This sermon was preached at Resurrection Lutheran Church, Sunset Hills, Mo.
Midweek Lent 3, 2015
Luke 22:61 & 62, And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord.
Nicole Helget sets her novel, “Stillwater” in mid 19th century, Stillwater, Minnesota. A central character is Big Waters, a Native American woman.
“For many seasons, the men had given away more of the people’s lands while drinking with the white one, making fools of themselves. The women were expected to stand off along the wall…and be quiet. One season, Big Waters simply stepped forward among the men…and said, ‘I would like to read that paper before these fools put their marks on it.’ That was the end of her time among her people…she’d insulted the men…her husband had declared her banished.
As Big Waters walked into the tall grasses, her children were directed to turn their back to her. The son she tended to night and day…while he lay crying recovering from burns suffered in foolish play, turned his back …Her only girl…from whom Big Waters pulled the upside-down baby, saving both their lives. She turned her back. Even the two she had taken into her own heart as her own after their mother succumbed to disease. They all turned their backs to her. Never to call her mother again.”
Tonight the shape of the nail driven into Jesus flesh is denial, turning your back.
Denial didn’t start with Peter: Adam and Eve denied that God’s voice was the only and final voice to which they should listen. Cain denied his brother, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And Sarah, laughed at the prospect of having a child. The poet Delmore Schwartz wrote of her, in part,
The angel said to me: “Why are you laughing?” “Laughing! Not me! Who was laughing? I did not laugh. It was a cough. I was coughing. Only hyenas laugh.
The poem concludes, He said: “you shall have more children than the sky’s stars and the seashore’s sands, if you just wait patiently. Wait: patiently: ninety years? It’s a joke. A big joke. You see the joke’s on me.
Today we will pick up the story of Peter’s denial, on the way to the High Priests house, “Then they seized (Jesus) and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. Peter was following at a distance.” When Jesus called Peter from his fishing nets, Peter dropped everything and followed. He walked with Jesus, so closely he could literally reach out and touch him. That time, when he walked on the water toward Jesus and lost his courage, he knew to cry out to his master, “Lord, save me.” In our gospel lesson for last Sunday he had given his grand confession, “You are the Christ.”
We have those times in our life when we have a sense of closeness to the Lord. We fix our eyes on Jesus and follow. Perhaps this sense of nearness occurs at a baptism; or a confirmation. A former church secretary of mine shared on facebook last week the time she and her husband, as newlyweds, had been confirmed in the Lutheran Church. Or we sing in truth, “I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus.”
But there are other times when our faith life is like walking through a dry country where the waters of life have grown stagnant; when the word has no connection to our life and the gospel falls on dull ears. Like we are walking on treadmill, moving but getting nowhere and Jesus is moving off into the distance. Herbert Brokering wrote a series of modern parables called Eye Openers. “Once there was a church where they couldn’t find the bible one Sunday. The minister asked if anyone had good news from the Lord. No one admitted having any, so they all started leaving. One man said his wife had just had a baby this morning. The people decided that this wasn’t a word from the Lord and they went home. The man stayed for a whole hour. He was sure that was good news from the Lord.”
Now we enter the high priest’s courtyard with Peter. Someone has lit a fire, its flickering flame feebly pushing against the darkness. It is reflected in Peter’s own faith now a flickering flame. Earlier Jesus warned, “Be careful lest the light in you be darkness.” But Peter is not heeding any of Jesus’ warning. He sat down among those gathered around the flame. I want to call out, “Peter, remember the first words of the psalms.” “Blessed is the godly one who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor follows the path that sinners tread or takes a seat in the company of scoffers. But the Lord’s teaching is his desire.”
But Peter had been so confidant in himself that he had already denied Jesus’ warnings and he didn’t need Jesus’ prayers, “I’ll be just fine Jesus.” If Jesus needed prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane are we, his disciples, above our master? Are we more sure of our trust in God than even Jesus?
Jesus, the light of the world, is undergoing interrogation in the high priest’s house. He is about his Father’s business. Meanwhile, Peter, the Rock, was turning into a jellyfish; denying being with Jesus or even knowing him. Peter was bent on saving his own skin.
“And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” It may have been a look of disappointment, but mostly it was the look of love. Though Jesus in the gospel lesson for last Sunday says, in effect, whoever saves his own skin will lose it and whoever is ashamed of him and his words he will be ashamed of them; God’s nature is to trump his judgment with his love. Paul writes, “Where sins abound, grace abounds even more.” Jesus literally was willing to lose his own skin in order that, in the end he may give us glorified skin in a resurrected life.
It only took one look from Jesus and Peter remembered Jesus’ words…and went out and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. Whatever the form of our denials, they all lead to the cross. In this season of lent let us in repentance remember the words of St. Paul, “We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, how much more…shall we be saved by his life.” For our sake and our salvation Jesus does not deny us.