17th Sunday After Trinity, 23rd September

Morning Prayer: Isaiah 58.1-11; Psalm 40.1-8

Evening Prayer: Luke 6.27-38; Ps 25.10-14

St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, 21st September (see Article)

Morning Prayer: Matthew 6.24-34; Psalm 67.1-end

Evening Prayer: 2 Timothy 3.14 – 4.5; Psalm 119.57-64 or 89-96

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Welcome to the Fellowship of St. Peter.  My name is Colin Markham and my aim is to promote Christian faith and spirituality.  The central focus is on the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Christianity in the modern world

As the number of churchgoers dwindle in the western world, orthodox Christians need to overcome their differences and consider a form of unity that recognises their common goal.  It’s time for the faithful remnant to act as a creative minority and formulate a unified response.  The aim must be to preserve the orthodoxy of the faith in the face of the continuing erosion of religious liberty in an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile to Christianity.

Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option has generated a lot of interest (see my review).  His proposals are a rallying cry, an attempt to offer a solution in a culture that neither listens to nor understands the faith that has sustained Christians for two thousand years.  The response calls for courage, commitment and a degree of detachment from the world.

The Fellowship extends a hand of friendship to those who have withdrawn from churches which have aligned themselves with secularism and liberal values, thus fatally compromising the integrity of a faith that is essentially counter-cultural.

We must read the signs of the times.  The era is drawing to a close.  It is time to stand up and be counted as the people of God.  Do not be afraid.  The gathering darkness will not enshroud the light of faith nor quench the flame of truth.  These will remain, along with all those whose steadfast faith shields them in the coming storm.

‘And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’ (Matthew 28.20).

The word of God

The word of God is a powerful force for enlightenment, a necessary counterweight to secular humanism.  The Fellowship seeks to recapture something of the simplicity and vitality of the church in apostolic times, before the purity of the Christian message was corrupted by spurious doctrines.  The emphasis is on spirituality that supports the life and ministry of Christians everywhere, regardless of denomination.

The Bible speaks to the world.  All Christians have something of interest and value to share through their witness.  The aim of the Fellowship is to promote prayer, Bible study and spiritual reflection which will bear fruit in daily lives.  These disciplines can form the basis of a Rule of Life that requires a strategic withdrawal from the mainstream.

Let the word of God fill your hearts and minds, let it guide and inspire you and refresh you like a clear mountain stream.  Be still with God in prayer.  Be an instrument of his loving purposes, a purveyor of peace, and let your peace rest on all those you encounter in need of compassion and healing.  Heed their cares and bind their wounds.  Live in uprightness and modesty and exercise restraint in your material needs.  Guard your tongue, practise discretion, speak only words of counsel and encouragement, the words of Christ.

Your eyes, hands and impulses should be those of Christ.  Pray always for strength and enlightenment.  Praise and thank God and place into his care your needs and those of others.

Prayer.  Bible.  Ministry.  Witness.  These are the four principles on which the Fellowship is founded.

Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, you will with all the saints have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.’  (Ephesians 3.16-19).

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Why Peter?

Peter represents Everyman in all his frailty, vulnerability and confusion.  He was headstrong yet inspired, well-meaning but impetuous.  His heart was in the right place but he didn’t always live up to his own rhetoric.  He triumphed over his weaknesses by the grace of God and saw the perfect vision of Christ and what that vision meant for the church and the world.

Peter was a leading figure during Christ’s walk on earth.  He occupied a position of seniority amongst the disciples.  He was there at all the major events during Christ’s ministry and in the final days leading up to the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into heaven.  It was to Peter and his fellow apostles that Jesus entrusted the legacy of truth enshrined in his teachings, the keys of the kingdom.  After Pentecost Peter and his companions went out to the world to proclaim the Gospel.

Acts of the Apostles.  Peter became a leading light in the early days of the church, the apostle to the Jews living in the diaspora.  His authority in the nascent Christian community has to be viewed against the ascendancy of Paul as apostle to the Gentiles, a position that gave Paul equal authority in the direction of missionary work.

