Home Service 27th August 2023

Prayers of Approach

God of change and transitions, as summer comes to an end and many begin or return to places of learning, or to other new routines, we approach you now from the place of our own apprehensions. Lord of stability, on whose foundations we build our lives, we come to anchor ourselves fast to the unchanging rock, so that we may be supported in all life’s turning points. Amen.

We gather now to renew our strength and confidence for our engagement with the world. May we be surprised by new insights at every fresh encounter, as the disciples were at Caesarea Philippi. And may we know Jesus as Messiah, Son of the living God. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, Messiah, name above all names, we worship and adore you for revealing yourself to us, becoming one of us and calling each of us by name. In you, we discover who we truly are, for you lead us to become the people you mean us to be, one with you and with one another in your Church. Amen.

Hymn Ye servants of God, your master proclaim (R&S 293)

Readings: Isaiah 51:1-6

Matthew 16:13-20


Our readings from Isaiah and Matthew both envisage a new start. For Isaiah, it’s the return from exile. For Matthew, it’s a new relationship with Jesus based on fresh insight. Both passages speak of the liberating coming of God. The people languishing in exile hear the prophet promising that God will rescue them and Peter’s confession reveals the plan of God to liberate people from ungodly rule and unite them in a single people under his Messiah’s reign.

These readings link through the themes of a foundational rock, the possibility of understanding the present through the lens of the past, and the need to engage with what God is doing now. At a time when everyone is talking about Jesus, the disciples discuss with him who he really is. They remember prophets of the past, but the real understanding of who he is comes from a revelation of the Holy Spirit. Simon Peter says that he is the Messiah. Jesus renames him Peter, which means ‘rock’, as a sign that he will become the foundation stone of the Church.

Hymn You are the king of glory (R&S 271)


How would you respond if Jesus asked you, ‘Who do you think I am?’ Jesus asks his disciples that question in a place that for many Jews would be an uncomfortable, though thought provoking, location to think about it. For Jews the city of Caesarea Philippi is a blasphemous, idolatrous horror, a headquarters of the foreign rulers and a symbol of oppression. There, in temple and inscription, Caesar is worshipped as ‘Saviour’, ‘Son of God’.

There was a spring there that was considered to be the source of the River Jordan but the Ancient Greeks worshipped their god Pan there, the nearby road was used by conquering armies, King Herod the Great built a temple there and then his son, King Philip, built this city. To keep in with the ruling Roman emperor Augustus, Philip called it Caesarea, but it became customary to give it his name too – so it became Caesarea Philippi. The Roman cult of the emperor, which gave the emperor divine status, meant that a place named Caesarea took on a kind of religious status.

And just outside this place, this city, Jesus turns to his disciples and asks, in effect, ‘What are people saying about me?’ In response he is given a list of who people think he might be, Elijah, Jeremiah or another of the prophets, or even John the Baptist come back to life. But there, despite all the evidence to the contrary, Peter gets it right (for once!), ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of God!’

For his insight, his listening to God’s prompting, Jesus gives him a new name and a new purpose, he is to be called Peter, the rock, and on this rock Jesus will build his church. That doesn’t mean that he has a new identity, he is still Simon son of Jonah, but Peter now has a destiny to fulfil.

Identity is very important for all of us, who we are matters. We only have to look at the popularity of TV programmes such as ‘Who do you think you are?’ and ‘Long lost family’, of tracing your family tree (now made easier by websites such as Ancestry.com), and of DNA testing through which you can find not only living family members but your genetic make-up and historically where you came from. Identity was particularly important for the Jewish people because through it they expressed their relationship with God. Isaiah urged the people in exile to ‘look to the rock from which you were hewn’ and ‘to Abraham your father and Sarah who bore you’. Such a sense of identity gave hope for the future and trust in God, who would not abandon his people, for their deliverance and salvation.

For the disciples the recognition of Jesus as Messiah strengthens that sense of identity and confirms their relationship with God, a relationship however expressed in a new way. For the time being they are ordered not to tell anyone as this new way of understanding is explored and worked out, not in uprising and victory over oppressors by military might, but in love and sacrifice. The time will come however when the good news of this new relational identity will be proclaimed ‘to the ends of the earth’ and all people will be invited to find their identity in God’s family, in his kingdom of heaven.

· Who do you say Jesus is?

· How well do you know Jesus? How do you think you might get to know Jesus more fully?

· How can you explain Jesus to other people? Is he just a historical figure, one of the prophets, a good person, or something more?

Hymn He is Lord, he is Lord (R&S 268)

Prayers of Intercession

Father, we thank you that we can always trust in you, for you make provision for our faults and failings, and send us all the help and encouragement we need.

We trust you to answer our prayers and so we bring our concerns for the world before you now.

We pray for people who struggle with their faith: through self-doubt, through difficult circumstances, through bad things happening, through being led astray, by wanting fame and fortune.

We pray for people who feel in the dark, locked in a situation where they can find no answer, that they might come to understand that you are the key to everything they need.

We pray for ourselves: when we are in difficult situations, when we try to unlock doors that aren’t ours to unlock, when we don’t focus on the kingdom, when we don’t share our story.


Hymn The Church’s one foundation (R&S 566)


We go out into your world full of the confidence that you give us. May we, like Peter, begin to grasp what is special about your kind of strength and your kind of courage, as we grapple with our turbulent world. Amen.

Prayers and other material (adapted) © Roots for Churches Ltd. Used by permission.

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