Sermon from Sunday March 23, 2014. This sermon was delivered to the people of the Lutheran Church of the Nativity. The text for the sermon is John 18:12-27.
I think it’s all too easy for us to give Peter a hard time in this text. We listen to these women and men question his association with Jesus, and hear Peter’s denial of it, and we think…”really, you’re going to just straight up deny that you traveled with him? Really?” And then it’s easy for us to harshly judge Peter. To assume that if we were in his position we would stand up for Jesus right there in the courtyard. That even if we knew that it meant that we too would be arrested and possibly killed, we would stand with Jesus to the end.
And yet, it’s not that easy after all. Perhaps there is more going on here in Peter’s relationship with these people that we can’t see on the surface. Perhaps we need to dig a little deeper this morning.
Perhaps Peter isn’t at fault for his responses to these questions. Maybe the world has “conspired against him” so to speak, so that Peter is being forced to answer negatively. It’s not even that peer pressure we are all so familiar with, but it is something close.
If we take a minute and think back to our childhoods for a minute - for some of that won’t take as long as others...and we think about a time one of our parents tries to get us to do something. I can think of a couple times when I would try and leave the kitchen before I had cleared my place at the table. Instead of being asked to pick up my plate and silverware, I would sometimes get a question. A question that goes, and perhaps many of you have heard it asked or asked it yourselves, “You’re not going to leave those there, are you?” Or maybe with a messy room, “you’re not going to leave those Legos out are you?”
Well..of course I was going to leave my dishes on the table. And of course I was going to leave the Legos out. But the question is asked in such a way that I have no other answer than the one I was given in the question. “No mom, I’ll clear my place.” “Of course not dad, I’ll pick them up right away.” Even though in my heart of hearts, I wanted to answer differently, I was trapped by the question and didn’t have a choice.
And I think that’s what happens to Peter this morning. The phrasing of these questions is done in such a way that Peter can only answer in the negative. “You aren’t one of *them* are you?” Peter has been trapped. He feels like he doesn’t have a choice. He has to go along with the crowd’s opinion. He is trapped by a language that should allow him to freely answer. Even if he wanted to affirm his status as Jesus’ disciple, and I think he just might have wanted to do that very thing, he was forced into denying something very real about his identity.
How many times do these similar things happen to us in our own lives? In my experience, they happen more often than we like to think. Such as when you’re in a conversation with friends about Clemson’s chances in the upcoming game, and all of a sudden they are looking at you to make sure that you root for Clemson and heaven help you if you say any other ACC team, or worse USC. So, despite your own loyalty to Duke, you say, “Of course. Go Tigers!”
Or perhaps someone is talking about universal healthcare. And they’ve torn everything about the new policies up one side and down the other. And all of a sudden you’re being asked if you agree with their arguments and think the whole idea is terrible. And you’re trapped into agreeing even though you think healthcare is actually a pretty good thing for everyone to have.
And when we feel the need to tell these “little white lies” that deny our identity we see one more glimpse of the brokenness of the world in sin. We feel deeply that we are disconnected from one another. We feel that we have to hide bits and pieces of ourselves. And we feel like we aren’t going to be accepted by the world for being anything but normal - and nevermind that there’s no such thing as normal.
And yet, even the sin that permeates so much of how we talk, act, and live in our relationships with one another, that’s not what makes the problem worse. Instead it’s the feeling of shame that comes with sin that causes the most damage. The sense that we now have to hide our sins and brokenness - even if it’s a small one such as lying about cheering for Clemson. We feel that we now have to be alone in our sins. We can’t tell anyone that we struggle with sins - and nevermind that everyone struggles with some sins.
We want to sit alone and be left by ourselves - much like those who feel depressed feel. For one of the major symptoms for many types of depression is feeling isolated and alone. Feeling disconnected and feeling like you have to hide these feelings in shame. And for many depressed women and men, it’s only when they realize that they are not alone in their journeys that they can begin to seek healing and therapy. It’s only by having someone share their own struggles with loneliness and shame that a healing connection can be made.
The same goes with sin. Unless someone comes to us and shows us that we do not have to be defined by our sin and the accompanying sense of shame we feel like we must struggle alone. We feel like we have to stay pressured and bullied by a system that forces us to make hard choices. And that even though we might have been trapped by the system we still made the mistake and we must feel bad about that.
And because of that very one Peter ends up denying, we do not have to sit alone in our sin and we do have a chance to be healed. For Peter this healing comes after Easter Sunday when “spoiler alert” Jesus is raised from the dead. Peter is sitting on a beach having breakfast with Jesus when Jesus asks Peter if he loves him - no tricks, no traps, just a simple question about love. And Peter replies that of course he does. And this happens three times. Just like Peter’s three denials. Three moments of forgiveness and healing and connection to overcome the guilt and shame Peter probably felt after the night of Jesus’ arrest.
And then for us, these moments of grace happen at the beginning of our worship services every Sunday. We stand together and look at our baptismal font and say the same words recognizing that we have sinned and are broken, and need the one who works through the waters of baptism to heal us and make us whole.
And even though there’s grace in the absolution that is proclaimed after our confession, I think we sometimes overlook the other moment of grace in our confession. Confession together isn’t this time to feel ashamed because of the brokenness we feel inside, but rather it’s an opportunity to celebrate because we can see that everyone feels broken in some part of their lives too. That we aren’t alone in this. We don’t have to live in depression or sadness. We don’t need to feel ashamed. We have a whole community that has been joined together through the waters of baptism and we can begin to see each other as brothers and sisters - and see each other as only brothers and sisters can. That way we look at our siblings, see their flaws and imperfections, and then love them anyways.
And then we hear together that God comes to us, and forgives the sin, takes away the shame, and helps us the next time we are faced with impossible choices. And then continues to forgive us when we feel like we need to hide and live in shame. And God has promised to do this forever and ever. Amen.