Sermon Archives

Sunday, August 27, 2017
The 12th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16, Year A)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Why Peter

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Why Simon?

Of all the disciples, why is it that Jesus re-names Simon son of Jonah, Peter, “the rock” and places the Church on his shoulders?

He’s not the only disciple to make a great confession.  Who can forget Thomas’ great proclamation, “My Lord and my God!” following Jesus’ resurrection.

Nor is it his fidelity, because, next to Judas Iscariot, there may be no less faithful disciple!  Sure, all disciples flee on that dark night, however, it is only Peter who wields a sword at Jesus’ arrest and it is only Peter who denies Jesus three times during the trial that follows.

Nor do I think it was his honesty, for while Peter alone had the audacity to rebuke Jesus when we said, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” when Jesus first predicted his passion and death, such honest was likely true of Nathaniel who openly asked if anything good could come from Nazareth and about whom Jesus himself would proclaim, “in him there is no guile!”

Peter doesn’t even appear to be the most humble of disciples.  True, he doesn’t argue for the place of honor as did James and John, but he certainly doesn’t inhabit the place of quiet and humble service, either; that honor would fall to the likes of Saint Bartholomew and Saint Jude.

Peter wasn’t even the most welcoming of disciples.  That distinction likely belonged to Saint Andrew who introduces Peter himself to Jesus.  Similarly, it is Andrew who identifies the young boy to help with the feeding of the 5,000 and it is Andrew who brings the inquiring Greeks to Jesus – it seems that Andrew, more than any other disciple, Peter included, was most responsible for connecting people to Jesus and Jesus to the people.

And, we mustn’t forget that it was Peter who receives Jesus’ most stunning rebuke of all – “get behind me Satan.”  These harsh words fall on Peter’s back as he threatens to stand between Jesus and his passion and death. 

In fact, if there’s anything that Peter seems best at it is “not getting it.”  He misses the point of Jesus passion.  He misses the point of Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples.  He misses the point of Jesus’ peaceful arrest.  He misses the point of fidelity even, abandoning Jesus at his arrest then openly denying knowing him at all, not once, not twice, but three times aloud. 

And yet it is this one, Simon of Jonah, Peter as he will come to be known, that Jesus chooses for his Church.

Why?  Of all the options, Andrew, Thomas, Bartholomew, Nathaniel, Jude and Bartholomew; what is it about Peter that Jesus sees that we don’t?

Could it be that, through all his failures Peter, more than anyone else, comes to know the most important thing – that the kingdom of God isn’t founded on power and might, nor on miracles and healings, nor on theology and pronouncements, but on something altogether more profound and more fundamental:  forgiveness.

In spite of his seeming ineptitude, Peter comes to know Jesus forgiveness and mercy unlike anyone else, more so than Andrew and Thomas and Bartholomew and Nathaniel and Jude.  More than all the others, Peter must have heard Jesus proclamation from the cross -- “forgive them father, for they know not what they do” – in a profoundly personal way.  He must have known that those words, while true for all – the other disciples, the crowds, even the soldiers and Chief Priest – Peter must have known that they were equally true for him, personally. 

Peter, more than anyone, come to know that forgiveness, not theological profession, was the real proclamation of the Christian faith and love.

When we talk of loving our neighbor, we must begin by forgiving our neighbor.  When we talk about loving our enemy, we must begin by forgiving him or her first.  When we talk about being reconciled with one another and with God, we must begin with the hard work of forgiveness, for it is forgiveness alone that bridges the chasm that divides us when relationship crumble.

When Paul writes about Christian love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” he writes of a love rooted in forgiveness. 

Peter would have known this, personally.  He would have known that the only way for him to be reconciled to Jesus whom he had abandoned and denied, was through the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus himself.  And in that moment of forgiveness and reconciliation, as Peter proclaimed his three-fold love for Jesus, Peter would find himself reconciled not only to Jesus, but to this friends and fellow disciples and even to himself.  Whatever unspoken anger or hurt or disgust they harbored amongst themselves, and whatever anger or hurt or disgust Peter harbored within himself, was released by the only means possible -- forgiveness. 

Forgiveness alone looses, that is, releases, us from our hurts and failings toward one another, and forgiveness alone binds us together again, it alone restores our relationships which through things done and left-undone had fallen apart.

Jesus re-names Simon, Peter, the Rock, not because of his profound profession today, but because Peter alone will come to know the true foundation of God’s kingdom – mercy and forgiveness.  Forgiveness which not only reconciles Peter to Jesus, but between Peter and his friends, and, even, Peter to himself.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that that the most commonly offered sacrament is not the Eucharist, but the gift of Reconciliation that proceeds it.  For it is here, as the priest pronounces God’s mercy that we are not only freed again and again, but bound together, to God and to one another. 

And yet, this is among the hardest sacraments to live.  To truly forgive another is not only to proclaim the words, but to free one another from the past and to live with a re-newed hope. 

In but a few minutes, we will experience this ourselves.  As we come before God with the brokenness of our life, the things we have done and left-undone in a world starving for kindness and generosity, we will hear again that this past cannot sever our relationship with the Almighty; we are reminded that, no matter what has been done or left undone, we are still precious in God’s eyes, we are and ever will be, God’s chosen, God’s beloved.

But the words of absolution and forgiveness are not merely words, for the words will be embodied in the Eucharist that follows.  We who through our own brokenness were once far off ourselves; we who would not see God’s goodness in the world around us; we who have violated God’s creation; we who have abused one another; we who have rejected God’s love; we are invited to receive God again, not only in part, but fully, and not just from afar, but so close so that God will fill us again. 

In the course of this service, God not only proclaims mercy for us, but restores our relationship in full.

This is not simply the message of God’s kingdom, but its very foundation.  Peter would come to understand this more than anyone.  May we come to experience it personally as he did and we may come to express it as generously with one another as well.