Sermon: 24th Ordinary, Mark 8:27-35

Text: Mark 8:27-35

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

“Who do you say I am?”

Is one of the crucial questions… Not just of that age, but of today.

“Who do you say I am?”

Messiah? Son of God? Teacher? Good man? Charlatan? Blasphemer? Threat?

“Who do you say I am?”

…this is not a question for theologians, for priests, for the great and the good. This is a question aimed at you.

And you. And you. To each and everyone of us, personally, we are called to address this crucial question.

“Who do you say I am?”

Jesus will not accept agnosticism. He confronts you with the reality of his presence in your midst. He challenges you with a radical reworking of all that you have previously accepted as the norm, for the Gospel is challenging, transformative, unconventional.

“Who do you say I am?”

You are called to respond, and there is no time for cleverness or theological reflection; for the call to follow him, to be like him, to embrace him and through him to embrace the divine is all wrapped up in this simple, direct and ultimately challenging statement.

At the National Youth Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, a couple of years ago, a good friend of mine: Fr. Wealands Bell, the Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral wrote the following monologue from Peter’s perspective. He characterised him as a Geordie fisherman (so you’re going to have to excuse my accent, especially if you are from the North-East)

DEATH OF A ROCK: The Martyrdom of St Peter by Wealands Bell

St Peter is in his cell, awaiting the guards who are to lead him to his execution and martyrdom. This monologue was written with the accents and dialect of the North East of England in mind. People from other parts of the country will need to amend the script in order for their own voices to be heard coherently.

[This was first performed by the author at the Youth Pilgrimage to the Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham on 10th August 2004.  The words attributed to our Lord in the garden are Othello’s rather than St John’s. I’ve always thought that Shakespeare must have had the Lord’s arrest in mind when he wrote Othello Act 1 Scene 2, and, as usual, his words are better than most others’. The reference to IKEA and cars with vavavoom should be changed when those phrases are no longer indicative of the extent of people’s desires and their enslavement to advertisers. WWB

They shouldn’t be long now, like.

I’m excited. I really am. I know it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. But, like I said, I’m really looking forward to it, actually.

He said it would happen. Or at least, he hinted at it. Oh aye, he was a great one for the hint, for the peculiar promise. I’ll be with you till the end of time, he said. Whoever eats me will live for ever.

I’m Peter, by the way. Truth is, I didn’t know what he was on about half the time. I wasn’t a bit like Martha and Mary and Lazarus and them. To be honest, I wasn’t a great one for religion. But I certainly knew what he meant when he said there’d be no more late night fishing, no more expeditions to fill the nets with flatfish, with juicy trout or a good leggy octopus. Follow me, he said, and you will catch a shoal of souls. So I followed him. I thought he probably wanted a job doing, a bit hand to shift something to the other side of the water, or to help him with a bit of heavy lifting. At the finish, I asked him. We were getting nowhere quickly, and we kept on meeting more and more people who he’d tell to, you know, Follow me.

Where are we going? I asked him. We’re goin’ nowhere fast. Where on earth are you taking us? I said. To my father’s house, he said. And smiled one of his smiles. I wish I could see one of them now. But it’ll not be long.

The fact that he could cure people, heal them of diseases and that … That was the real giveaway. I mean, you’d expect the clergy and people like that to talk about healing (I’m a priest! Let me through! I can help you …) but there’s practically none of them that can actually do it. But by God, he could. By God he could. We did all sorts in the end. Cripples, demoniacs, deaf, dumb, blind. Hunchbacks, lunatics, all of humankind! He even cured my mother-in-law once. I think I must have been in the other room, like, ’cause he’d done it before I could stop him.

And you know, he was always getting up the noses of the high priests, and that snotty lot who think they’re better than the rest of us. He was always going for his dinner with somebody or other they looked down on: the immoral, the indecent, the unwashed, the unsound. They couldn’t wait for him to take a tumble.

We ate with all sorts of people, conmen and frauds, the mad and the bad, taxmen, traitors, tarts. And wherever he went, there was a change: even simple water began to taste of wine, and a little lad’s picnic was a feast of fine food for anyone who wanted it. He filled our veins not just with new wine, new blood: he gave us new life. And I could heal because he did. He let me heal others. (Aeneas. He was one. Funny fellow, but I healed him.)

