Today is the Confession of St. Peter the Apostle. I love the stories about Peter, because he is so real. In one moment he sees so clearly with brilliant flashes of insight—you are the Christ, the son of the living God! Just as quickly he reveals how much he doesn’t understand, rejecting the idea that Jesus will suffer at the hands of the authorities, to which Jesus replies– Get behind me, Satan. You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts. Although he walked and ate and experienced Jesus first-hand, Peter often missed the larger vision Jesus was inviting him to see—it isn’t about forgiving seven times but seventy times seven! Peter finally ‘gets it’ and devotes his whole life to sharing the incredible good news that sets him free with everyone who will listen. But his life reveals the ongoing unfolding nature of our becoming who we already are. Peter is an icon for all of us.
Having rediscovered Henri Nowen’s book, The Life of the Beloved, as I mentioned in my sermon Sunday, I am particularly struck at how Peter’s story illustrates how we move into embracing Love’s invitation that we might truly live this incredible life we’re given. First, let me remind you of the four-fold actions of the Eucharist we celebrate each week. Following Jesus’ commandment, we take, bless, break and give the bread; sharing the bread of life with the gathered community, that we may be one.
First and foremost, Peter is chosen. Not because he is a great orator or rock-star fisherman or for any reason other than that Jesus sees him and chooses him. Long before we do anything at all, God already chooses us and calls us beloved. Who we are at the deepest level is a beautiful, precious, worthy child of God. We are loved and met just as we are in this moment. Although we more easily gravitate toward the loud clanging of self-rejection or arrogance, we are invited to listen to the still small voice of love. It calls us to accept and live from this place of knowing we are chosen, seeing and honoring each person as also loved and chosen by God. Anything that tells us otherwise is not of God. It’s why we pay so much attention to what we pray and sing in our liturgy, because we need to hear this truth over and over again.
Second, Peter is blessed. He is blessed by experiencing a life in the presence of Jesus—stories of invitation, healing, reconciliation, nourishment and tenderness. Jesus blesses all who are open to his loving embrace, challenging any who promote power, exclusion or diminishment. I think experiencing the blessing of love prompts Peter to say, you are the Christ! Just as we know how it feels to be chosen, so, too, we know what it means to be blessed—by someone’s acceptance or care or time or love. The more we experience and express gratitude for the blessings of life—so often overlooked and underappreciated—the more we experience the blessings all around us. It is a joy that is contagious and that runs much deeper than the ups and downs of a life.
Peter is also broken, just like the rest of us. He doesn’t always get it right. He allows fear and doubt to pull him away from staying awake in the garden and into rejecting even knowing his friend. We all have times when we are blinded by our pain or our fear—lashing out in anger or withdrawing into our own suffering. Peter does so quite spectacularly with his threefold denial of Jesus. And after his resurrection, Jesus doesn’t just ignore it or pretend it didn’t happen, but comes right back to it by asking Peter three times if he loves him. The mystery of the cross is just that—rather than hide from our brokenness, we are invited to have the courage to name it, face it, experience it—all in the arms of love. We learn, however slowly at first, that we don’t need to reject or anesthetize or project our suffering and struggle onto others. We can meet it with love and allow it—and us—to be transformed.
Finally, Peter is given. He pours out his life to any and all who will listen to what it means to hear and respond to the invitation. And when we are filled, love cannot help but pour forth from us in little and big ways to all around us. This is the confession of all of us—what we believe in our deepest selves is what spills out for others to see and experience. Our true colors are revealed in the way we live and move and have our being. And it is, as St. Francis said, in giving that we receive. It is in giving away our lives that we are filled to overflowing, as a spring bubbling up in a dry place.
Remember that we already are and also always become our true selves. Remember that you are chosen, blessed, broken and given—in love and for love. Always.
Hope to see you Sunday,