Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Boat Didn't Sink--Peter Did

So many times I have heard pastors preach on the topic of Peter walking on the water with Jesus. So many times I have heard that "If you want to get the miracle, you have to get out of the boat." However, we don't seem to notice that Peter is the only person in the story who gets rebuked for a lack of faith. Jesus says nothing to the disciples who remained in the boat but instead lifts Peter from that water and tells him he lacks faith.

It seems that the prevailing way of understanding this passage in our culture is to look on Peter as the hero of the tale. He is after all the one who is doing something. We are an action oriented society. It is the "movers and shakers" that get things done. However is this not a distinctively western reading of the text?
After all, isn't there a sense here that Peter is yet again trying to separate himself from the flock? Trying to be the standout disciple? In our western culture we always praise people for doing rather than being, succeeding, rather than abiding. Though these things are not always mutually exclusive it does seem to me that in Peter's case, a deeper sense of reflection might be in order.
I think if we examine Peter's movements throughout the story of Scripture we will begin to see how the episode on the waters was yet another example of Peter's failure to believe Jesus.

Let's begin with Peter's calling in Luke 5. In Luke 4:38 Jesus heals Peter’s mother in law after preaching in the synagogue and in chapter 5 Peter is coming in from fishing all night. Jesus tells Peter to cast once more into deep water and Peter’s first reaction is to complain. However, he does as Jesus told him and catches a miraculous catch of fish. It is interesting that Jesus, who had already proven himself in healing Peter’s mother in law, is not immediately believed by Peter, but he does obey and receives the blessing of obedience. He sees himself for what he is, a sinful man.

His next lesson comes in the aforementioned boat experience contained in Matthew 14. Jesus comes to the disciples who are traveling on a stormy sea walking on the water. The disciples are afraid that the figure coming through the rain is a ghost. Jesus tells the disciples not to be afraid, that it is he coming to them on the waters. Peter however, has to see it to believe it… “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water. “ So Peter walks out on the water, only to sink when the experience overwhelms him. Jesus tell him, “You of little faith…” This is his common refrain whenever the disciples fail to understand or believe what Jesus has to say. (Matthew 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8)

A mere two chapters later, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Peter responds correctly, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Jesus praises Peter and begins to explain what being the Christ means, that he will suffer and die at the hands of sinful men. Peter takes it upon himself to rebuke Jesus and in turn is harshly rebuked by Jesus, “Get thee behind me Satan, you have not the things of God in mind, but the things of men.”

Lest we forget, John 13 and the Last Supper, Jesus washes the disciples feet. It is Peter who tries to stop Jesus. “No Lord, it is I who should be washing your feet!” Jesus has to explain to Peter again that he does not understand. Later in John 18:11 on that same night, it is Peter who draws his sword and strikes the left ear of the temple servant. It is Peter who will deny Jesus three times, slipping into the cold, dark, night. It is Peter who returns home to fishing when he learns Jesus is alive. He has screwed up enough to think that he should be a fisherman; a disciple is too much to wish for.

Why, among all Peter’s failures do we see the episode in the boat as a heroic moment, when Peter is again rebuked for lacking faith in the same way Jesus rebukes his disciples whenever they misunderstand or do the wrong thing? Remember, it was doubt, and not faith that lead Peter to step out onto the waters. “If it is you Jesus…”

So we find Peter, in John 21, hiding out, fishing, until he hears a voice on the seashore. “Cast out on the other side of the boat…” and Peter does without question even though he does not recognize Jesus. Then, after a miraculous catch of fish, the beloved disciple realizes, “It is the Lord.” And Peter, jumps into the water… and swims to shore. This is Peter’s heroic moment on the waters. He’s swimming towards Jesus not out of doubt but out of desire. He eats with Jesus, and then Jesus and Peter walk along the shore. Jesus points to the stuff on the seashore, the boat, the nets, the stinky fish. “Peter do you love me more than these?” Peter confesses his love three times, once for every denial on the night of Jesus’ arrest, and takes his place as a disciple. This is the great lesson: it is not the failures that define this great Apostle; it is the great mercy of his Savior.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Epiphany -


–noun, plural -nies. 1. (initial capital letter) a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi; Twelfth-day.
2. an appearance or manifestation, esp. of a deity.
3. a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.
4. a literary work or section of a work presenting, usually symbolically, such a moment of revelation and insight.


So, here is an epiphany for you... the Cathedral has been silent far too long. I miss writing as regularly and as randomly as I used to. My life is full of new thoughts and events. New things to ponder but I have not been able to write on them. No wonder this winter seems especially cold, the days especially long, the winter landscape especially unfriendly. This winter has been waiting for a wellspring of creativity.

So let's light the candles to push back the night and again, place our gifts in the Cathedral. It is a new day, a new year, and I just turned 31...

31 hardly seems possible. The other day I was speaking to the youth and mentioning where I was when 9/11 occurred. One of the kids told me... "I was in a cradle." It freaked me the hell out.

Still, things are coming together. I have real furniture. A gym membership. A career. School loans. You name it.

There is also, worship. One of the things that has made me happiest is that being a Pastor, there are rarely a moment of my existence that I do not think about worship. I move from the lofty heights of reflection on the nature and purpose of worship, to the less cerebral concerns of preparing the bulletins. I spend most of my time reflection on how to respond to, and demonstrate your love for... God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

What an unexpected blessing when it comes to being a pastor! Anyway, beyond that I am excited that Barack Obama will be elected tomorrow, and that our country is changing from the fear based ideologies of the past. I'll be watching the inauguration tomorrow which is currently 18 hours 7 minutes and 46 seconds away.

I'll send another blog tomorrow! Let the renaissance begin!