Friday, January 21, 2011

The Confessions of Saint Peter -- A Chapel Sermon on Mark 8:27-35

An audio link to the chapel service may be found here:

Mark 8:27-35                                                                       Lawrence R. Rast, Jr.
Kramer Chapel                                                                     2011-01-18

The Confessions of Saint Peter. 

The New Testament, in particular the gospels, are full of not just THE confession of Saint Peter, but of multiple confessionS of Peter of a variety of sorts.  Some are rather “cute,” if you will.  Peter’s understandable confusion at the Transfiguration, where he wants to hold on to the mountaintop moment by erecting permanent structures, even as he seems to miss Jesus’s words that he will and must suffer. 


I suspect that Peter’s mistaken expectations of who the Christ is and what he does is at the heart of his confused confession of Christ, which we recall today.

In a way, it is a remarkable moment; in other ways it’s rather mundane.  It’s something like a confirmation class; the pastor asks a question and the kids shout out a bunch of answers.  Watch it happen in the text: “[27] And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” [28] And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” – You know how some kids always get it wrong.  But not Peter; Peter is the good student.   [29] And Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.””

Right!  “You are the CHRIST!”  But then Jesus anticipates the Lutheran question: what does this mean?, by immediately explaining what it means for him to be the Christ.  “And [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. [32] And he said this plainly. “


And at this moment Peter blows it completely—as we all do. 

“And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “  Peter “rebukes” Jesus—Peter rebukes Jesus! Who would dare to do such a thing.  You only rebuke someone if you are utterly convinced they are wrong.  Indeed, doesn’t Peter’s rebuke of Jesus at the very least imply some kind of superiority on the part of Peter over against Christ?  If Peter really understands what it means for Jesus to be the Christ, would he rebuke him?  Of course not.  So one wonders whether Peter gets it at all.  Indeed, Jesus’ rebuke in turn of Peter is stinging: “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Yes, Peter gets it right—and  then immediately gets it wrong.  And the center of of his sin is rebuke of Jesus—a rebuke in wich we all share in our own ways.  Jesus, I’ll tell you how to be the Christ.  Not that cross, Jesus, but this one.  This is what I’ll have you be and do. 


At the root of Peter’s failed confession and ours is denial of who Christ is and what he does.  And this is part of Peter’s person—and ours, as well.  We all live it out just as he does.

“ [66] And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, [67] and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” [68] But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. [69] And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” [70] But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” [71] But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” [72] And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

“Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  Jesus condemns Peter and us for setting our minds on the things of man.  Put differently, the heart of the problem is that Peter is setting his mind on the things of man and not setting his mind on THE GOD/MAN, Christ. 

“I do not know THE MAN.”  Here is the twist: Peter was absolutely truthful as he lied about knowing Jesus.   He knew Jesus, but he did not know THE MAN Jesus—and as such he did not know God incarnate whose end was the cross.

All of this was transformed for Peter in the moment of humiliating denial, as Christ’s humiliation and death became his own.  And the result was that the resurrection of Christ became Peter’s own resurrection—a new life centered in Christ and, in fact, shaped and formed by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ himself.   What we see in Peter is the transformation of one who had false expectations, made outrageous demands, and denied the Christ, into a faithful confessor.  And now his faithful confession shapes our own witness, acts of mercy, and life together here today and into the future.

Confessing with Saint Peter

So let us learn to know the GOD/MAN from Saint Peter and to confess along with him (Acts 4): Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, [9] if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, [10] let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. [11] This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. [12] And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
 (Acts 4:8-12 ESV)

1 comment:

roger said...

You should return to the parish and use this kind of material on the laity in the pews. I liked it.

Pr. Sterle