In terms of Peter’s primacy of leadership, however, “….one should not look in Peter or in the primitive church for the developed conception of the primacy which appears no earlier than the third century.  The development of power possessed by the church and by Peter into monarchical leadership lies outside of biblical theology.” (John McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible)

The Gospel of Mark.  The church historian Eusebius (d. ca. 339) wrote: “Mark, who became Peter’s interpreter, wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said and done by the Lord.  For he had neither heard the Lord nor been one of his followers, but afterwards followed Peter, who used to compose his discourses with a view to the needs of his hearers.”

1 and 2 Peter.  Of the two letters that bear Peter’s name, the first seeks to encourage and strengthen early Christian communities suffering persecution, reminding them of their heritage.  The second has more to do with the dangers of heresy and how Christians can have confidence in the truth of Scripture.  These encouragements and warnings resonate with us living in times of moral decline and religious indifference.

Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into a heritage that can never be spoilt or soiled and never fade away.  It is reserved in heaven for you who are being kept safe by God’s power through faith until the salvation which has been prepared is revealed at the final point of time.’ (1 Peter 1.3-5).

Peter was martyred in Rome during the Neronian persecutions, probably in the year 64.

Jerusalem Cross

There are various interpretations of the symbolism.  The four smaller crosses are thought to denote either the four gospels or the way the Gospel spread to the four corners of the earth.  In terms of God’s revelation and world history, the city of Jerusalem is of huge political, religious and symbolic importance.  The focus is highlighted in the gospels and in the emergence of the first Christian communities described in the Acts of the Apostles.  It was from Jerusalem that the apostles scattered to proclaim Christ.

Jerusalem Bible

Quotations from the Bible are usually taken from the Jerusalem Bible (copyright 1966, Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd., and Doubleday Inc.).  ‘Yahweh’ is rendered ‘Lord’.  Other translations used include the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) and the English Standard Version (ESV).

Life in the Spirit

To renew and deepen our faith it is vital to cultivate spiritual disciplines.  We must keep the Bible open before us.  It is our enlightenment, our source of consolation, our prayer book.  It contains the revelation of God’s purposes in salvation history.  It is the well-spring of all the truth, goodness and wisdom that God wishes to transmit to human beings who he ordained to administer the complexities of the natural world and to carry forward knowledge of salvation history with its outcome in the incarnation of Christ.

The Lord guides and strengthens us, keeping us firmly rooted in the faith. Throughout all the trials we endure in this troubled world, Christ is with us.  The word of God inspires us in various ways, and through the Holy Spirit we gain knowledge, wisdom and discernment, maturing in the faith as citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Remain within the confines of God’s kingdom.  Stay on the straight and narrow path that leads to salvation.  Do not look with longing towards the sunlit hills at every temptation. Too many have trodden the path to destruction, too many have fallen by the wayside.

The Christian life is about being transformed by Christ, being absorbed by him so that his teachings and his very presence guide our every motivation and action.  Christ’s love is mediated through us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

There is a wonderful symmetry involved in the divine-human relationship.  Christ, the sinless one, is the embodiment of human perfection.  Through his very nature as Son of God he brought mankind nearer to the Father.  Through Christ, God shared in our humanity and he also made it possible for us to share in his divinity.  Christ underwent the ultimate sacrifice to reconcile man to his creator, making it possible for God’s plan of salvation to be brought to completion, inaugurating a New Covenant with mankind.  We need to keep before us the astounding truth of his victory over evil on the Cross, through which mankind gained forgiveness and the freedom to live the gospel life infused with selfless love (cf 1 Corinthians 13.1-13).

Christ established a new reality, that to be justified by faith is a sacred identity.  We are identified as Christians when we accept and appropriate the fullness of Christ.  This requires a heroic response from human beings because it runs counter to human pride, the instinct for autonomy.  The response must be underpinned by contrition and humility and it is brought to perfection by obedience.  Once we take hold of Christ we become his disciples.  Discipleship is a life-long commitment, a transforming friendship with Jesus. (Luke 9.23-26; John 15.14-17).

Christ’s death and resurrection brings to mankind redemption and salvation to eternal life.  Christ has opened the way for us to follow him to the perfect vision, far superior to the limitations and imperfections of our earthly existence.  To consolidate the New Covenant with man, the Father has sent us the power to sustain us on our journey through the snares and pitfalls of this troubled world.  This power is the Holy Spirit (John 14.16, 26).  Christ’s presence is manifested in the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit reminds us of his teachings, works in our conscience when we fail, grants us perception when we read Holy Scripture, inspires us in our prayers and meditations, whispers to us in our silent spaces, strengthens us in times of adversity and provides us with prophetic speech.  The Spirit empowers us in our various ministries and impels us to rise above the banalities and temptations of a world that is hostile to our sacred calling.  (Mark 13.5-13; Romans 12.3-9; 1 Corinthians 12.4-11; Ephesians 4.7-13; James 1.16-18, 3.13-18; 1 Peter 3.13-17, 4.7-19).

