Feast of St Peter the Apostle (Patronal Festival): 28 June 2020

 

Collect

 

Almighty God,

who inspired your apostle Saint Peter

to confess Jesus as Christ and Son of the living God:
build up your Church upon this rock,
that in unity and peace it may proclaim one truth

and follow one Lord, your Son our Saviour Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

 

 

Gospel Reading  (Matthew 16.13-19)

 

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘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?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’

 

Sermon, by Revd Canon Edward Carter, the Vicar

 

Matthew 16.18: ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.’

 

Words of Jesus to Peter, whose feast day we keep today as we celebrate our patronal festival – words which are spoken in response to Peter’s moment of insight, when he sees Jesus for who he really is.

Next door to us here at the Vicarage the builders have been in for quite some time now. Extra bits have been added onto the house, the inside seemingly gutted and then re-built, a new structure put up in the garden, and a lot else besides. In fact, throughout the lockdown a whole team of builders has come and gone with hardly a pause. It’ll be great when our new neighbour can finally move in!

Building, or re-building, a house is one thing – we might also speak of building railways, canals, even entire cities.

But I’ve been noticing that word ‘build’ can be used in imaginative and creative ways. Did you know that there are plenty of take-out food shops which will ‘build’ you a sandwich? Hopefully this doesn’t involve too much in the way of cement or planks of timber – but it does convey rather well the significance of the item they’ll sell you. Not merely a sandwich thrown together, but a Sandwich, ‘built’ with great significance and care!

Some of you know I create artworks using acrylic resin, and as I made some last week I tried out in my mind the idea that I was ‘building’ a picture – a new creation that involved laying down foundations and then extra layers of decorative features. I actually felt happy to think of myself as being engaged in a ‘building’ task.

And at the Zoom Coffee morning last Thursday I couldn’t help noticing that Martin Haworth described how he and Leonard had ‘built’ a new wheel for a bicycle. It’s a great image.

The theme of ‘building’ actually runs through quite a bit of Scripture, not least when the Israelites under King Solomon built a house for the Lord in Jerusalem. But a more metaphorical use of this theme occurs several times in St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, when he writes about the things that really do ‘build up’. He’s referring to the building up of others and the church, in contrast to the ‘puffing up’ of oneself.

And here at the heart of our gospel reading for St Peter’s Day we hear those words which I began with: You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.’

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard preachers remind us that the name ‘Peter’ is basically the same as the word ‘rock’ in Greek – a new nick-name, with some irony it turns out, when Peter’s staying-power hits a rocky patch or two. But at his best, Peter was a rock, rather like the rock that the wise builder in the parable used, in contrast to the sandy foundations of the foolish builder.

But notice that it’s Jesus who says, ‘I will build…’ Peter is not the builder here, but Jesus Christ, the one who could destroy the temple and build it in three days – one of the claims that most got him in trouble with the authorities.

So, what does all this mean for us, today, here at St Peter Mancroft? How might Jesus look at us, and say: ‘Here I will build…’?

The truth is, this is one of the most unsettling but potentially exciting times in our church’s history for generations. So much has been thrown up in the air, in our city, around the world, and here at Mancroft too. Many if not most of the old familiar patterns in our church life have been disrupted, perhaps for ever.

If you’d said to me at the start of this year, ‘Edward, within the next few months there’ll be a three-month period when there’ll be absolutely no services at your church, and you won’t take Communion for over 100 days’, I’d have either laughed or been mystified.

But despite such a profound shock to our collective life, I’ve still had a strong sense of God’s presence with me and with us. And in recent days and weeks I’ve had a growing sense that Jesus might be looking at us, and asking: ‘What shall I build here?’

Just as building a sandwich, or an artwork, or a bicycle wheel demonstrates imaginative use of the theme of being ‘built’, so too we will need to be imaginative as we look to the future in hope and expectation.

I certainly don’t know exactly what this future that Jesus will build is going to be like, although I do know it will resonate with the eternal ‘good news’ that God reveals in Christ – the good news that God is with his creation, blessing it, loving it, longing for it to flourish and to find joy and peace.