Now, you know, I’ll tell you something. I’m not a clever man; never was. I was once arrested for preaching because I was “an ordinary and uneducated man.” Good job they’ve dropped that law! I never went to school, and I can neither read nor write, but little by little I began to understand something. And even when I understood nothing, I kept following, always following, because there was never a dull moment. And anyway, I knew that I’d never felt like that before. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d had a good life till I met him. I was a big lad, popular, hard worker, always had a bit of cash for a bottle of wine or a game of dice. I had my fair share of lasses as well, till the wife finally put a stop to it. It was a good life, with plenty of storms and scraps and arguments to stop you getting bored. But all that was just me. My life was just filled with me. My story. My life. My concerns. I realise now that I had nothing till he came along. I needed a lend of his eyes, so that I could begin to see just how staggering, stunning, amazing, unbelievable is the God I’d been brought up to believe in.

Sometimes, of course, you’d get the answer to a question right, and then you felt like a million dollars! Like that day when he asked us who we all thought he was, and I got the right answer. You are the Christ, I said, the git Messiah. And he told me I was Blessed. Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah, he said (Jonah that was me fatha) … Mind you, he also said I couldn’t possibly have worked out the answer for myself, and I think he was probably right.

But there was terrible times, as well, and I mustn’t try to diminish them.  Yes, I kept on following him, but the journey has never been without the odd diversion. It was as if the minute I got something right, I immediately got something horribly wrong. Like that time he called me blessed. It was only a few seconds later he was telling me I was worse than the devil. I can’t remember what I’d said, now, but his words didn‘t half hurt, like a knife. I suppose I thought I could do things by myself, do them without him. I’ve always been independent. But it never pays off. He had this thing he could do, this walking on water. I tried it myself once. I knew he was carrying me along, so I tried to do it by myself, without him. I started to sink faster than you could say water wings, crushed under my own weight!

Young John likes the story of the garden. It was the night he was arrested, when that [here Peter struggles not to call Judas by a rude name… when Judas fetched the priests to arrest him. I wasn’t having that. I wasn’t going to be called Satan again … I had my knife out of my belt and started to hack away at one of them. Chopped his ear clean off. Again, bad move, apparently. I though I was doing the right thing. But he wasn’t very happy with me. Keep up your bright swords, he said, for the dew will rust them. His mother landed me a clout to the back of me head I’ll never forget. You’re nothing but a great big eejit who spends too much time talking when he should be listening. That’s what she said. Them Nazareth lasses can be fiery.

You’ll be wanting to know about the crowing of the cockerel, the most famous alarm clock in the history of the world. Cock a doodle do! Cock a doodle do!  … I hadn’t meant to deny that I knew him. It was just that the barmaid had a gob on her like Solomon’s Portico, and the place was crawling with priests and coppers. There was no point in getting myself into trouble for it. I mean, there was nothing I could do to help him at that stage. So I said the words I’ve regretted ever since. Jesus? No, pet. Never heard of him. Not me. You’ve got the wrong man. I don’t know any Jesuses. If it’s any consolation, I’ve regretted it ever since. But you see, it’s like I said, I’m not really sainthood material: I get easily distracted, easily put off. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, but I sometimes like to forget that I’ve seen what I’ve seen, that I know what I know. D’you know what I mean?

One more minute, and then they’ll be here. I won’t get a chance to say much more. I’ll be freed from all that, from the need to be like the Pope and have an opinion on everything.

And what would I say to you, dear friends, as you begin your life and I end mine? Just this: trust in God, and dare to imagine that there’s more to life than trips to IKEA and cars with vavavoom … There is joy to be had from stuff which doesn’t plug into the mains. The secret is to try to see everything through his eyes, and then it all looks very different.

You know, I never told Mark this when he wrote the story down, but I really didn’t know what Jesus meant by Follow me. I suppose I just knew that somehow, some distant day, I would discover what life had been leading up to. I think I’m about to find out.

Itchy palms. Itchy feet. Follow me.

“Who do you say I am?”

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”

Amen