When you love people you treat them and heal them as individuals. That is what Jesus did and that is what he is still doing. Anyone who is a parent or grandparent or aunt or uncle or teacher or carer will know that because each child is different, each child will need to be cared for in a different way. Some years ago I did a course on Counselling skills and the approach we used was called person-centred counselling. God is a person-centred God.
He understands us as unique individuals and treats us as such. Jesus had no technique because he dealt with people as individuals.
The story of God’s dealings with humankind, throughout our Bibles illustrate for us the amazing fact that God really does know each one of us and is able to treat each one of us in a different way.
Today we’ve had a short dramatisation that will help to illustrate the difficulties God has had over the many centuries in helping us towards an understanding of the great mysteries of faith and grace. But the real drama is in three parts and is reflected in our three Bible readings.
Act One, the Old Testament of Hebrew Bible represents the earliest dealings and thoughts that humankind had with the Creator. Sometimes we find the Old Testament quite difficult to understand. The complicated and at some times distressing story (of which we have read just a small part) of Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Hagar and Ishmael is hard for us because we live in a different kind of world and our moral code doesn’t hold with slave girls, concubines and multiple wives. Is it too out of date to have anything to say to us in the 21″ century? Lots of people would say so-well if that’s the case what about great art and poetry and literature from other ages, with a bit of study we are quite capable of understanding Shakespeare or Plato or Bums or looking at a medieval poet or painter. Are runic inscriptions a waste of time, should we forget about archaeology or historical endeavour. Of course not!
And the Bible is even more amazing than all of that. It tells us about an amazing God, a God that cares about the small things in our lives as well as the big ones, a God that is involved in our everyday lives in a way that we find hard to fathom. And it tells us about a God that loves us and wants to be involved in our lives in a very personal way. It’s Act One of our relationship with God
Act Two our Gospel reading offers us the next instalment, if you like. It begins with Jesus and his prediction about what is going to happen next and then his interaction with his friend and disciple Peter.
Before this passage we’ve had all the really exciting stuff, healings and miracles galore. The kind of thing that really gets people’s attention but now we’re getting, in this chapter, to the nitty gritty of things and Peter doesn’t like it. For the fulfilment of God’s promise to humanity he
requires from us, faith and trust and I suppose in this passage Peter stands for all of us. Peter is the ordinary human being. The big fisherman, the everyday guy. He loves Jesus, doesn’t quite understand it all but would follow him wherever he asked, and has done already. You can just picture the scene… Jesus explains that he is going to have to die in order to fulfil God’s will.
Peter can’t take that and says something like… “Don’t be daft, that’s not going to happen, I won’t let it!” Maybe Jesus would have been a bit kinder in his reply if they had been alone but if you remember in the passage, he looks around and sees the other disciples standing by and he makes an example of poor Peter…. “Get behind me Satan.” A bit harsh but it was necessary. A shock tactic to remind them that their road is not going to be an easy one.
So Act One, God’s promise to Abraham. The Israelites throughout their history consistently let God down and fail to understand. Act Two, God comes in the shape of a human being, being born, living out his life, doing amazing things that prove who he is but he has to take it to the wire, he has to die to show humanity that he understands EVERYTHING about our lives and to prove to us that death is not the end but only the beginning of something new. That he is the God of life and death and whatever lies beyond. And Peter is the archetypal human being who just refuse to get his head around it all. He’s looking for the technique as if it’s some kind of trick that he can learn. It doesn’t work like that. Faith and Trust, Faith and Trust!
And so to Act Three. What happens after all of this is over? The promise to Abraham, the fulfillment of that promise in the shape of God coming to be with his children as a human being, as Jesus… His death on the cross and his resurrection. Death has been conquered. We have been forgiven, the price has been paid. The final sacrifice.
The Apostle Paul explains it all to his readers, not Jews you understand but Romans. How did they get involved in this promise that was made to Abraham all those years ago?
Paul explains that when God made his promise to Abraham he meant that promise to extend to all who would put their trust and faith in him-not to any one family or clan or race but to ALL of his children. Abraham, in a sense stands for the whole of mankind. Peter stands for all of us ordinary folks trying to understand, trying to work out the technique…. and St Paul tells us that it’s okay, that the promise is for you and me, for everyone.
Is that the whole story then? Is there a sequel? Well that’s up to you and me. What are we going to do with this promise? Is it going to become real in our lives and where will it take us next? It’s not a question of technique but it is one of faith.