We cannot choose our family, we may not like them, we may find them difficult to get along with, it is not always easy to get along with them, but we do so because of the ties of blood and kinship, because blood is thicker than water. The Church is a family rather than a society of friends, we are related to each other through our baptism: we have been clothed with Christ and share in his death and new life. Living in the Church means being part of a family where our relationship with each other flows from our relationship with Jesus Christ.
In this morning’s Gospel Jesus asks his disciples ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ and he asks us ‘Who do you say that I am?’ It is a question which we have to answer. The world around us can provide us with any number of answers – there are those who deny that Jesus even existed, that he’s made up, a figment of an over-active religious imagination, there are those who say that he was a human being, a prophet, a charismatic healer and rabbi, misunderstood, who died, but whose resurrection is doubted. This will not do: either Jesus is exactly what he says he was, or he is a liar and a fool. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one of God, who brings freedom and liberation, he is God, the God who created the world and who redeems it, by giving himself for us.
Can we give this answer? If we do that’s not the end of the story, but only the beginning. At the end of John’s Gospel, Our Lord asks Peter, ‘Do you love me?’ he asks it three times, and each time he replies, ‘Feed my sheep’. Peter replies, ‘Lord you know everything, you know that I love you’ Our Lord knows that Peter loves him because he shows this love by feeding the sheep given to him to tend. We show our love for God by living out our faith in our lives, by bearing witness to what we believe in our hearts in what we say, and think, and do in our lives. We bear witness, we are not afraid to confess our faith in a world which demands that we compromise it, that we sacrifice to its idols.
In the Acts of the Apostles we see King Herod persecuting certain members of the Church. We too have to expect persecution in our lives as it is what the powers of this world want to conform us to their will. They can try, but they will never win: Christ’s victory over sin, the world, and the devil, wrought upon the altar of the Cross, where he as priest and victim offers himself for us, is complete and total, its effects extend through time and space. We who are called to follow him are called to take up our own Cross daily and to bear witness to our faith and risk all for love of him who died for us. This is what being baptised means – it isn’t something ‘nice’ we do to children as the excuse for a party or substitute for a wedding – it is sharing in Christ’s death and new life, it is taking a stand against those who wish us to worship false gods: money, power, sex, the European Court of Human Rights, the High Court of Parliament, pleasure, influence.
This is why St Peter is a firm foundation upon which to build the Church: he is not a man of power or intellect, but he trusts in Christ, he is rooted in him, he recognises and proclaims his divinity to the world, just as St Paul trusts and proclaims Christ to the world, as he says in his Letter to the Galatians, ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Gal 2:20) As Christians, Christ is our identity: we share his death and new life and proclaim his saving truth to the world.
Our faith is precious, just like the Word of God and the Sacraments of the Church – they are precious and they nourish our body and soul, we celebrate them as God’s transforming presence among us – a gift which transforms us by God’s grace, his free gift, so that we can become like him and have eternal life in him. It is the transforming power of our faith which frightens the world: for two thousand years it has transformed the lives of countless billions of people just like you and me, like nothing else before or since. It cannot be silenced, political regimes cannot eradicate it, other faiths cannot stamp it out, thanks to the courage of those who bear witness to their faith, who live it out it in their lives. We are here today to celebrate God’s saving love, a saving love which transformed the lives of men like Peter and Paul, which transforms bread and wine into the very body and blood of Christ, so that we may feed on Him, and be transformed by Him, given a foretaste of heaven, strengthened for our earthly pilgrimage and the journey of faith, bearing witness to Him who loves us.
There is something quite subversive about this: it stands in opposition to the power of this world, it is something which the world cannot contain or control, because it is of the Holy Spirit. So let us come to be fed by Him who died for love us, fed with Him, with His Body and Blood, to be strengthened by Him to live out our faith in our lives, to confess that Jesus Christ is God to the glory of the Father, to proclaim him to the world, so that the world too may believe and that all humanity may repent and believe in the God who loves them and saves them. Let us transform the world so that it may serve God, and Him alone, and resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.