February 28, 2021 “Fierce Faith”
You know, as I was reading through this well-known passage from Mark, I had a thought: “What would we do without Peter?” Now, I’m serious here: of all the disciples, no one stumbled and bumbled worse than this fisherman named Cephas. We don’t have to dig very deep to be reminded of the numerous times that Peter misunderstood or mis-stepped or just missed the boat when it came to the vision Jesus had for the Kingdom of God here on this earth. But I’ll ask again, “What would we do without him?” Speaking for myself, I would feel totally lost without Peter. It was Peter who said the dumb things that I wanted to say. It was Peter who jumped to conclusions like I’ve done once or twice. And it was Peter who on the night that Jesus was arrested, leaped into action to defend him, only to later deny that he even knew this Jesus of Nazareth – three times, in fact. Without Peter, our God would not be near so approachable; without Peter, I might judge myself a total schmuck without any chance at all of redemption. It is Debie Thomas who tells us, “If it weren’t for the Peters of the Bible, I’d feel inadequate and inept most of the time. Mercifully, Peter reminds me that we’re all inadequate and inept most of the time. We’re not saved by our ingenuity. We’re saved by God’s grace.” We’re saved by God’s grace, and the fact that it was Peter who became the Rock on which the church was built gives me hope; hope for schmucks like me. I say this because I’m reminded that Peter did not become the Rock because his faith was pure, or because his faith was perfect. No, Peter found his place in the Kingdom because his faith was fierce.
We will always tell this story on the 2nd Sunday of the season of Lent: the story when Jesus reveals to his disciples that things aren’t going to go the way they had planned, ending with a promise: the promise of resurrection. In fact, all of our scripture readings today carry a theme of God’s promise and our faith in that promise running throughout. It’s our faith in that promise that is held up to the light of day in today’s gospel from Mark.
It starts casual enough; (vs. 27) And Jesus 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?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” First of all, you have to be pretty close to someone before you ask a baited question like that. But Jesus is not asking for the local gossip here; he’s not asking what people think about him. He’s asking them for names – what have they named me. And the disciples tell him: “Elijah, John the Baptist, a prophet.” We have to “name it to claim it” as the saying goes, and that’s what was going on. But then Jesus asks them the hard question: “Who do you say that I am?” At this point, I imagine there was some awkward foot-shuffling going on, but not Peter. “You are the Christ,” he said. “The Son of the living God.”
You know, for as many times as I have read this account, I’ve always wondered the same thing: how did Peter, and Peter alone, know this? Did the others suspect but were afraid to say it out loud? Did Peter have the inside scoop; some special knowledge, or did he just blurt it out? We will never know for sure. What matters is that at long last, Jesus had been named and for the disciples who were to carry on his ministry, it was important they get it right.
He instructed his disciples to keep this information to themselves and then proceeded to make them a promise. (vs 31) And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. Well, he most certainly did. For those of us living some 20 centuries later, it is plain that Jesus is telling them the story of Easter. For the disciples at the time, not so much. So of course, it was Peter that pulled Jesus aside to straighten out. Mark writes that he “took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Here Jesus, in a rare moment, lashes out at Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Normally, I don’t care to do a line by line reading of scripture in the form of a sermon, but it helps to relive this important message in the Gospel of Christ. It helps us to imagine that we are right there at that moment. The Messiah spoken of by the prophets is standing right there before us. This is the future we have longed for, this is our cherished dream. And he is telling us that he is going to surrender without a fight and die like a common criminal. This is so wrong for so many reasons. This is not good news – this is bad, very bad. I imagine all the disciples were thinking the same thing, perhaps, but it was Peter who stepped up. It was Peter who voiced a complaint. It was the fierce faith of Peter that caused him to stumble, but when it was all said and done, it was the loving arms of Jesus that picked him up and dusted him off. It was the glorious love of the Christ that caused him to pick up his cross and never lay it down.
I had a friend in Montana that was a bit of a handful. He struggled with the businesses he started, he struggled with his marriage, and I suspect struggled with his faith. During one of the long conversations with our pastor at the time, the minister told him, “You know what, Greg? You remind me so much of Peter.” From that day on, Greg carried that compliment as a badge of honor. He even asked us to call him Peter as a joke, but we knew he was at least a little bit serious. But his was a fierce faith and I’ve always admired that. There is a little bit of the Apostle Peter in all of us – or, at least there should be. It takes courage to pick up our cross. It takes backbone to speak the name of a suffering Christ and to live the Gospel – not just read it or recite it.
Who do you say that we are? We are an Easter people, we are a Resurrection people, and we are a people fierce in our faith to set our minds on the things of God. And there’s a little bit of Peter in us all. Let’s be thankful for that.
Amen & Shalom