September 22, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“The Lord thunders at the head of His army. His forces are beyond number. Mighty is the army that obeys His command. The day of the Lord is great. It is dread-filled. Who can endure it? ” (Joel 2.11)
“‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ Peter responded, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with You even to prison and to death.’ But Jesus replied, ‘I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.’” (Luke 22. 31-34)
We all know the truth of “defining something by what it is not.” My father, laughingly, would say “How can you preach against something you have no knowledge about?” He wasn’t promoting promiscuous or dangerous living, mind you. He was simply drawing attention to the reality that our best word of hope, encouragement and support comes in having “empathy,” a shared or similar experience, more than in “sympathy,” have a shared or similar feeling which may not have any connection to the experience of the other. As Jesus was preparing Peter for his journey through the next days and weeks, He revealed to him the awful truth Peter was about to experience. But, He didn’t lead with that awful truth. Instead, He spoke of the time of faith-testing which he would experience. He spoke of the power of Peter’s faith to accept the resolution of that experience and come into ministry empathetic and not merely sympathetic. We even are given Peter’s response to that challenge as he said with fervor, the usual presentation of Peter, “I will go with You to prison and even to death, if need be.” But, Peter didn’t “go with Jesus.” He kept himself at a distance in the shadows because truth in the moment of an unknown experience was more powerful than his feeling of bold commitment. You would think Peter might have learned it by now. It was the same Peter who saw Jesus walking on the water in the midst of the storm while others declared “It is a ghost!” He was so confident in his observation that he said, “If it is You, Lord, call me out to You!” So, Jesus did because He was Jesus and not a ghost, apparition or a figment of their imagination. Peter said it. Jesus did it. And Peter quickly stepped out in faith. Things were good until he took his eyes of the prize and took in the troubled world around him. Where was his faith then? Only in the midst of the fear of dying could he truly understand the challenge of being “faith” convicted. But, in the shadows of the early morning fires started by those troubled masses seeking relief from the cold (yes, even the Temple was a haven for the homeless and destitute), Peter was not going to be convicted by faith. He started to sink beneath the waters of public opinion, desperation and “guilty by association.” Except this time, there was no hand of Jesus to draw him up and out. All that Peter had was the word of Jesus brought to his mind in the reminder of it with the rooster crowing the impending dawn of a new day. Peter was able to discern it and himself by what it was not. And while we call that day “Good Friday” because of what it would lead to on “Resurrection Sunday,” it was far from good for Peter. And Peter was far from good with himself. He was beginning to grasp who he was by what he was not.
What Peter was not was a failure. A failure is what happens when you stop trying to improve and get better and do better. This Jesus would never let Peter be or become. Jesus planted the seed of truth about Peter’s reality flaw. But, Jesus was also cultivating the truth about Peter which Peter had shown time and time again before- faith in God was non-negotiable. When everything else was stripped away in the moment of self-defeat, the flicker of faith still burned inside. It may have seemed as if it, too, was hiding in the shadows much as Peter did. But, it was there as real as the words of the Prophet Isaiah who declared, “The people who dwell in darkness have seen a light which the darkness cannot consume.” The Apostle John would saw the same as the very introduction of Jesus as the Christ of God. Peter had to come to terms with the darkness that continued to be a part of who he was. It would always be there. So, would the light of life always be there. Peter’s choice and ours is whether we will fan the flames and cover ourselves with darkness. Worse are those who call the darkness the “light of their day.” Interesting enough for us is the fact that Jesus’ first appearance to Peter and the disciples came at night. They were gathered in the Upper Room which had become their safe haven. The sun had set. For the Jewish people, sunset was actually the start of a new day. For Peter and the disciples it would be a new day and the start of a new age- the Age of the Church. They still marveled at the news of the empty tomb and the resurrection experiences of Mary Magdalene and of Cleopas of Emmaus and his wife. But, it was a sympathetic marvel. It was the feeling of “is it true.” And while we would blame Thomas for “doubting,” I have no trouble believing the other disciples present with Peter had already been asking themselves “Will He show Himself to me, so I can believe it is real and true?” And Jesus response was equal to Thomas and to the rest. He showed up and made His physical presence known to them. That empathetic, shared experience of being with Jesus after His death validated the words He declared before His death. It would take Peter a little longer to actualize that truth, but it came. And with that actualization, Peter’s faith allowed him to return to leadership and strengthen those who called themselves followers, brothers and sisters of Jesus by faith. Now Peter was defined by what he was not again. Except, this time, he was not Peter the drowner or hider. He was Peter the Rock on whose faith Christ professed He would build His Church. How shall we be known, mighty ones of God, followers of the Way of Jesus the Christ?
Father, we thank You for believing in us so much that You would send Your Son into our world to draw us up out of the troubled waters of life and out of the shadows of death. He is the light of life and the very breath of faith, hope and love for us. Thank You for redefining us by Him and allowing us to see ourselves as You do- worthy, capable and sanctified in Jesus’ name. AMEN.