Anyway, one of the best sermons I’ve written
in the last few months ever, I suppose, was when I spent some time just musing on here about what was rolling around in my head about the passage I was going to preach on. So I’m going to do that again.
For Lent I’ve been preaching on how the Holy Week affected different groups and individuals. The first week I did the standard bystanders that watched these events happen. This last Sunday I talked about how the disciples, as a group, would have responded to what was happening. This week I’m talking about the denier, Peter.
This week is going to be a deviation from what I’ve done the last two weeks for a couple of reasons. The first is that I’m deviating from what I have been drawing source material from. Before Lent I was going through Luke a chunk at a time, and I decided, since we were already in Luke, I could just keep with it and pull source material from Luke for the series, and then pick up where I left off after Pentecost.
When you look at the first two groups, that actually works out fairly well. There is quite a bit you can pull; the only thing that was missing that I had to pull from somewhere else is the mention of the striking the shepherd and the sheep scattering, and I only needed to mention it in passing because everything else I wanted to draw from was there.
No so with Peter. One of the benefits that you get with talking about the disciples as a whole using Luke is that the author doesn’t tell you who cut off the guard’s ear. You can leave it anonymous, allowing Peter to exit this role of super-close companion and let him be just one of the 11 in the group. It makes it easier to look at the group and get the emotions they were feeling.
When you talk specifically about Peter, though, it’s kind of nice to know that he is the one who did it. Because of that, I have to pull from the other gospels to get a more complete picture of Peter. I’m always torn on this – I have a bias towards letting individual books speak for themselves and not pulling from other to justify a message – but I think allowing scripture to interpret itself and forming a complete picture given the four sources we have on the topic is a fair method of interpretation. And I’m not cherry picking – at least, I don’t think I’m cherry picking – and I’m letting Luke provide the basis of the story, only using other gospels to fill on holes.
It’s fair, I think….
Here is my scripture list for this sermon:
A decent list. I’m not typically a multi-passage preacher (single passage almost exclusively) but I’m trying to tell a story and having more source material is good. And I’ve been using this multi-passage format to introduce the congregation to various other biblical translations. I respect the NKJV for what it is but I just…I just think there are better translations out there.
The other way I am shifting gears is that I’m talking about an individual, not a group. Palm Sunday I’m going to be talking about the Pharisees and Scribes as a group; every week between now and then I’m going to be talking about an individual.
Part of talking about an individual is defining them within their group. That said, it’s more about getting a complete picture of the person, not just what we typically see.
Be honest, when you think about Peter and Lent, what comes to mind?
If you said anything other than the denial, you are lying (or you are a better person than me). Peter denies Christ 3 times, everyone knows that.
Who prepares the meal? Who goes with Jesus after the departs to pray? It seems to be relevant to the whole story that Peter is in the inner circle, a trust disciple, and probably the loyalist follower Jesus has. When he says, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death,” (Luke 22:33 CEB) I believe he meant it completely. At that moment, had the guards busted in, he would have fought valiantly. He would have struggled, been arrested or killed, and accept his fate. He is being straight with Jesus here.
The problem is that he doesn’t find himself in this active role of dying with Christ. He doesn’t get arrested with Jesus when he’s ready to go, and he doesn’t die when we tries to defend Jesus. Instead, he is faced with a difficult situation we don’t really talk about.
First, think about his physical state. They were having dinner where a large cup of wine was shared. I imagine that plenty of wine was shared between the men. I don’t want to argue drunkenness but a couple of glasses of wine coupled with general physical exhaustion leads to the situation where the three men are falling asleep while Jesus is praying.
Peter is tired, a little under the influence, and then something crazy happens: Jesus gets arrested!
Okay, that part isn’t crazy. The Pharisees have been plotting for weeks and haven’t even been quiet about it since they walked into Jerusalem. This wasn’t that unexpected.
What is crazy is that Peter didn’t get arrested or killed at that moment. He drew a sword, cut off a guard’s ear – demonstrating just now little understanding he had of swordplay – and not only lived to tell about it but didn’t get arrested. He has to finds himself in shock in that moment. He should have been arrested or killed.
Now a bit tipsy, really tired, in shock, and nerves on edge, he finds himself at a fire with strangers. And they start questioning him, and he can’t handle it. I don’t know if the logic of this went through his head or if it was subconscious, but this is where he finds himself if he confirms who he is and they do turn on him:
He doesn’t die with Jesus, he doesn’t die a martyr in public, he just dies.
In his shoes, in his physical state, I can easily see where he would think they were going to turn on him and the last thing he needed was to die there, in a back alley, where no one would care.
I don’t know if I could have not denied Christ, either.
Then the rooster crows, he runs to a dark corner, and every motion that he’s felt over the last few hours, day, and years comes out in a stream of guilt-ridden tears. That’s where we end until Easter. That’s horrifying, this moment of truth that Peter, the rock of the church, fails miserably, is the end of this story until Easter.
If that leaves you uneasy – it certainly does me – good. I’m struck with how much we are convinced that we need to be comfortable. Heck, I have a hard time watching fictional characters on TV when it gets awkward and uncomfortable. We should not dismiss this as one guy’s denial because all of us could easily have found ourselves in that position.
Not quite as horrifying as thinking about walking around in Judas’s shoes but still a pretty tough pill to swallow.
Okay, that’s enough of that. Time to drink a beer.