Matthew 16:13-20 on Sunday 23rd August 2020

There’s a saying in the Irish language – it’s short and snappy and goes like this

“Ní heolas go haontíos”

I’ll say it again

“Ní heolas go haontíos”

Literally meaning

“No knowledge until living together”

Now if we wanted to be a little less literal, we might think of it as this – “if you want to know me, come live with me”.

Maybe that or a similar saying is something you’ve heard before.

Jonnie HillAs people we can be good at presenting ourselves in a way that shows us as we think others expect us to – putting our best foot forward we might call it.

In church, perhaps we want to be seen as kind or calm or polite or holy even! Maybe we feel a pressure to fit in – concerned if we bear our souls with others, they might reject us.

I’m not saying that we’re all putting on a front all the time, but maybe we put a little extra effort in at certain times.

And I think this where this Irish saying has its power. Really, unless you spend a lot of time with me, such that I can’t possibly maintain that best foot forward all the time, maybe then and only then will you know the whole me.

And so, we have our Gospel reading today. Jesus’ disciples haven’t been living with Jesus in the traditional domestic sense, but they have been on the road with him for a long time.

Of course, they knew he was special all along, I’m sure they knew he was anointed of God. But in this passage, we see a fuller acknowledgement of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, God’s chosen one.

Now there are significant theological reasons why this is a big deal and a lot of them have to do with Jesus’ divinity and what was Jesus’ purpose on earth. These are very important matters and I’m sure you’ve heard many a good sermon on them before.

But I wonder if we stop to consider the human dimension to what’s going on. Jesus’ disciples have given up a lot to follow him. It’s clear they have a close and loving relationship with Jesus.

But how well do they really know him?

I mean, he rarely gives a straight answer, he often speaks in riddles and he seems to break so many rules all the while obviously being anointed of God.

When I’m asking how well they really know him, I’m not just thinking about whether Jesus was cranky in the morning, or whether he was a bit snappy after a long day of teaching and healing.

But rather, is Jesus is holding back on certain things about himself? Do the disciples know the real or the whole Jesus? Has Jesus been keeping a big secret all this time?

There are some that think that Jesus isn’t necessarily holding back on the truth, but rather that his own knowledge of who he is and what is his purpose is developing as he grows and learns just like any other human being.

And there’s a certain sense to that – if Jesus was truly fully human as he was fully divine then surely, he gained in knowledge and wisdom as he grew.

One thing that has always interested me is the pronouncement made at his baptism at the beginning of his ministry when the Holy Spirit descends on him and a voice from heaven proclaims – “You are my own dear child, in whom I am well pleased”.

Imagine how much self-esteem and self-belief you might experience if a voice from heaven had made that pronouncement over you?

Wouldn’t that give you a sure and certain sense of your own identity as a child of God?

And yet we too have had this very truth pronounced over us at our baptisms, that we each are God’s child in whom he is well pleased.

I hope each one of us can be reminded of that truth today.

Jesus lived his life in tune with God, and God’s purposes for him. But he did not do it alone. His identity was formed in the context of the community as he grew up. Surely all that Mary and Joseph had experienced positively impacted Jesus’ identity as he grew up.

But Jesus’ identity continued to grow as people began to follow him and as he gathered that special community around himself during his ministry.

Our inheritance as Christians today is the church – and the church that came into being with Peter and later apostles like Paul was based on community just like that first community Jesus gathered around him.

I grew up in a small community in Ireland where everyone knew your business which was not the kind of community I wanted to belong to. I couldn’t wait to get away to the anonymous city.

But I now see I felt this way because gossip was rife, and people didn’t always have your best interests at heart. People judged left, right and centre and hypocrisy abounded. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s a particularly Irish or small-town problem, it’s a universal human problem.

But what of our calling as Christians. I can never escape the simplicity but difficulty of Jesus’ words that we are to love God and to love neighbour as self. That is our deepest calling.

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Thinking again of Jesus and the revelation in today’s passage – whether Jesus would have come to this point of self-knowledge with or without the community is immaterial to me. The fact is – Jesus did come to this point of self-knowledge whilst part of the community around him.

And I believe that we too are called to a similar deep self-knowledge as we grow spiritually as members of Jesus’ community – the church. But let’s not forget the power of the community around us to impact and influence our respective spiritual paths.

I fear we often struggle with helping one another to deeper self-knowledge, either because we are worried about what others will think if we bear our emotions, or we’re keeping our upper lip extremely stiff and unwavering because that is the done thing, or we’re holding back our full selves because we fear rejection.

Just this week I have been writing my personal profile which is the document that describes me, my theology and my ministry. It’s what churches will receive if they are considering calling me as their minister. It’s not an easy thing to write because it requires a certain bearing of one’s soul.

But the truth is, writing it was made so much easier knowing I have found my home and belonging in the URC, a welcoming and accepting community of disciples. When we are loved, accepted and welcomed as we are, something wonderful happens – the barriers are removed and we can truly flourish as the people God has created us to be.

Real spiritual growth takes place within communities that are loving and supporting, non-judgemental and open-hearted. And it fills me with joy to say this is the kind of community I know Sale URC to be.

The phrase “want to know me, come live with me” suggests that the only way to know someone fully is to be with them so often that they can’t possibly maintain putting their best foot forward all of the time.

If you were to ask me, do I want to know you? The answer would be a simple – yes. Not when am I moving in! I want to suggest that our commitment to God and to one another as church is a form of living together and that we can choose to know each other rather than waiting for the mask to drop because of exhaustion or whatever else.

Am I suggesting we stop putting our best foot forward entirely? No! I’m not likely to myself, and I think it’s deeply human to want to keep ourselves safe?

But, am I saying that this community is a place we should feel safe to bring our whole self to church, absolutely I am?

Remember our highest calling? Loving God and loving neighbour are two sides of the same coin – each one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God and each one is loved and accepted by God just as we are.

I pray as we seek to live out this truth together, we will each know love, acceptance and freedom.

Amen.

By Jonnie Hill

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