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The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
4th Sunday before Lent 10 Feb 2019 Matins
Jeremiah 26.1-16 & Acts 3.1-10
When we read about people in the New Testament we have a tendency to conflate all the various stories we know of them, from all the different books in the New Testament and draw our conclusions about them from that mass of information. We do exactly the same thing with the Christmas story, we nearly always conflate the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke to make one story. This is a perfectly legitimate thing to do, but sometimes it is interesting and helpful to focus on the portrait one author gives us of a person to see what that important character looks like from the account of their life given by that one author. Having heard the dramatic story about Peter in the passage we heard today from Acts 3, I thought it would be interesting to put that story in the context of the portrait of Peter Luke gives us in the gospel that bears his name and in the Acts of the Apostles which we believe he also wrote. In other words – what picture of Peter does Luke give us?
We first meet Peter in Luke’s gospel when Jesus climbs into a fishing boat and, not unreasonably, suggests to the fishermen that they go fishing. Peter, one of those fishermen, says there is no point because they had been out all the previous night and caught nothing. However, they do what Jesus says and, under his direction, they catch a huge number of fish. Peter recognises that there is a remarkable, miraculous power working through Jesus and he falls to his knees and says to him, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man’. That is the first mention of Peter in Luke’s gospel. Peter then appears in Luke’s list of Jesus’ disciples and we see him helping Jesus with his ministry. Luke then tells of Peter being the first disciple to recognise Jesus as the Messiah and then he tells us that he was present when Jesus was transfigured on the mountainside. As Luke’s story of Jesus unfolds we see Peter again, a couple of times, asking questions, seeking clarification of what Jesus is saying and doing. Then in chapter 22 we hear the heart-breaking story of Peter’s three denials of Jesus. Luke tells us that after the third denial the cock crows and Peter remembers that Jesus had predicted that he would deny him. Luke then tells us, simply and starkly ‘And he went out and wept bitterly’. Peter is mentioned one more time in Luke’s gospel when he ran to the tomb and saw that it was empty and Luke tells us that he was ‘amazed at what had happened.’
So, what we have in Luke’s gospel is the portrait of a faithful fisherman who became a disciple with remarkable insight but who is also beset by self-doubt, fear and weakness.
In the Acts of the Apostles, even before the events of Pentecost, Luke lets us know that Peter is in charge! In chapter 1, Peter speaks to all the followers of Jesus about Judas and his role in betraying Jesus, followed by Peter overseeing the selection of Matthias as the man to replace Judas as one of the 12 disciples. In chapter 2 Peter makes an impressive, authoritative speech after he and the other followers of Jesus have been filled with the Holy Spirit. He explains how Jesus has fulfilled prophecy, courageously he criticises many of those listening for being, in part, to blame for the crucifixion of Jesus, he calls them to repent and he speaks of the hope we have through the resurrection of Jesus. At the end of this great speech and a brief description of how the followers of Jesus cared for each other and met regularly to pray and break bread, Luke says simply, ‘And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved’.
We heard the opening verses of chapter three as our second reading today. Peter and John encounter a lame man at the temple, speak with him and then heal him.
For Luke it’s almost as if there is no break in the ministry of Jesus. In the gospel Jesus himself teaches and heals, assisted by Peter and other faithful but flawed disciples and followers. In the Acts of the Apostles, despite the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the ministry of Jesus, the teaching and the healing, continues and Peter, perhaps the most faithful and most flawed disciple, is the chief person continuing that ministry. He who was taught is now the teacher. He who was healed is now the healer. He who denied Jesus now professes and explains faith in him. He who needed forgiveness now speaks of God’s love and mercy.
So, in Luke’s story, what is it that moves Peter from being the faithful but flawed fisherman in the gospel, into Peter the confident and articulate leader in Acts? It is the resurrection, he saw the empty tomb and was amazed, the Ascension, after which all the disciples went back to their upper room to pray, and, of course, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost after which Peter speaks with even greater authority.
Luke’s message seems clear to me – by encountering Jesus, by encountering the crucified, resurrected and ascended Lord, by being filled with the Holy Spirit – ordinary, flawed human beings, like Peter, like James, John and all the other disciples and, yes, ordinary, flawed human beings like you and me, carry on the ministry of Jesus. The bible tells us, and our liturgy often reminds us, that we are the body of Christ. The story of Jesus we read about in scripture, the regular reminders and celebrations we share in at church of the key events in the life of Jesus, aren’t just about us remembering the story, aren’t just about us honouring Jesus by doing the right religious things, aren’t just about us being pious – no – the story of Jesus we remember and mark and celebrate in liturgy is all about you and me becoming Jesus and carrying on his ministry.
A prayer attributed to St Theresa of Avila – Let us pray
Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth, yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now. Amen
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