Homily for Trinity 11, Matthew 16: 13-20 (inspired -indebted to John Ortberg’s ‘Who is this Man?’ and David Bentley Hart, ‘The Christian Revolution’)
‘Who do you say that I am? ‘ Jesus
Well it made me feel sad, but it made some grown men cry. Big Ben. He chimed for the last time on Tuesday, and he won’t strike again until 2021 as major repairs are carried out
2021- what will happen to us in the years of his silence?
The chimes of Big Ben mark the ending of a day with the evening news. At midnight on December 31st, his clock tells us when one year ends and another begins. Big Ben tells our time, but what time is he telling? When you got up today, what date did it say on your phone or newspaper? August 27th 2017. But two thousand and seventeen what?
2017 years since the birth of Jesus.
You cannot look at a calendar, diary, phone or newspaper without being touched by Him.
Historically, Rulers and kings claimed the right to define time itself. The day they took power became a sort of year zero. ‘In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar’ is how S. Luke dates the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
Caesar told you what time it was.
In the sixth century, a monk called Dionysius Exiguus changed all that. He said world history turned not on rich, powerful men, but on this carpenter, born in a nowhere town, who never wrote anything, travelled anywhere, had no money, no home, and was crucified by state security forces on a Jerusalem rubbish tip.
Yes, said Dionysius , this Jesus is where it all begins, and where it all ends. Time belongs to Him, so we’ll date all of it in relation to Him, BC and AD.
On every calendar He touches you.
‘The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last’
Unfolding time is not the record of one pointless thing after another. It has purpose and hope. Why? Because time itself belongs to Christ and so ultimately, it’s all about love. Suffering love, yes; crucified and dying Love. Yes. But Love – Love that made us, died for us and that will save us.
Smile with hope, every time you check the date and time.
Who do you say that I am? The Lord of all time, says Dionysius.
Who is Jesus? Universities, hospitals, orphanages and Cathedrals have been built, in His name; works of art composed, written and painted, in His name; Campaigns against slavery, child labour, and all kinds of injustice waged, in His name.
The very ideas in our heads are shaped by Him. Who told us to love our enemies? Who told us to show compassion – even to those who could not possibly pay us back? Not Zeus or Odin or the pagan gods. Who told us that the littlest and the least – children – mattered, all of them, eternally? Isn’t that obvious? No, not to the Spartans or ancient Romans. The Graeco-Roman world threw unwanted babies on to rubbish dumps. Can you guess which gender most of those thrown-away babies were?
But then Christians turned up, and started seeking out these unwanted children and adopting them. Why? Because the one they followed said ‘let the children come to me’.
It was an ugly symbol of execution, but Jesus turned the Roman cross into the most recognised symbol of open-armed mercy the world has ever seen.
Who do you say that I am? The one who takes a sign of sheer hell and turns it into a sign of sheer grace.
To the abandoned He is Love. To the poor, He is a brother. To the crucified, He is tear-stained co-presence. To the ashamed, He is shelter. To the dead He is Resurrection.
Who is He? ‘In Jesus’ name’ says John Ortberg, ‘desperate people pray, grateful people worship, angry people curse’.
Peter says, ‘You are the Christ, the face of the Living God’.
And you, who do you say that I am? The one who holds all time, the story of our lives.
I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, let alone in the years to 2021. But all of it, every minute of it, the good, the bad, the sad will be held by Christ, for it all belongs to Him.