St. Peter, Following, Pentecost VI

June 30, 2013

If we live by the Spirit,
Let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Here in Gloucester,
on the Sunday of Fiesta week-end,
there’s a strong pull to talk about St. Peter,
the fisherman, who, when Jesus
called, dropped his nets,
and followed his Lord.

And Peter’s story lends itself to us,
because his struggles as a disciple
are so human, so full of risk, and failure,
a lot like fishing itself, and the risk of putting out to sea,
even when it’s the sea of Galilee,
not knowing what the day will bring.
Not knowing what the sea will do,
of whether there’s any fish at all,
of days when there are no catches,
of days when there are storms
or doldrums, of days when the wind is good
and the fish abundant.
Peter’s life as a fisherman
was a wonderful preparation
for the life of a disciple—
all the skills he needed,
everything he already knew
would be used in a new way,
things he never thought he’d do,
like preaching the Gospel up and down
the Mediterranean.

Peter came up against Jesus’ radical call
to follow, again and again and again,
and if you remember the story, impetuous
loveable Peter, who wanted to walk on water,
and couldn’t, not without Jesus’ help,
who learned over and over his own need
who in the deepest crisis of his own discipleship,
on Good Friday, denied even knowing Jesus,
denied him three times.
Even after the resurrection,
he couldn’t quite believe that Jesus offered him
forgiveness and forgiveness and forgiveness:
for every no, Peter uttered, Jesus returned a yes.

After that extraordinary restoration
Peter didn’t really know what he would be called to do
until after Pentecost and the empowering of the Holy Spirit.
Peter began to live in the Spirit, as St. Paul says:
to live from the Spirit he was given—
and for Peter, that led to a complete transformation:
from fisherman by the sea, to the rock upon whom
the church is built.

Jesus had a mission, he was clear about it,
he called followers, he prepared them for the task,
and he was determined. We know that from an even
cursory reading of the Gospels.

And we know that he handed that mission on
to his followers and expected them to carry it
and live it, even when it means, as it did then,
and in our time, a radical following.
Put simply, when Jesus says “follow me”
it’s not a call to stay the same.
It’s not a call to a life that we would recognize
as desirable, in 21st century America.
—it’s not a call to being comfortable, or even to self-acceptance.
Jesus knows we’re a mess and loves us no matter what
and invites us to be transformed,
invites us into a new kind of life.
As his disciples, and because the early church
spoke of the experience,
we have some idea that we’re invited into deeper loving,
deeper faith, joy, peace, generosity,
kindness, gentleness, patience,
peace, and even self-control.
Yet, the shape of that is elusive—
for it means a death in us to self-concern.

And we don’t know ahead of time
what that might mean—Peter certainly didn’t.
But he learned as all the disciples did
that life lived in relationship to God
was worth everything they had to give.
It’s actually a call to a life patterned on his,
a cruciform life.
And it’s no wonder that he answered people
sometimes the way he does in this morning’s Gospel lesson.

So let’s look at this story closely for a minute.
This scene comes at a crucial time
in the Gospel according to Luke—
it’s literally a time when the story turns toward Jerusalem.
Luke’s Gospel is built on the image of Jesus’ life,
and our lives as a journey to God.
And here, Luke tells us,
Jesus with great awareness,
turns, sets his face deliberately towards Jerusalem,
knowing what a journey there might bring, does bring.
He sends scouts out ahead to find places to stay.
Now we would just use our iphones
to google hostels, or campsites.
And they pass through a village in Samaria.

This is so long ago and far away, can we really
imagine, or put ourselves there?
Does it make any difference to our lives,
hearing this story?

When Jesus came to the village, the Samaritans
don’t want to receive him
because he set his face toward Jerusalem.
Well, maybe we can relate to that—
We ourselves turn Jesus away sometimes,
because his face is set toward Jerusalem.
The whole of the bible is filled with examples
of human beings who simply cannot respond to God’s invitation,
and it’s filled with examples of people who do say, here I am, Lord,
and then sometimes fall completely short,
as Peter did, and who nevertheless, nevertheless,
God continues to love and lead.
The disciples respond to the Samaritans lack of welcome:
their leader is being dis-respected, and they have an impulse
toward revenge—they want a holy fire to come down.

Jesus, of course, rebukes them, and moves on.
He’s got work to do, and whether they welcome him or not,
he’s on the way, on the road.
Now come three very strong teachings about
what it means to be a follower.
Imagine for a minute that these responses
are delivered by a grounded, peaceful, profoundly
determined spiritual teacher,
who suggests that we count the cost of the path
we are considering…that Jesus is simply being honest
about who he is, and who he’s calling his followers to be.
He’s not scolding or cutting: simply, quietly, seriously
telling the truth. This is what it means to follow me,
so think about it, first.

Someone says to him: I will follow you wherever you go.
Instead of saying, sure, join up, I can use you.
Jesus turns it back: “Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests,
but the son of man has no place to lay his head.”
It’s not exactly a welcoming response is it.
Think about it—think about what you are saying.
I will follow you wherever you go.
Can we? Do we ?

A second person, he invites: “Follow me.”
And the person responds, out of love for his family,
and rightly, we think, “let me first bury my father.”
It’s an honorable desire. Yet Jesus takes it to another place,
“let the dead bury their own dead.”
And maybe that’s what we do sometimes,
We attend the things of death, rather than the things of life.
Here’s an invitation to evaluate—and a radical one.
Moses as a prophet,
generations before Jesus, delivered a similar call
To God’s people, God sets before us death and life,
and says “choose life.” Here, Jesus is saying, “choose life.”

And finally, a third speaks to Jesus: “I will follow you,
but first, I need to say good-bye.”
There’s actually a term for this kind of answer:
in communications analysis—truly–it’s called the “yes, but” response.
A “yes, but” response is known as a fight pattern.
Yes, here I am, Lord, but I have all this other stuff to do.
The yes, but. It reflects an ambivalence in the speaker,
the desire to agree, and also the desire to hold back.
Deep ambivalence—I will follow you when I feel ready,
when I’ve sorted this or that out, when I know what’s going to happen,
when I’ve said good-bye to the past, when I’ve put my affairs in order,
then I’ll follow you.

And Jesus answers: I’ll be gone by then. On my way.
The field will be plowed, The seeds planted,
the growth begun, and you will have missed out.
A strong teaching: the kingdom of heaven is on the move,
we follow in the here and now, because it’s the only time we have.

There’s a kind of holy urgency, here, and perhaps it’s the holy urgency
of God, who is love, who is mercy, who offers grace,
who offers peace, who offers relationship, right now,
this morning, this very minute,
the holy urgency of God who comes, and accompanies,
who, through the Spirit calls us into new life.

Jesus comes into our villages, our lives, our homes, our work places,
our fishing boats, wherever we are, comes and calls,
I have work for you, holy work that will lead to freedom,
forgiveness, love and joy, spiritual work,
radical work that will change you, and change the world. Follow me.

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