Sermon delivered on the 11th Sunday after Trinity, the 27th August 2017 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban’s Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: Isaiah 51:1-6     Romans 12: 1-8     S. Matthew 16: 13-20

S. Matthew 16: 17: Jesus said to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

It is interesting to reflect on Sir Isaac Newton, the great seventeenth century philosopher whose work formed much of the basis of Physics as we know it today. About his great work it was rightly said that “a science had emerged that, at least in certain respects, so far exceeded anything that had ever gone before that it stood alone as the ultimate exemplar of science generally.” Yet Newton had no knowledge of current electricity, nor such things as radiotransmission or WiFi. Imagine therefore, Sir Isaac Newton looking at a modern house of our time as it is being constructed. What would he make of all the conduits being provided for the electrical, telephone and cable or satellite television wiring? I would venture to say that from his own experience he could not possibly work out what these things were for. He would ask himself if they were intended to strengthen the walls in some way. Or it might cross his mind whether they were intended to be water pipes, but he would have to rule that out immediately, because of what was on the end of the pipes.

Perhaps the conduits would have shown him, since his was a brilliant mind, that the people who constructed and used the house were making use of an energy source that he knew very little about. But unless he could see the house actually using electricity or was able to learn from books written after his time about the nature of current electricity, even a mind with his brilliance would have been in the dark about what he was actually seeing, and it would make no sense to him, unless he could benefit from a remarkable revelation.

The language of Christian faith is the language of revelation. Both in the Old Testament and in the New, disciples and prophets do not gain their most important insights purely from the everyday life of flesh and blood around them, but from revelation, from what God reveals to them. In fact we are told that those who confine their attention to the things that are around them and to their own time are blind to the things that matter most of all. We might have minds of the greatest powers of memory, logic and rhetoric, but if we are unable to receive from that which comes from outside us and outside our own age, we will still be closed to what is of greatest significance and importance. The Gospel today describes the questions that Jesus put to the disciples at a crucial stage of His ministry. Who do men say I am? He asks them. In other words, what is the “flesh and blood” answer to the question? What is the human answer? They answered by describing the phenomenon according to the popular mind. The flesh and blood way of thinking at that time was to propose that He was one of the old prophets or even John the Baptist come back to life. To the question “Who do you say that I am?” it was left to Peter to look outside the box, so to speak. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter answered. We would perhaps want to judge that Peter answered the question with real insight, going beyond the popular mind. But Jesus said even more. Jesus said that the insight that Peter showed came from a source beyond the present age. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” And I suppose that a number of us have had the experience of wondering just where something that we had said actually came from, because it didn’t seem to come out of our own thinking or experience. Jesus’ words as well as such elements of our own experience testify that our minds should not be thought of merely as archives of our own genetic make-up or our own experience. Our minds should be thought of also as receptors for that which is outside ourselves and our own experience, and as transmitters as well. Many of us I am sure, have had the experience of being mindful of someone who is just about to telephone us, or of thinking something to which somebody else, your husband or wife perhaps, gives voice. In prayer we project our minds to that which is outside our own experience and our own age. As spiritual human beings we live on the boundary between the flesh and blood things of our own age and the invisible realities of the eternal age in which as baptised Christians we are learning to walk.

Moreover, believers will need to tell the world, that if there is no admission or knowledge of the invisible realities of the world to come, we will get the most important things about the visible things of this age wrong as well. For instance, we will get the nature of being human wrong. All of us I am sure have been not only merely interested recently, but also horrified, to see on our television screens the rioting in Charlottesville in Virgina. We will perhaps have recalled the rioting earlier in Baltimore, and several years ago in London. What might be the implications that these events carry for those whose calling is to build society upon a Christian model? The answer perhaps is given our Old Testament lesson today. “Listen to me, you whom pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. ... For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord.” Equally, what might be the implications that these events carry for those who have sought to build society on a model of right and wrong which is of a new devising, and does not rest upon the invisible realities of an age coexistent with our own but outside it? Have we proceded to write into the law-books an understanding of our humanity that is in stark contradiction to Christian anthropology, not to say common sense, whose effect is deeply destructive to the heart of humanity and causes no end of confusion and misery? We must bear in mind the counsel, that if there is no admission or knowledge of the invisible realities of the age to come, we will get the most important things about the visible things of this age wrong as well. We should remember the pithy counsel of Archbishop Anselm of many centuries ago, "Credo ut intelligam": I believe that I may understand.

“Do not be conformed to this age”, says St. Paul, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may know surely what is the will of God, what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.” St. Paul was telling his correspondents that now they were agents of the age to come, the age to which Christ Himself belongs, as demonstrated by the Resurrection, the age to which He has delivered us through the exodus of His Cross out of the darkness and slavery of the present age. As agents of the age to come, they were to seek the transformation of their minds. In our Old Testament lesson today too, those who pursue deliverance are told, “Look to the rock from which you were hewn”. We know that what gives us our true identity, is that into which we have been baptised, that which is beyond the present age and its defective philosophies. When St. Paul appealed to his correspondents to present themselves as a living sacrifice to God, he may have had in mind the sacrifices of the slain beasts that were still taking place in the Temple at Jerusalem. The age to come, the age to which we now truly belong, St. Paul said, requires a new form of sacrifice, as the sacrifice of Calvary itself shows us. St. Paul’s appeal remains to our day, and the appeal is to us. To us also the Holy Spirit appeals to make a living sacrifice to God. From the outpourings of faith that responds to such an appeal the Kingdom of God is being built and will prevail. Then we will much the more know what is good and pleasing to God, both in this age and in the age to come.