Sunday 2nd July 2017, morning, Feast of St Peter

by Revd Kate Tuckett

Matthew 16:13-20

(The start of the sermon used questions and answers to engage the children present.)

If I asked one of you who are you, what might you say? (Your name.)

It’s a question we often tackle when we start new languages: Je m’appelle, Ich heisse, Me llamo.

What might Jesus have said? He might have said ‘My name’s Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph, I was born in Bethlehem but grew up in Nazareth’. But he often described himself in other ways – as the good shepherd; the bread of life; the resurrection; the light of the world; the way, truth and the life; the gate.

We are more than just our names. Sometimes we change how we behave around people. Who you are at home might be a very different person from the one you are with your friends.

I wonder if Jesus walked in here, would you recognise him? How might we recognise him? (We might know by what he does.)

Jesus was an actual historical figure. We know that Jesus existed as a human being and was crucified by the Romans. But many of the people who he lived among did not recognise who he was. In fact, in John’s Gospel it states, ‘He came into the world he created, but the world didn’t recognise him. He came to his own people, and they rejected him.’

There were people who did recognise him, however. One of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, recognized who Jesus was. Jesus actually asked Peter, ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’. This is known as ‘the great confession’ as Peter ‘confesses’ that he knew who Jesus was not because he had been told, but because of what he had seen Jesus do – feeding the 5000, filling fishing nets full of fish, healing the sick.

We are all here because in some way we have seen something of Jesus, or because we want to see something of Jesus. And sometimes we need other people to help us to express that, as Peter did for the first disciples. It’s impossible to be a Christian by ourselves. We do so in community. With all its frailties, Jesus chooses human life and relationships, not a building or a PCC or a Mission Action Plan, to be the rock on which he builds his church.

However we are not rocks that are unchangeable. Look at Peter, he is the one of little faith. He doesn’t understand the parables. His moment of glory lasted about five seconds before he said something stupid enough for Jesus to say ‘get behind me Satan’. He falls asleep when he is supposed to be praying in the garden of Gethsemane. He denies knowing Jesus. But through it all he is shaped, formed, moulded into the rock that Jesus needs him to be.

Rocks are not glamorous things. Peter is to be a foundation: that unseen, hard, supporting material. No one goes around a cathedral and says ‘beautiful pillars, altar, choir stalls and stained glass windows, but what I really loved was the foundations.’ But this is his role.

This is my last service in the team today. And I stand before you with really one thing to say, which is what my mum taught me always to say as a child, when it was time to say goodbye, whether it was true or not: ‘thank you for having me, I’ve had a lovely time.’ But this time it is true. Thank you. Thank you because after four very precious years of being with you, of living with you, of worshipping with you, of rubbing along together, of eating and drinking together, of washing up together, of asking questions together of who and where and what Jesus is, you have proclaimed Jesus to me and shown me Jesus in a new way.

Any curacy is about learning the nuts and bolts of the job of being a vicar, and this curacy has been a brilliant one for that in the range and the scope of different activities that I’ve been able to be involved in. But far more than learning how to baptise a baby, or working out what deanery synod actually does, or conquering the YMCA Christmas lunch, which are all things that at the end of the day can be ticked off, I’ve learned so much from so many of you, from the skills you bring of listening well, of school governance, of navigating the care system, of social services, of how to do a faculty, of decoding an accounts sheet. I never did quite get to grips with the sound system but I do know never to eat daffodils in school assembly. Take it from me. Your sick goes an extraordinary colour.

But this time has been about a lot more than ticking off experiences and learning points. Through the friendship and the support and the encouragement of so many people here, I have gained confidence and learned something about who I am. Thank you for your welcome of me, your generosity, your kindness, your patience, your forbearance.

To suggest that the focus of these four years has been to look at myself would also be wrong, however, and more than anything else, I want to thank you for the inspiration you have given me. I have been enormously inspired by so many different people here, by the ‘rocks’ whose ministry is not a glamorous one, the ones who look after the building and the garden, those who faithfully and quietly share the love of Christ; those who talk to those who are different to them and with whom conversation may be hard work; those who work at building community, those who welcome, give lifts, say sorry; those who sleep in the night shelter and then get up and get the train to work; those who organise music and flowers and iron the linen; those who have faced enormously challenging situations with grace and courage and dignity; those who are prepared to roll up their sleeves and work for the impossible and ridiculous vision of Jesus. You have shown me something of who Jesus is, because of what you do.

There are three sets of people I particularly want to thank: first of all Chris and Alison. Chris, I have been so lucky to have you as a training incumbent and I want to publically say an enormous thank you for your patience and support and kindness to me. It’s much easier in most things in life and certainly in church life just to get on and do it yourself, but I am quite sure that one of the reasons that this church is the vibrant and lively place that it is is down to your equipping, enabling and empowering other people to minister. I realise that that has created work for you and thank you for all the ways in which you have built me up, as well as others. I have also appreciated Alison’s wonderful ministry and greatly valued her as a wise, strong and supportive colleague. I want to thank all the wardens – Richard, Caroline, Liz, Kerry, Richard, Jean, Ann, Joan, Jean, Alan, Bruce, Desmond, Alison. The wardens are the unsung heroes of the Church of England, and their support, advice, calm and good humour has been more invaluable than I can say. Many combine epic organisational skills with an equally epic wine-drinking ability, which always helps things along. And finally I’d like to thank Gilly, who probably does more pastoral work than anyone else in the church. Few of us have not found ourselves with a coffee in Gilly’s office letting off steam, and Gilly absorbs it with remarkable good humour as well as managing the church’s day to day running with scary efficiency.

And I want to say to all of you that you have shown me Jesus, and more than that, you have fulfilled the call of Peter to me. I don’t want to push the Peter metaphor too far and to say that you are Peter and that I am anyone other than Peter, but I do want to say that you, my colleagues, you from three congregations, you from the schools, and care homes, you who staff the night shelter, you who sit on DCC and PCC and standing committees and go to all the boring meetings, you who have lunch at the YMCA, you who I have met in and out of church, you have told me and showed me who Jesus is. You have been a rock for me, a safe place to be.

Peter will be a rock, but is also part of new community of believers that is the Church and that will have no lasting foundations. He cannot stand still, but needs to be flexible and open. Change is difficult and reminds us of how costly the call is to follow Jesus, to be a disciple. We are called to be open to a life of change, to following where we are called to go. Nothing is settled for Peter – he will become a follower.

I have been immensely happy here. I have loved the work and I have become very fond of many people here. Leaving is hard and it would be a lovely thing to stay still, to carry on with a routine that I know, in a place I know, with people I know. But I have been equipped to move on because of the security and inspiration you have given me, as I have seen others enabled to make leaps of faith as well.

All priests are Christians before they are priests and there’s something more fundamental than being a priest or a vicar or a curate – that is being a disciple.  You have showed me how to be a disciple. Thank you with all my heart.