The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Parish Eucharist      26th February 2017
Walking with Jesus
Handley Stevens

SERMON FOR PARISH EUCHARIST
ST JOHN AT HAMPSTEAD
26 FEBRUARY 2017

Baptism, Next before Lent, Year A
Psalm 2
OT Reading: Exodus 24. 12-end
Gospel: Matthew 17.1-9

To-day is a very special day for Peter, and for his family, so it’s great that to-day’s gospel story should also be about a very special day in the life of Jesus and his disciples.

Jesus was often surrounded by crowds, but he kept a good balance in his life by finding time both to be alone, or with the small circle of his friends, and especially with Peter, James and John.  It’s a balance we all need to find.

It is also clear that he loved the hills around the Sea of Galilee, nestling as it does in the upper Jordan valley, surrounded by rather bare hills, a place of peace, wide open to the sky.  It’s not difficult to imagine Jesus walking there with his friends, sitting on a hillside in quiet conversation with them, or standing on a high place perhaps with the wind in his hair, as they all took in the view of lake below and higher hills above. 

And then there came that special moment when the little group was touched by a bright cloud – not the heavy grey stuff that sets in with the rain and drives you off the hills, but the wispy stuff, bright with glory, that lifts the spirits with its sheer beauty, causing you to raise your head and look up rather than down.   Perhaps it was a bit like that when the disciples were so exalted by their experience that they saw – or thought they saw - Moses the great law-giver and Elijah the great prophet of the Old Testament talking with Jesus, just as they had talked with him; and in that moment they knew in their hearts that Jesus their friend was none other than the beloved Son of God.  As Peter recalled years later: ‘We were eyewitnesses; we heard the voice from heaven while we were with him on the mountain’ (2 Peter 1. 18).  What a day to remember!

To-day, as you bring Peter to be baptised, you are full of joy and wonder at the life that has been entrusted to your care, and full of hope for the future.  As we welcome Peter into the Christian community, we share with you that sense of wonder and joy and hope, and we take seriously our responsibility to join with you in bringing him up not just to know about Jesus, but to know Jesus as his friend, and to put his trust in him as Lord and Saviour.

Starting where most of us do, with minimal experience, the whole business of caring for the physical, psychological and spiritual needs of a child can seem a bit daunting, but of course we all move ahead just one day at a time, and we soon discover who sets the agenda. We become the privileged facilitators of our children’s development, gradually preparing them to leave our care and step out into the world. 

I think that is what Jesus was doing with his disciples.  As he walked in the sunny hills above the Sea of Galilee, he may well have sensed that he didn’t have very long to share with them his knowledge of God’s love for himself, for them and for all humanity.  If time was short, all he could do was love them as he knew His Father loved Him, and tell them stories about His Father’s love.

We don’t know what the future holds for us or for our children.  But like Jesus, we have the opportunity to share with them our conviction that there is so much more to life than the material world we can see and touch, that there is a God, and we know what God is like because we have seen him and known him in Jesus.  We can bring them up to know that whatever happens there is nothing in all creation that can separate us or them from his love. 

We don’t need to use long words to explain all this to our children.  With the help of the Christian community, we try to ensure that they are familiar with the great Bible stories that undergird our faith, especially the life of Jesus, and the stories he told.  But we do this naturally as we walk with them through the early years of their life.  If we create for them a home where they can always be confident of being received with love, then the narrative of faith will reinforce their experience of life, and the two will make sense together.

If they have begun to walk with us in the company of Jesus, their hearts and their minds will be prepared to receive, sooner or later, that profound life-giving conviction that seized Peter and James and John as they walked with Jesus in the hills above the Sea of Galilee.  From that day on, they knew that Jesus their Friend was none other than the beloved Son of God. 

Over the coming years, I hope you will have grounds, to take pride in Peter’s achievements, but nothing will give you greater joy, deep down in your hearts, than to know that he too has made that life-changing discovery.  We all have to take that step for ourselves, but if we play our part in introducing our children to Jesus and his love, he will draw them to himself, and we can trust him – as we shall say in a few moments – for their growth in faith.

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