Sunday, March 23, 2014

moment of truth--a sermon on John 18

Rev. Teri Peterson
moment of truth
John 18.12-27
23 March 2014, NL4-29, Lent 3 (at the threshold)

So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.
 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.
 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.’ When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’ Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

Aren’t you also one of this man’s disciples?

After three years of traveling around the country together, listening and learning, and seeing amazing signs…after the discussion around Jesus washing his feet, after trying to protect Jesus by cutting off a man’s ear…after all that, the question:

Aren’t you also one of this man’s disciples?

Surely his friend, the other disciple, could hear the question and the answer. Maybe even Jesus could hear it too. Peter took his place around the fire with the very people who had brought Jesus to this place—the police and slaves. He was inside the gate, but still outside the understanding. He was in the right place at the right time, but he couldn’t quite step through. He knew who Jesus was, but he had forgotten who he was. And so the moment of truth:

Aren’t you also one of this man’s disciples?

Peter’s answer is, on the surface, simply a denial of knowledge. But below that is a betrayal of himself. Even as Jesus stands before the high priest and speaks openly, Peter hides out in the open courtyard. Jesus says “ask those who have heard me” and Peter, who has probably heard the most of anyone, says “I am not one of his disciples, I do not know him.”

And, in a sense, Peter is telling the truth.

Peter knows many things, or thinks he does. He has information about what Jesus has done, and he definitely knows what he wants Jesus to be.

But the wisdom to see past his own desire to God’s will, and to claim that as his path? Not yet.

That only comes through practice and prayer.

At this moment, Peter is in, but also out. It’s like the old saying that going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you a car: Peter is in the same room as Jesus, but he still has some work to do to be a disciple.

The good news is this: God’s grace is always at work, and never leaves us as we are. God refuses to define us by our worst moments. There is always new life possible through God’s grace. That new life may look nothing like we expect, but then again resurrection is the definition of unexpected, right? Peter’s statement in this moment may be the truest thing he’s said so far. He recognizes that he is going to have to let go of his own planned outcome in order to participate in God’s mission. First he has to admit that he prefers his own will to God’s, and in that sense he doesn’t know Jesus. With that confession, there’s room for God’s will to grow inside Peter, and it’s from that truth that he can begin to allow God’s grace to blossom in him. This moment of truth sets the stage for Peter to become the preacher and teacher and Rock of the Church that we know he will be. And Peter will practice—he’ll gather with the disciples and wait, he’ll run to the tomb, he’ll pray and be open to God’s response, he’ll preach and teach, he’ll sit with others and listen for God’s will. He won’t assume that being in the right room is enough—he’ll have to keep on letting go of his own will over and over again in order to let God work through him.

Many people suggest that Peter is sort of a stand-in for all of us. Sometimes he hits on a right answer, sometimes he gets things very very wrong. He’s a little headstrong, and a tiny bit stubborn, and incredibly eager. If we can read ourselves in the place of Peter, then I wonder about the moments we have denied knowing Jesus and inadvertently spoken the truth? When are the moments we have betrayed our own identity, and what did we do with that experience? The denial may come in the form of words as innocuous as me telling people on airplanes that I work for a non-profit, or in the form of actions that demonstrate a very different ethic than that of Jesus. It has been said that if we want to know what we truly worship, we should look at our calendars and bank statements. What do they say in answer to the question: Aren’t you also one of his disciples?

It’s a painful thing, to hear the rooster crow as Peter did. It’s easy to get defensive and say we’re trying our best, or it was too dangerous, or the world is different now. Truth-telling is hard, especially to ourselves or our friends—and it’s also necessary. It’s why we have a prayer of confession every week in worship: because we need that moment of recognizing that we are often more invested in our own ways than in God’s ways. Because the truth will set us free— free to truly be a disciple, walking beside Jesus, rather than always asking him to walk beside us. Free to grow and transform into who God created us to be.

Ultimately, the question Peter is asked is not about Jesus. It is not about what Peter thinks or believes about Jesus. It isn’t about what he has done or how often he’s heard the teaching. The question is: Aren’t you also one of this man’s disciples? It’s a question of Peter’s own identity, and a question of our own identity.

Here is who Peter is, and who you are: a beloved child of God, created in God’s image.

Peter has forgotten who he is, and covers his true self with what he thinks people want him to say. At the same moment, Jesus is being his most true self, being open about who he is and what his calling is: to follow God’s will even to the end, to love even to the end, to drink the cup and carry the cross.

It is hard to shed those layers of expectation, of what we think is the right answer, of shame and guilt when we have hit the bottom. And yet the reality of our identity is as true as Peter’s: a beloved child of God, created in God’s image, and called to walk Christ’s way—a way of truth and faithfulness and hope. How often we have forgotten.

Like Peter, we go in fits and starts, we fail while pretending we didn’t, and we accidentally reveal the truth with our actions and our words, our calendars and our bank statements. We are not always Christ’s disciples. And yet God does not give up, leaving us in our worst moments. God’s will is always for transformation, for new life, for the kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. So why define ourselves—or others—by those worst moments? Instead, the rooster crow is a wake up call, a moment of truth, a reminder of who we really are: created, loved, called.

May we live that truth.

1 comment:

  1. I really love this, especially these two ideas: God refused to define us by our worst moment AND the real question is one of identity. Who is Peter? And therefore, who are we....(God knows I'd never want to be defined by my worst moments)...