We all have our great moments, don’t we? Moments when we’re suddenly bigger, better, more brilliant than we ever realized we could be. Moments when others think, “Wow, wish I could have thought of it.” Moments when we show a kind of courage we didn’t know was in us. We all have those moments. The trouble is, they don’t last very long.
This one didn’t last very long for Peter, either. Only two verses after the description of Peter’s great moment, Jesus is taking him aside, berating him in the harshest terms. “Get behind me, Satan,” Jesus says to Peter, “you are a stumbling block to me.” Minutes before, Peter had said the great words. But now he’s fallen from grace. As soon as Jesus began explaining what must happen to the Messiah, Peter had objected, telling Jesus he didn’t know what he was talking about. That’s why Jesus calls him “Satan.” You and I go through the same thing. As soon as we’ve done something really tremendous, we get brought back to earth pretty quickly. The moment doesn’t last long. Soon, like Peter, we’re our old, bungling selves again.
And that continues to happen to Peter, just as it does to us. Remember the night the soldiers arrest Jesus? A serving-girl in Pilate’s household comes up and challenges Peter, “You also were with Jesus.” And he replies, “No, not me, I don’t know the man.” Just as Jesus had predicted, Peter—the one who first recognized him as the Messiah—denies him three times that night.
If the story had ended here, we wouldn’t even think about Peter today. But the story doesn’t end here, for Peter goes on to become the cornerstone of the early Church. It’s Peter who keeps the little band of disciples together after the Crucifixion. It’s Peter whose preaching converts hundreds and then thousands to the truth of Christ’s Resurrection. It’s Peter who first carries the gospel to Rome, where eventually he’s martyred, suffering the same crucifixion Jesus had known thirty years before. This same Peter, the one whom Jesus called “Satan,” the one who denied his Lord three times, becomes the rock of the Church.
“I don’t know the man,” Peter says three times. And often we don’t, either. On Sunday mornings we stand and recite the Creed. “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God.” Brave words, confident words. But then we blow it. We blow it, as we always blow the great moments of our lives, the moments of insight and courage. Suddenly we’re our old selves again.
I think of this whenever someone explains why he’s not a Christian. I don’t know why it’s so, but whenever I’m out shopping and have my clerical collar on, every fourth man needs to stop and tell me why he never goes to church. “Christians are all hypocrites,” is the way his recital often begins. “On Sundays they get down on their knees, but by Monday morning they’re doing and saying horrible things. At least I’m not a hypocrite.”
Maybe you’re not, I think, but if Peter had been so worried about being a hypocrite, he would have given up early on, left Jesus, and gone back to his fishing. He becomes the rock of the Church only because he sticks with Jesus. Peter was a hypocrite. Three times he denied even knowing Jesus. But as he stuck with his Lord, his brilliant moments, those moments when he said, “You are the Messiah,” came more and more frequently. Until finally he did know Jesus, and was willing to tell the whole world that he did. He was even willing, in the end, to die for Jesus.
There are lots of people in Charlottesville this morning, many of them still in bed, who think we’re a bunch of hypocrites. And so we are. You and I will fall flat on our faces this week, probably by lunchtime today. And if that were the whole of the story, we might as well have stayed in bed ourselves. But it’s not the whole of the story, only the beginning of it. For you and I follow the One who promises us more and more brilliant moments, moments when we say, “You are the Messiah,” and really mean it, moments when we know that God is real, and God’s promises are true, and Christ is right here with us.
Like Peter, if we continue to follow him, sinners and hypocrites that we are, we have his promise that we will grow in faith until that day when we hear him say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . Enter into the joy of your Master.” Amen.
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Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 May 2009 13:22