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Confession of Peter – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

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Br. Geoffrey TristramMatthew 16:13-19

I first visited the Holy Land 25 years ago, when I went with my parish on a pilgrimage. It was during the month of May, and the most memorable day was when we got up early, and drove north from Jerusalem, through the West Bank and up through the Galilee, and even further north. By now the land was becoming more mountainous, and as we climbed, I remember the countryside started to change and look Alpine, very green, covered with beautiful flowers. And then suddenly, in the distance we caught sight of Mount Hermon, shimmering in the sun.

Eventually we arrived at our destination. On the very borders of Syria and Lebanon, we came to the village of Banyas, which marks the source of the river Jordan. It felt very remote, very beautiful.

And it is the place, way north of Galilee, in the mountains, that Jesus took his disciples on that momentous occasion recounted in our Gospel today. In his day, the place was called Caesarea Philippi.

I had been asked to preside at the Eucharist at this holy site, and I was really looking forward to reading today’s Gospel at the very place where Peter confessed his faith in Jesus as the Messiah.

But what we hadn’t realized was that the day we were there was May 14th – Israel’s Independence Day. And several thousand Jewish families had also decided to come out for a day in the mountains!

I remember we thought whether it was a wise idea to celebrate the Eucharist in the open air in these circumstances. We decided we would. We found a slightly quiet place just over a hill and began to worship.

It was an extraordinary and actually unforgettable experience to be celebrating the Eucharist, and reading today’s Gospel aloud in that place, with the sounds of thousands of Jewish people coming from just over the hill.

As I reflected on the experience, I realized that Caesarea Philippi at the time of Jesus, was not an idyllic Alpine village, but a large Roman city. Jesus and his disciples would have been surrounded by crowds of people. “Who do these people say that I am?” Jesus asked his disciples. “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And then comes the amazing intimate moment between two people. A moment of deep recognition. Jesus looks at his disciples, those who have been with him day and night over these past years. So, who am I? Simon looks at Jesus, and says “You are the Christ.” σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστός.

And Jesus looks at Simon, and says to him, “You are Peter.” σὺ εἶ Πέτρος.

Two names, but more than names. Two vocations. Two men: one was called to be the anointed one of God. The other was called to be the rock on which the church of God was to be built. Each unique vocation was named, was articulated, was called forth.
It’s so often the case that it takes another person to help us know our own identity, our own vocation in life. “You two seem made for each other!” (Really?) Sitting on a bench in Greenwich Park, London, aged 18, my best friend suddenly turns to me and says, “Have you ever thought about being a priest?” Must be joking… But something changed in me. Something had been named, was articulated, was called forth.

“You are the Christ.” “You are the rock.” And from that moment on everything changed.

After Caesarea Philippi, after the naming of vocations, Jesus and Simon each began the momentous journey toward the working out and fulfillment of their vocations.

For Jesus it was the moment where he turned his face to Jerusalem, and began the long journey to the Cross. To fulfill his vocation, he would have to go to Jerusalem, and undergo great suffering and be killed. To fulfill his vocation meant “emptying himself, taking on the form of a slave, humbling himself and becoming obedient, to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:7-8)

For Simon, although he could never have guessed or imagined, to fulfill his vocation would demand a similar self-emptying. It would be a long journey for him, too. To become the rock on which Christ’s Church could be built, he would have to pass through terrible trials, he would deny Jesus three times. But only then, when he was weak and powerless, could he let Jesus forgive him, wash him, as he had tried to do at the Last Supper, restore him, and empower him with God’s strength. It was a hard lesson to learn.

What about your vocation? Your call? The person you married, the work you do, the life you live. Was there a person, like an angel, who spoke a word which changed your life? Spoke a word which named something, articulated it, called it forth?

Or have you had a moment or moments when you heard Jesus speaking directly to you, and asking you to make a decision of faith, “Who do you say I am?” You are the Christ. σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστός.

Today, we celebrate the Confession of Peter. But it’s also a good time to celebrate the confession of Geoffrey, John, Sally, Jane. To celebrate your own confession of faith.

But I think it’s also a great time to celebrate God’s confession of faith – his faith in you. In the quiet of this night, in the quiet of your prayers ask Jesus that same question about you. “Lord, who do you say that I am?” And I believe that he is longing for you to hear and to know in the very depth of your soul, that

“You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased!”

Amen.

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4 Comments

  1. Dorothy on February 20, 2016 at 10:42

    What a lovely way to think of how we are called…through another person’s vision which awakens our desire. Thank you BR Geoffrey. This is so helpful as I reflect upon my life as a nurse. It was my mother who gave me my vision to be a nurse even at the tender age of 5. There is not a day that goes by, even after 40 yrs of nursing, that I do not credit and love her for awakening a desire in me. Nursing is my passion and each and every day is another day to live out that passion. Even now, I have no plans to retire. Through this career, I have been able to help people every day. Helping people in their physical needs can be the first step to wholistic healing in their body, mind and spirit.

  2. David Forrest on February 4, 2016 at 19:53

    It is not always easy to heart God’s call, at least that’s how it was for me. It first required recognizing that I was being called, to what or for what purpose I did not know. The Holy Spirit was sending me a sign. I kept seeing the numbers “444” appear in the most unusual places. I would awaken during the night, turn and look at the clock and it would read “444”. This happened repeatly over almost a year. I was awakened but had great difficulty recognizing the message. Being in the banking profession, I guess the Holy Spirit was thinking numbers was one way of getting my attention. Long story short, I had been thinking of retiring but no decision had been made. One day, on a Friday, I went in to work and it hit me, today’s the day. I picked up the phone and called human resources and told them to draw up the papers. When I got home, I broke the news to my wife. She replied, do you know what today this is? I answered no. She replied it is April 4, 2004, “444”! It was not long after that that I got involved in Kairos Prison Ministry. I’m still carrying Jesus words of Love and forgiveness to the men of Nottoway Correctional Center twelve years later.

  3. gwedhen nicholas on January 21, 2016 at 19:14

    The fact of Simon naming Jesus’ vocation is such a neat idea; one which I have never twigged on. Jesus and Simon called each other, and Jesus and we ourselves do just the same. We name Jesus, and He names us.
    I was called to my vocation of Church Musician through a friend. It had never crossed my mind that this could be the fact. In fact, even though I almost immediately applied to study Church Music at University, it was many years before I actually realized this was indeed my vocation. I believe that Jesus called me through this friend, but I was unwilling to truly recognise who I was. I now know, and it is such a liberating thing to know who I am. So it probably was for Jesus and Peter. The realisation, the recognition, must have been a tremendous relief. They knew each other for who each truly was. Only then could they each begin to live it out.

  4. Gwendolyn Peters on January 21, 2016 at 18:22

    I BELIEVE I WAS CALLED TO SPREAD THE GOOD NEWS OF THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST.

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