Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A hero? Well... maybe!

Peter Lockhart

Prepared for airing on 96.5 Family FM Sunday 29 July.
I wonder who it is that springs to your mind when you are asked about heroes.

I must admit that growing up reading comics and watching TV I immediately think of super heroes. I think of Batman and Spiderman of Superman and Iron Man and so on.

In fact the last two movies I went to the cinemas to see were The Amazing Spiderman and The Dark Knight Rises.

So when I was asked to prepare a sermon on a hero from the Bible it was a little difficult to come up with an idea. I don’t really see Jesus as my hero that is simply not quite enough, it’s not quite right, so I thought a bit more about superheroes and was struck but how flawed many of them are in their own character.

Heroes don’t have to be perfect and certainly scanning the pages of the Bible there are few people spoken of in such high regard as to call them perfect.

In the end I decided to go back to my own namesake the apostle Peter who is regarded by many Christians as a saint and is identified by all as the first leader of the Early Church. A hero, well maybe!

Let me share one significant story about Peter, it comes from the eighth chapter of Mark’s gospel and goes like this:

27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Here ends the reading.

This has always been a powerful story for me.

Jesus was standing overlooking Caesarea Philippi asking who the disciples think that he was. It is pivotal point in Mark’s gospel and it happens in a pivotal place.

Caesarea Philippi was a major trading centre of the era and had many religions and philosophies present in the many different peoples that met there. It was a true intersection of humanity.

‘Who do people say that I am?’ Jesus asks and Peter’s answer hits the nail on the head, “You are the Messiah.”

Peter is right! He has been walking alongside Jesus watching him heal and teach and do miracles and now when so much is at stake Peter gets it right.

Matthew tells the story a little differently to Mark and in Matthew 16 part of Jesus response to Peter’s declaration is to say that ‘flesh and bone has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.’

Matthew ramps it up and Peter is identified as the first leader of the church.

But this is only half of the reading that I shared, his moment of glory. In his moment of getting so right Peter does something which is almost inexplicable.

Jesus after hearing Peter’s declaration begins to teach the disciples that he must suffer and die.

Peter despite all his newly affirmed knowledge and authority draws Jesus aside to correct Jesus teaching. Surely Jesus is wrong on this point.

Jesus response is direct and revealing, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

In the moment that Peter gets it right he also gets it so wrong, so wrong that Jesus calls Peter Satan.

Many people think of Satan as a personified being, the devil as it were, but in the Hebrew language satan also essentially had a connotation of a legal adversary.

Peter is debating with Jesus, he is debating God’s will – he is God’s adversary in that moment – he is satan.

It is the paradox of Peter that makes him a hero for me. The same man who can get it so right can get it so wrong – he was human, he was fallible, he was head strong, yet he was chosen and he was loved.

If we scan other stories about Peter many of you may be aware of Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus just prior to Jesus’ death. Despite promising Jesus that he would lay down his life for him Peter declares three times that he is not one of Jesus followers.

Maybe you know that after the resurrection appearance of Jesus in John’s gospel Peter goes fishing, he goes back to his old life.

Later in the book of Acts we find that Peter had to be shown visions and coaxed into accepting gentiles into the church and that he found himself at odds with the apostle Paul.

Peter was not perfect. In fact far he was from it. So, despite Peter being called the rock in many ways that foundation stone has cracks in it.

Yet the good news found in the scriptures is not that Jesus came to turn us into perfect people, people who get it right all the time, but that Jesus shows God’s love for even people like Peter who can declare the truth of God yet at the same time in a moment of pride can become Satan, God’s adversary.

This is the kind of hero the Bible gives us – people like Peter who is in many ways not a lot different to any of us; sometimes he gets it right, sometimes he makes mistakes, sometimes he has great faith and sometimes he seems to waver. It is people such as Peter whom God chooses and this can give any of us hope.

I know in myself that there are times that I get it right and there are times that I get wrong, very wrong. More often than not it takes someone else to let me know when I am getting right or wrong and even then I am careful to weigh up what this might mean.

Peter didn’t have to earn his place beside Jesus; there was no course to complete, no doctrine to tick off, no creed to say, not even a willingness to follow anywhere that Jesus would go (remember his denial of Jesus). Rather it was Jesus who came alongside Peter, it was Jesus who kept him there even when he behaved as Satan and it was Jesus who entrusted Peter to look after his flock.

There is no doubt that Peter did do great things, he lived in an extraordinary moment in history when God walked among us in Jesus and his encounter inspired him to do many things in Jesus’ name, but he did the them as a human being not perfect yet chosen and loved by God.

This has implications for me as follower of Jesus and especially as a minister. Peter serves as reminder that Jesus followers are not perfect, I am not perfect and none of us are. The conundrum of living in this Church which was founded on Peter is that we are all a bunch of cracked stones and we should always be wary of how we view others and how we think they are travelling in their faith.

Ultimately it is Jesus who chooses disciples whoever they are and with all their faults. It is Jesus who forgives and includes and guides and teaches. It Jesus who shores up the walls of this fragile cracked structure called the church.

It is in knowing all this that Peter might be described as a hero. Not because he was morally perfect. Not because he knew everything there was to know. Not because his belief was flawless. He can be described as a hero, as someone for us to look to as an example of faith, because in God’s love and grace he was made holy in spite of all of his flaws. If there was a place beside Jesus for one such as Peter then we can say with hope that there is a place for any and all of us. God bless you all.

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