Summer Holidays

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

August Bank Holiday, and a congregation almost6 stripped bare of families with school age children. Holiday Season. I wonder where you like going on holiday. I’ve been told, by several different people, Sidmouth is wonderful. So is Majorca. And Cornwall. And the Black Forest, although gateaux has nothing to do with it, of course!

So, the madness of the English summer bank holiday, plays out to a chorus of car horns on the gridlocked M25, and the steady drum-beat of August rain on the wooden roofs of the beach huts at Littlehampton. The English summer holiday can offer a vision of hell which Dante at his best could not surpass. We go on holiday to get away from the trials and tragedies of our troubled world, yet often we find an equally troubled world of our own making.

I remember the story of the family who wanted to go to Bournemouth – the parents wanted to go to Bournemouth, that is. The children wanted to go to Disneyland – or anywhere as long as it wasn’t Bournemouth. They set off in the family car, and the motorway police had a report of a Ford Galaxy with children in the back holding a sign saying, “Help, we are being kidnapped”. They were stopped by a patrol car which had set off in pursuit. Only then did the depths of the different commitments in the family become clear. But we don’t want to go to Bournemouth, explained the children, succinctly. The PR man from the Bournemouth Tourist Board did his best to laugh it off. The children don’t know what they are missing: golden sands, free entertainments, Gerry and the Pacemakers at the Pavilion. The children were not impressed; they knew the kind of people who had pacemakers, and they weren’t going there.

It’s all a question of commitment, and knowing where you really want to be. Today’s Bible readings have a thing or two to offer about knowing where you are going, and where your commitments are.

Our first destination is Babylon. God’s people are there in exile – anything but a holiday – and Isaiah is writing to encourage them. He’s encouraging these oppressed people to stay committed to God. I’m sure we can all see how much this still applies in our world today, centuries after it was written, for people suffering in Iraq and Syria, in Gaza, and in Ukraine. That may be all big and far away, yet what we do here in this place today, in welcoming baby Deacon into God’s family, is reminding us that God is committed to each one of us, especially today we celebrate God’s commitment to Deacon and his family.

Moving on from Babylon, our next destination is Rome. Paul the apostle was writing to the early church in Rome – a kind of postcard, but rather longer! He was writing to a small group of people, who hadn’t been Christians very long, who were finding it very challenging to follow Jesus amidst all that went on in ancient Rome. Paul was encouraging them to remain committed to God, despite of all the distractions around them. Today God is still committed to each one of us, and today we focus upon God’s commitment to Deacon and his family. Whatever else goes on the world around us, whatever might distract our attention, God remains committed to us.

Our final destination in today’s readings is a prosperous port on the shores of the blue Mediterranean, but without the holiday villas and cruise ships – they will come later. It is Caesarea, the pride of King Herod, and a marvel of civil engineering. Jesus is taking a walk with his friends, asking them questions and warning them of bad times to come. Here, in the bright sunshine, is where Peter recognises Jesus for what he is: The Messiah who had come to feed the hungry, bring good news to the poor, and like Moses, set his people free. Peter makes his commitment, and Jesus begins to explain to him and his companions what it means. This is a commitment to sacrificial love, which puts personal preferences to one side and asks you to love the enemy and the neighbour as you love yourself. For Peter this call to commitment comes out of the blue. Hard to believe, walking by the shore with the sun shining and the sea glistening, just what Jesus was asking. God’s commitments often come out of the kind of radiant blue when we expect something else.

When Jesus and Peter walked along the shore, it felt a simpler world, than it feels today. Old certainties do not seem to apply anymore: jobs and mortgages and relationships are all hard to come by. Yet God still engages with us and wants us to take a walk into the wilderness and meet the one true friend we have been trying to avoid for so long. When we do, he will ask us for a commitment, and it will be uncomfortable. It will mean sometimes moving into the unknown, which is just as uncomfortable as the world’s woes. Jesus told his friends that it could even mean keeping a secret. It will certainly remind us of our commitment to the hungry, the starving, the deprived, and the oppressed.

We like to think that we have chosen our own commitments, that we are in control of our own lives. Time and time again, God reminds us how foolish we are to think that. He still calls us out of the daily round, and makes demands upon us that we feel he has no right to expect. Peter’s family probably thought he was mad: Jesus’s family certainly found him difficult, but the commitment was inescapable and absolute.

It’s the difference between involvement and commitment: there were a hen and a pig who set up a business selling bacon and egg butties. The hen was involved, but the pig was committed.

The holiday season’s nearly over, so where do we go from here? We can’t sit back this week – or any other week – and simply leave it to the politicians, the bankers, the media, or even the police, to decide how justice is dispensed, right and wrong recognised, the starving fed, and our neighbours, in whatever part of the world, set free to be the people God wants them to be. The kingdom requires our commitment, and Peter was chosen as a key-holder that day in Caesarea: Simon the Rock. God has shown his commitment to us, today focussed upon Deacon, and calls us to show our commitment to him. It is from the commitment of our ancestors in the faith that we have learnt the commitment that is asked of us, and from which we can take no holiday. Whether you are in Bournemouth or Disneyland, Rome or Caesarea, the demand to open your eyes to the presence of the risen Christ, and the call to open your ears to the words of the gospel is equally insistent. It makes fishers of men out of simple fishermen, and changes Simons into Peters.

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