For a year and a half, I have been preaching that the church needs to re-discover its mission to be the church, to be the body of Christ, to be the very embodiment of Christ in this world. As Christ, we are to continue his self-expending, self-denying ministry in this world, doing the very same things that he did while he was on this earth: bringing healing to the sick, hope to the despairing, comfort to the troubled, grace to the sinners, and life to the dying.
But as I mentioned last week, we have our doubts.
We may say things like: “Seems like Jesus is really asking a lot of us. I ‘m no so sure I am ready. I have some things that I need to work out in my life first. My faith needs some work. I have questions. I have so much to learn, so much to figure out. And besides that, I have some very personal issues to deal with. I sometimes have a problem with anger. Sometimes I act or say before I think. So right now, if you don’t mind, until I can get my own self more together, learn a little more, grow a little more, I think I will pass on on making a commitment to be the embodiment of Christ in this world.
But, as you may remember from last week’s sermon, if Jesus can use Judas, the one who betrayed him, and Matthew, the tax collector, to be the church, then surely he can use you and me.
This morning, I want us to look at another disciple. The first disciple listed by Matthew in this chapter, Simon Peter.
You know, Saint Peter. The one Jesus called a “rock” and said, “on this rock, I will build my church.” The one Roman Catholics recognize as the first Pope. Perhaps you’ve heard of St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Cathedral, and St. Peter’s Basilica. Peter: the one whom Jesus loved and trusted to carry on his ministry in this world.
Well, let me tell you a little more about this Peter fella.
One day, he is out on boat with the other disciples. It is the middle of the night, and there’s this big storm. The wind is howling. The waves are crashing against and into the boat. And as you could imagine, they were all scared to death. But then, Jesus comes to them, walking on the water, saying to them to have courage and fear not.
But Peter…Peter has some doubts. Peter has some questions. Peter needs to work some things out: “Lord, if it is really you, then command me to come out on the water.” And Jesus responds, “Peter, you of little faith.”
Later, Jesus is instructing Peter about discipleship. Jesus talks about being humble, about lowering one’s self, even pouring one’s self out. Jesus talks about selfless, self-expending, sacrificial love, being with and for the least of these.
But Peter…Peter has some issues. Peter has some things to learn. Peter gets into an argument with the other disciples about which one of them was the greatest.
After Jesus prays in the garden, surrendering himself to the will of God, Jesus does not resist arrest. Jesus practices what he preaches and turns the other cheek.
But Peter…Peter loses it. Peter acts before he thinks. In a fit of anger, Peter fights back. Peter draws his sword and begins swinging it at Jesus’ captors, cutting the ear off of one.
The entire chapter of Matthew 10 has Jesus warning the disciples, including Peter, that they must be prepared to carry a cross. And if they followed him, if they did what he did, loved who he loved, a cross would be in their future.
Jesus essentially said:
“When you preach the word of God that cuts like a sword; when you love all people and try to teach others to love all people; when you preach a grace that is extravagant and a love that is unconditional; when you talk about the need to make room at the table for all people, even for folks called “illegal” or “aliens”; when you stand up for the rights of the poor and the marginalized; when you proclaim liberty to the oppressed and say that their lives matter; when you defend, forgive and friend sinners caught in the very act of sinning; when you feed the hungry with no strings attached; when you tell lovers of money to sell their possessions and give the money to the poor; when you command a culture of war to be peacemakers; when you tell the powerful to turn the other cheek; when you call religious leaders, hypocrites, and then point out their hypocrisy; when you criticize their faith without works, their theology without practice, and their tithing without justice; when you refuse to tolerate intolerance; when you do these things that I do,” says Jesus, “then the self-righteous-powers-that-be will rise up, and they will hate. They will hoist their colors, and they will grab their guns. They will come against you with all that they have, and they will come against you in name of God. They will do anything and everything that is in their power to stop you, even if it means killing you.”
In Mark’s description of this scene, remember it is Peter who has some serious issues with that.
Peter says to Jesus: “No way! Stop talking like that. This is not right. You are crazy. We will not let this happen!”
It is then that Jesus responds to Peter with some of the harshest words ever attributed to Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan.”
Jesus, calls Peter, “Satan.”
What in the world?
He never called Judas who betrayed him or Matthew the tax collector “Satan.” Why Peter?
What was truly Peter’s problem. Jesus seems to know what it is. And his problem is greater than doubt, a lack of understanding, or poor anger management.
What is it that is really keeping Peter from being the church, being the enfleshed presence of Christ?
Well, what is truly keeping us from being the church, being the embodiment of our Lord?
After Jesus is arrested, Peter goes into the courtyard of the High Priest. It is a cold night, so he gathers with some folks who had started a fire to warm themselves. A servant girl begins staring at Peter and says: “This man was with Jesus. He traveled around with him doing the things that Jesus did, saying the things that Jesus said.” But Peter denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not even know this Jesus.”
A little later, another saw him and said: “You are a disciple, a disciple of Jesus who defended, forgave and friended sinners. You welcomed strangers, visited prisoners, clothed the naked, gave water to the thirsty, and fed the hungry. You restored lepers, elevated the status of women, gave dignity to Eunuchs, and offered community to lepers. But, again, Peter denied it.
About an hour had passed and another man began to insist saying: “Certainly this man was with Him, for he is a Galilean too. You called out hypocrisy on the behalf of widows. You challenged the status quo on the behalf of the sick. You disobeyed the laws of God on the behalf of the suffering.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!”
You see, Peter’s denials, his refusal to take up his cross, had to do with shame. And perhaps this was Peter’s real problem all the while.
Peter’s failure to be the church in the world had nothing to do with his doubts and his questions, his personal issues, even his poor anger management.
Peter failed to follow Christ, because Peter was ashamed. Peter was ashamed of the gospel: What the gospel stood for, and for whom the gospel stood.
Peter was ashamed to love, because living among voices clamoring to take their country back from foreign invaders, it was more popular to hate.
Peter was ashamed to turn the other cheek, because it was more popular to draw a sword.
Peter was ashamed to identify with the least, because it was more popular to identify with the greatest.
Peter was ashamed to share his wealth, because it was more popular to hold on to it.
Peter was ashamed to side with the poor, because it was more popular to ridicule them for being “lazy” and “entitled.”
Peter was ashamed to welcome immigrants, because it was more popular to ban them.
Peter was ashamed to defend sinners, because it was more popular to throw rocks.
Peter was ashamed to stand up for the marginalized, because it was more popular to call them “abominations.”
Peter was ashamed to visit those in prison, because it was popular to dehumanize them.
Peter was ashamed to preach a dangerous gospel that demands risk and sacrifice while promoting change and causing trouble, because it was more popular to preach an alternative gospel that demands nothing while promoting peace, security, comfort and family values.
And according to Mark Jesus said: “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
According to Matthew Jesus said: “Whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”
So, are we ready to proclaim the gospel from the housetops? If not, what’s our excuse? We must remember, with Jesus, a lack of faith, having a lot of questions and some serious issues, or not having ourselves all together simply doesn’t cut it!
Could it be it is because we are somewhat ashamed? Are we ashamed of the gospel? Are we ashamed of what it stands for, and for whom it stands?
The good news is that Peter dealt with his shame. Peter decided to be the very embodiment of Christ in this world. And, this one Jesus called “Satan,” helped start the church, this very thing that we call the Body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus in this world.
And the good news for us this morning is that we still have a little time to deal with our shame.