The worldwide community of faith

Christians across the world have a common purpose: striving to live the Gospel life in the face of widespread indifference or open hostility to the teachings of Christ.  The Christian faith is essentially counter-cultural yet many churches are now aligned with secular humanism, thus inflicting upon themselves the fatal wound of apostasy.  The enemy is no longer at the gates, he is within the citadel.

For our Spirit-filled life to succeed we are to distance ourselves from the corrupt influences of modern culture (1 John 2.15-17, 5.18-20).  There are to be no half measures, no compromise with evil in any of its forms, no accommodation with other religions.  This detachment is crucially important to safeguard the integrity of the Christian faith.  These are perilous times.  Christianity is under assault from atheistic humanism, the dominant force in social and political culture.  Faced with this threat there is to be no weakening on our part.  We are to profess the faith and demonstrate in our lives the true destiny of humankind, the freedom to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.  There is no higher ideal for man to attain (cf Mark 12.28-34; Romans 13.8-10).

Discipleship

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) portrays Christ as the new Moses, but he far exceeds all the prophets and patriarchs of old by his uniquely divine provenance and his destiny as Saviour of the world.  He is not only the promised Messiah, he is also Priest, Prophet and King.  His teachings lead us into the Kingdom of God, into a realm of love, creating a priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2.1-10).  We yearn for the promised homeland above where our labours will be rewarded by eternal peace (2 Peter 3.8-14).

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5.1-12) are a concise presentation of the Christian ethos, describing the blessed virtues essential to life in the Spirit.  They are the supreme ethical and moral guide to Christian life and discipleship, illuminating our path in the human maze.  They set out the Christian way of life, lived in response to Christ through faith.  We strive to uphold values intrinsic to human dignity, stable family life and the maintenance of social order: humility, gentleness, compassion, justice, peace, integrity, courage and witness.  All the blessings of the kingdom are encapsulated in the Beatitudes.

Christ came to fulfil the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5.17-19).  The validity of the Ten Commandments remains (Exodus 20.1-17).  In the Beatitudes Christ describes the spirit in which the Commandments are to be lived in both church and society.  They exemplify Christian discipleship.  They are echoes of the divine, revealing Christ in his perfection.  They define the inward motivations of integrity and love that characterise discipleship, as well as the blessed rewards of faithful service in Christ’s name.  Our acts of charity and mercy spring from a heart filled with selfless love founded on the teachings of Christ and energised by the Holy Spirit.

The teachings of Christ are uncompromisingly radical.  They are employed to combat philosophies that erode the dignity of man: consumerism (money and possessions bring happiness); relativism (there is no absolute truth); secularism (a world view without God); existentialism (life has no purpose).  In the midst of these evils the Gospel shines like a beacon of truth.  And through it all we persevere in the name of Christ, despite the difficulties we encounter on our journey of faith (1 Peter 4.12-19).  God will restore, strengthen and support us in times of adversity (1 Peter 5.10-11).

Our faith is a wonderful gift to possess and convey to others.  Discipleship places on us a sacred responsibility.  It is a joy and a holy privilege to walk with Jesus, to be in his loving presence in a life of Christian service (Luke 10.23-24; John 15.1-17; Ephesians 4.7-16).

Further reading

J. Heinrich Arnold   Discipleship: Living for Christ in the Daily Grind.  Plough Publishing, 2nd edition, 2011.

Steve Chalke & Alan Mann   Different Eyes: the Art of Living Beautifully.  Zondervan, 2010.

Rod Dreher   The Benedict Option: a Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. Sentinel, 2017.

Cameron Lee    Unexpected Blessing: Living the Countercultural Reality of the Beatitudes. IVP, 2004.

John Stott    The Radical Disciple: Wholehearted Christian Living.  IVP, 2010.

John Valentine   Follow Me: Becoming a Liberated Disciple.  IVP, 2009.

 

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