Sermons‎ > ‎

Rock or not?

Sermon on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Fr Robin Vickery's ordination

Today is the feast day of St Peter and St Paul, and also the 40th anniversary of Fr. Robin’s ordination and so an occasion to reflect on what it means for each of us to be called by God.

Jesus’ words to Peter in today’s gospel have, over very many centuries, been used to support the supremacy of the See of St Peter’s in Rome. 

Much ink, not to mention blood, has been spilled, so I am not about to wade into that fight. Instead I would just note that the pope is supposed to be infallible and Peter most certainly wasn’t. Whilst Peter may well be top of the class in today’s reading, in the verses that follow he’s back in the dunce’s corner: no longer called a rock on which the people of God can stand firm and secure but a stumbling block over which they may trip and fall. So is Jesus having a laugh when he renames Simon as Peter, which means rock?

Well some scholars think that he is – that Peter is the butt of a joke: they note that the Greek uses two different words: Petros and Petra, the second meaning rock but the first meaning little stone or pebble.  So instead of Jesus saying “you shall be called rock and on this rock I shall build my church”,  Jesus is actually saying: “I shall call you little pebble and on this rock I shall build my church.”

I am not a good enough linguist to wade into that argument either BUT it is certainly true that when Jesus named Peter as the rock on whom he would build his church he was fully aware of Peter’s many limitations, faults and flaws: impetuous, hot-tempered, volatile and a bit of a drama queen.  

And it is interesting to reflect upon little stones vs mighty rocks.

Mighty rocks are used as a symbol of strength and stability, as in the parable of the man who builds his house upon the rock. But Jesus also says that he has come to tear down the massive stones of the temple and, at the moment that Jesus died, the earth shook and even the rocks split.

The little stone is clearly not a symbol of power and might yet it was a little pebble that David used to slay the powerful and mighty Goliath.  Jesus himself is described as the stone that the builders rejected but which then became the cornerstone that held the others together. And we are all called to be stones, living stones who together are built into a temple, the place where God dwells on earth.

I can’t speak for Peter but I feel more comfortable being called to be a little pebble gathered together with other pebbles to form God’s church than to be a mighty rock. The big rocks used to build usually have to be fairly uniform in shape and size, all hewn from the same quarry.  Little stone, used in aggregate, can be all sorts of shapes and sizes, come from many different places and have each been worn and shaped by their own unique individual journey. 

Fr. Robin’s journey has taken him many places, where he has shaped and been shaped by, many different people and has joined with them to build a bit of the kingdom wherever they were:

Robin’s fondest memories of ministry were his youth work days when Clapham wasn’t as grand as it is now and the youth not quite so, well, respectable.                                                                                                    

Yet Robin was able to shape these little stones by his presence among them.                                                                                                           
One of them, Soy–eh, is now a youth worker himself and claims that Robin and that youth club changed his trajectory that he would almost certainly have ended up in jail but was inspired to go on and work with other little stones to build a bit more of the kingdom.  

A mighty rock is not terribly mobile – the pebble however is small and transportable, it can go anywhere.  As can we who are called to build the kingdom everywhere, like Robin who took his ministry into the work place and became a passionate advocate of worker priests. 

Pebbles travel, they end up far, far away from where they started.                   

Peter had no idea where he would end up: When he boldly declared that Jesus was the Christ, God’s anointed, he envisaged that he would be part of military and political victory over the Romans. He did not have a clue that he would end up forgiving Romans, welcoming them as fellow living stone into the church and dying for them and others.Just as Robin had no idea that when he started going to church to get a girl to go out with him that that church would lead to him giving his sandwiches to hookers and sharing mugs of tea with the homeless. 

He did end up getting the girl by the way – not that particular girl – but a far superior one. 

We have not yet mentioned dear old St Paul, who does not figure in our readings today although it is his feast day too.   I have always cherished the fact that we celebrate St Peter and St Paul on the same day they were both so vital to the building of the church and yet they were as different as granite and chalk.  It has to be said that they did not always work together smoothly, but they did work together.  Andd it was perhaps not so much those individual gifts but the bringing together of them that so enriched the church and gave glory to God. 

Today we celebrate Robin’s unique gifts to the ministry but most especially his commitment to the church.   A church in which very few of us, thank God, are called to be mighty rocks but in which we are all called to be living stones: Maybe small, maybe cracked, maybe worn down a bit by life but nevertheless called to be gathered together with whatever other little stones, of whatever size, shape or colour God rolls our way to be built into a living temple, the body of Christ on earth and it is to us he entrusts the gift of binding and loosing, comforting and healing, loving and forgiving all God’s people.