was taught this many years ago by a wise counsellor and have found it very helpful. That reminds me of that famous prayer:-

Dear Heavenly Father, So far, today, I've done all right. I haven't gossiped or lost my temper. I haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, or self centred. I'm really happy about that so far. But in a few minutes I'm going to be getting out of bed and then I'm going to need a lot of help. Thank you! Amen. I like that because it just about sums up life.

When Jesus asked the disciples “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”, most of them got it wrong but Peter had worked out that Jesus was the Christ, the messiah. It was a revelation from God and also a charge from his Son that Peter would be the rock on which he would build the church. This was the Peter who a few verses on in the Gospel Jesus would say, “get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things”. This would then be the Peter who would deny Jesus three times.

We have so much in common with Peter. God reveals things to us, but we very often get confused and misunderstand what we should be doing. We also deny Jesus in that we so often fail to live up to his commandment that we love one another, which is the central commandment of our faith. How often do we put human things before divine things?

So we start with a question from Jesus and I would suggest that all of us question ourselves about our lives. Do we come anywhere near what God would like us to be? Write it down, offer it to God in prayer and then shred it or burn it. God knows it anyway, but it is good that we assess ourselves to try to see if Christianity is apparent in us. Can others see that we are different – we are followers of Jesus the Christ.

Which reminds me of a little story.

A little boy walked down the beach, and as he did, he spied a woman sitting under a beach umbrella on the sand.

He walked up to her and asked, "Are you a Christian?" She said, "Yes."

"Do you read your Bible every day?" She nodded her head, "Yes."

Do you pray often?" the boy asked next, and again she answered, "Yes."

With that he asked his final question,"Will you hold my watch and purse while I go swimming?"