I believe 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. We are to continue his ministry in this world, doing the very same things that he did while he was on this earth: offering healing to the sick, sharing hope to the despairing, giving comfort to the troubled, bestowing grace to the sinners, showing love to the hateful, speaking truth to the powerful, and bringing life to the dying.
Now, if this is like any church that I have ever known, there may be more than a few of you who have been thinking: “I just don’t know if I am ready to make such a commitment.”
I have some things that I need to work out first in my life. My faith needs some work. I have my doubts. I have questions. I have so much to learn, so much to figure out. And I have some very personal issues to deal with. I have this problem with anger. Sometimes I act or say before I think. So right now, if you don’t mind, until I can get my act more together, learn a little more, I think I will pass on this following Jesus thing. I have enough trouble just believing Jesus.”
Well, here’s my response to that: “Have you ever met 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. You may think, there’s no way I can be like Saint Peter.
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, 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, offering himself as a sacrifice, Jesus does not resist arrest. Jesus practices what he teaches 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 Jesus’ captors, cutting the ear off of one.
And in our text this morning, Jesus foretells that garden event. He talks about being rejected by organized religion. Jesus is essentially saying:
“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; 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 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 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 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.”
But Peter…Peter 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!”
Then, having had about all that he could stand of Peter and his nonsense and excuses: his doubts, his questioning, his anger, his lack of faith, his personal issues, all the mess that he needs to work out, Jesus responds to Peter with some of the harshest words ever recorded by Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan.”
Jesus, calls Peter, “Satan.”
And yet, that did not stop Jesus from loving Peter, from using Peter. Jesus kept teaching Peter, kept calling Peter, and kept leading Peter to do his work in the world. In fact, that did not stop Jesus from calling Peter to start his church in the world.
So, if you do not feel like you can follow Jesus, and if your excuses are: that you have doubts; or you have questions; or you are just not ready; or you have some issues to work out; or even have days you feel unworthy, even have days you know you resemble Satan more than God; then you are going to have to come up with another excuse, because as Peter teaches us: with Jesus, those excuses simply don’t fly!
So, what is it that is really keeping us from following Jesus?
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!”
Peter’s denials had nothing to do with his lack of faith. His denials, his refusal to take up his cross, his failure to follow in the selfless, sacrificial way of Jesus had nothing to do with his doubts and his questions, his personal issues and poor anger management because, as Jesus pointed out over and over, those excuses simply don’t cut it. Peter’s failure was shame.
Peter had trouble following Jesus, because he was ashamed of the gospel. He was ashamed of what the gospel stood for, and for whom the gospel stood.
Which raises the question: “Could this be our failure to follow in the way of Jesus?”
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 identify with the least, because it was more popular to identify with the greatest.
Peter was ashamed to be last, because it was more popular to be first.
Peter was ashamed to tell the truth, because it was more popular to embrace a lie.
Peter was ashamed to embrace a way of humility, because it was more popular to be arrogant, proud, condescending and self-important.
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 call them “lazy.”
Peter was ashamed to include foreigners, because it was more popular to dehumanize them by calling them “aliens” or “snakes.”
Peter was ashamed to defend and forgive sinners, because it was more popular to throw rocks.
Peter was ashamed to welcome and elevate children because it was more popular to put them down.
Peter was ashamed to visit prisoners, because it was popular to treat them as animals.
Peter was ashamed to stand up for the marginalized, because it was more popular to call them “abominations.”
Peter was ashamed to respect women as equals, because it was more popular to treat them like objects.
Peter was ashamed to turn the other cheek, because it was more popular to draw a sword.
Peter was ashamed to pick up and carry a cross, because it was more popular to pick up and carry a weapon of war.
And 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.”
So, are we ready to follow Jesus? Are we ready to give sacrificially and serve graciously? 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 together simply doesn’t cut it!
Could it be that we are 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 repented. And, this one Jesus called “Satan,” helped start the church and has been named by the Church as its first Pope.
And the good news for us this morning is that we still have a little time to deal with our shame.
Let us pray together.
O God, help us to deal with our shame and openly commit ourselves to following the way of Christ, his gospel, his mission in this world. Help us to pick up our crosses and courageously follow Christ, unreservedly, confidently and unashamedly wherever he leads. Amen.