There’s one last mention about ‘building’ in the New Testament that I’d like to share with you, as I draw to a close. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles describes the life of the early church, and how the gospel spread like wildfire. At one point St Paul is at Miletus with the elders of the church in Ephesus, and he encourages them with stirring words. Towards the end of his address he says this: ‘And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified.’

It is God’s grace that builds us up. It is God’s grace that numbers us amongst the saints with our patron, St Peter the rock. Our calling is to receive this gift joyfully and faithfully.

But after Paul has spoken these fine words, and after he has knelt in prayer with the Christians of Ephesus, there is much weeping and sadness as he departs, for they know they will never see him again.

Dear friends, our future as a place where Jesus will build is secure, because of God’s grace. But it will involve sadnesses and farewells. There are things we may never see again. I do not yet know what they might be, and the task of discerning what decisions we make is a shared one.

But I do know that we will be ready when Jesus asks us: ‘What can I build here?’ Because God is gracious, and gives us everything we need if we would only look faithfully. For he numbers us with Peter our patron, and he will not allow us to be overcome. And he will bless us as we seek to be a blessing to others, as we step out into this new world which is opening up before us.

You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.’

Amen.

 

Intercessions, prepared by Gill Persicke

 

Inspired by the faithful example of our patron saint, the apostle Peter, we come to you, dear Lord, in prayer.

 

On this, our Patronal Festival, we pray for our own church of St Peter Mancroft.   We bring before you, Lord, our whole community: visitors, parishioners and congregation, volunteers and paid staff; our PCC and our ministry team.  

Thank you, Lord, for the joy you give us in working and worshipping together; and thank you for the great task you have set before us – of bringing your gospel of love, healing and redemption to our city of Norwich.   Help us as we work to open the church up again, and to draw more and more people in.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

 

Loving God, we pray for children and young people everywhere.   May our children, Lord, continue to learn and to develop, in spite of the interruption to their school lives – and may they have opportunities to play and exercise and be happy.   We pray in particular for children in broken or disturbed families; for children caring for other family members; and for children living in poverty or deprivation.

And we pray for our young people, hoping to move into first jobs or into further education; wanting to build new relationships; wanting freedom to experience life.   Help society give young people the opportunities and the support they need and deserve, so that their energy, creativity and passion can bear ample fruit.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

 

Lord, we pray for all victims of prejudice and injustice; and for everyone who feels ignored and marginalised, perhaps even angry and rebellious, as lockdown eases.   Help our police to deal wisely with the immediate challenge of keeping people safe; and give us all the resolve to build a fairer society, in which everyone feels included and valued.

And we pray, Lord, for all who work, particularly those going out to work, perhaps fearful of the risks involved.   Support the many business leaders working so hard to open things up again safely.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

 

Compassionate Lord, we pray for older people everywhere, including those who are feeling confused or isolated at present, and those whose final months of life are being cruelly compromised by the pandemic.   Inspire us as a community to rally round, keep in touch, and help out with the practicalities of life.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

 

God of all healing, we pray for everyone who is suffering in body, mind or spirit, remembering in particular those with mental health problems; those whose treatment for any disorder is delayed at present; and people in developing countries with poor or non-existent healthcare.   From our own community, we pray for Pam, Simon, Janet, Angela, Martin and Val.  And in a moment of quiet, we hold before you, Lord, the people we know to be in need at present . . . . .

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

 

Lord of all time and space, we pray for those who have died recently, including Nina Prior and Helen Thomas, and for those who mourn for them.  And, at their years mind, we remember with thanksgiving the lives of Charles Lingwood, Sylvia Ord, Beatrice Ong, Marjorie Colby, Margaret Buckle, Donald Read, John Adderson, Martin Cubitt, Angela Bush, Bill Castle and Mildred Day.  

Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.

 

A final prayer for ourselves.   Lord, unless we build our lives on you, we shall always be in want.   So now and every day, Lord, be with us, rock solid, as our foundation, our strength and our joy.

 

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.   Amen.