Here in Windermere, we`re pleased to say that we get our fair share of tourists and a good many of them travel around in those rather large mobile homes- and good for them. What amuses me though, is that every so often you`ll see one of these vehicles with a bumper sticker which says something rather like, “We`re busy spending the children`s inheritance”. And we smile at what seems like a little bit of rebellion against all those years of devoted and often exhausting parenting.
Of course, this fairly dark humour; this inter-generational rivalry is all part of the ritual way in which we who have been parents come to terms with what has been, to say the least an absorbing and stretching experience. But let`s be honest. It`s not `baby` that`s been the problem…. It`s not that young person who caused us so much grief in their teenage years that`s the issue. It`s not that adult who having gone their own way (as they have every right to do) seems to both ignore us and crave our support in equal measure that is the cause of our angst. No, behind our bumper sticker humour is the realisation that we got our expectations and understanding of what this `parenting` thing is all about completely wrong. Yes, we know NOW… we have some inking NOW that parenting is both challenging and deeply enriching at the same time; but most of us didn`t realise this to begin with.
Yes, we know NOW that nothing can really prepare you. We know NOW the folly of our dreams and expectations that our little `junior` will be unlike any other child; feeding and sleeping and learning and growing and flourishing … living a life in complete continuity with that beautifully designed `Mother-Care` Nursery we prepared for their arrival.
And so after a while we begin smile knowingly at those parents who seem to regard their offspring as a bit of a project; the must have accessory which will grow up to adorn their world ……and flatter their ego and go on to raise, almost effortlessly some equally charming and problem free grandchildren! And we realise how circumstances can help them remain blind to their folly while ever for instance, they have sufficient support; the income, the sharp elbows and the opportunity to access the `best` schools- whatever that means. Until the moment dawns, as it always does, that things aren`t going to plan.
I sometimes think it really is a blessing when reality dawns early. Maybe it`s the sleep deprivation that helps us realise we`re out of our depth and haven`t a clue what we`re doing? But as I say, this is a blessing. It`s a healthy dose of reality, because at the heart of it we expected a baby….. and we actually got a person; which is totally different thing. This is why my standard question for many young couples is, “Has he become a flippin` nuisance yet?” Not because I`m trying to be cruel but because owning up to the discomfort and the sense of discontinuity between what we expected and what we got is vital if we are to survive.
The point is that the arrival of this `person` takes us into places and situations where we experience a whole range of both wonderful and perplexing emotions and as we look back we realise that we discovered sides of ourselves we had never anticipated. So, yes, it costs; this giving, this attempt to nurture a new life. But no matter what the Bumper Sticker says if you`re feeling aggrieved then it`s YOUR problem. It`s no good moaning at the offspring or saying, “I never bargained for this”. All of this stuff we never bargained for was there all the time…. it just goes with the territory… it`s WE who`ve been deluding ourselves.
And it`s this same kind of delusion which Jesus confronts Peter with in our Gospel reading this morning. Jesus is journeying with his disciples and he asks them what people are saying about him…. What`s the gossip on the streets? “Who do the people say I am?” he asked. They come up with a few things they`ve heard but then he turns to them and says, “What about YOU? Who do YOU say I am?“
Peter says, “You are the Messiah”. Now Peter got it right. This was an incredibly radical thing to say. He was saying that Jesus is the one we`ve all been waiting for. The one who would set the world to rights… and sort out Israel`s problems. But then, when Jesus begins to tell them what all of this will mean; a big row breaks out. I love the way the story is told; there`s a lot of `rebuking` going on! But what we see is Peter kicking against the dashing of his expectations of Jesus.
Jesus seems to cruelly contradict what Peter thought he was signing up for in tagging along with this Rabbi from Nazereth. And let`s be honest, he`s not bothered about Jesus so much as his own skin. You can hear him saying…. “If this is religion you can keep it. I never bargained for this”. You see Peter is wrestling with the prospect that tagging along with Jesus will turn out to be rather different and more costly than he had imagined.
Jesus says: “‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it”. Jesus insists that you find your life by losing it…. by giving it away; and just as our fantasies about parenthood have to die so that we can begin to nurture a person so our fantasies about Jesus and `religion` also have to die if we`re really going to grow in faith. Again, there`s nothing theoretical about this. Just as our illusions about parenthood are shattered by the night feeds and the difficulty of understanding a hormonal teenager, so our illusions about faith are set aside as we realise that Jesus means what he says. Try `dying to yourself` this week for example, by refusing to interrupt someone whilst they`re talking. Cultivate the art of listening and you`ll see what I mean.
This is why in Baptism we are signed with a cross…. Why some of us wear a cross around our neck. Again, it`s not a fashion statement but a statement of purpose. It`s a potent reminder of that conversation which Jesus had with Peter and our lives are to be shaped in imitation of his. Of course we rebel against this. Of course we want something rather different…. but all that `rebuking` that went on between Jesus and Peter is a sign that Jesus refuses to let us off the hook. The sad thig is that In our desire as a Church, to grow and become popular and get the numbers in we do all we can to paint a picture of faith that`s rather like that picture of parenting which is all sunlight through a beautiful nursery window with a perfect child who eats, sleeps and never causes you a moments anxiety. It`s a fantasy.
Too many of us live with that fantasy for far too long; the fantasy that Jesus is about meeting our needs; flattering our ego and helping us live our life … with a bit of a `holy tinge` to it. Whilst instead, Jesus invites us to let go of our agenda for life and take up his. Unfortunately, it`s a way of life which doesn`t FEEL like what we were led to expect. It feels like the death of what we thought we knew about God. It can be stretching and disconcerting and we end up discovering stuff about ourselves we`d rather ignore.
The story goes that Peter did eventually die on a cross. He did quite literally follow Jesus on the way of execution. But his story and in particular this argument between him and Jesus invite us to reflect more deeply on the sense of tension that is a natural part of the way of faith. It asks us to become conscious of the often unspoken fantasies and assumptions we have. It tells us that when you take Christ seriously you will find yourself taken to places you never imagined. Like in our parenting, the often challenging experiences are not a sign that something has gone wrong; they go with the territory. They are a call to `lose our life, for the sake of Christ`.