What Peter Could Not See

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.”

Peter was not a cowardly man. He told Jesus that he was willing to go to prison or even die for Jesus. And he proves that he was indeed willing when he brought a sword to the Garden of Gethsemane and when the guards who came out to capture Jesus laid hands on Jesus, Peter drew a sword that he had concealed in his clothes and tried to decapitate the offender. And he would have been successful too, but he was a fisherman versus a trained soldier who ducked the blow—though at the cost of his ear.

Right then a war had erupted—the first blood had been shed and Peter’s life was about to be forfeit however well-meaning he was. But Jesus stepped in and put a stop to the madness. “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” And then he healed the man’s ear simultaneously averting Peter’s war and causing Peter to lose all that courage that he mustered two minutes prior.

Peter’s world had been turned upside down. He thought he knew what Jesus was about—the overthrowing of the Roman government and re-establishing of Jewish rule only to find out that he had no clue. This is why I think in Mark’s Gospel (essentially Peter’s memoirs) the disciples come off as bumbling idiots who never get it. I think it is because of this moment—the blood freshly on the ground from Peter’s heroic slash only to be thwarted by the very man he was trying to protect. So Peter fled because he absolutely no clue what he was doing there—and the rest of the disciples followed.

It is no wonder Peter denied Jesus the three times. He was being very honest—he really DIDN’T know who Jesus was. Why did Peter go back after fleeing? Because he approached Jesus with fresh eyes, he was curious about just what in the world he meant. And when the cock crowed Peter remembered what Jesus predicted and it broke his heart. Jesus had known him down to his very nature—he knew that Peter didn’t understand what he meant about his Kingdom—and Peter never got who Jesus was even though he was supposed to be Jesus’ best friend. He believed that he was following exactly what Jesus was saying, but he had no clue.

Jesus was then led away to the cross and died there just like so many other wannabe messiahs. So Peter was left broken hearted and rudderless, and the only man who could remedy the situation and provide the answers he sought was silenced forever.

As we know this wasn’t the case, but Peter is just like many before him who devoutly followed God but never saw the end that they expected. Israel was in slavery in Egypt—not ideal. Israel was a loose confederation that was constantly being oppressed by their neighbors—no. Israel finally united and formed their own kingdom—only to have it break apart with in two generations of its formation. And then it was taken over by the Assyrians. And then the Babylonians. The Persians. The Greeks. And then the Romans. No one ever saw the promises of God fulfilled in the way they thought it should be. And they all died with this regret.

But when Jesus died, he went down to the place of the dead—Sheol in Hebrew, Hades in Greek, hell by the Apostles’ Creed because they were deprived of the vision of the God they followed in life —and preached the good news to them. Jesus was able to bring about the realization of the promises of God to those who went before. Being God, he brought them that which they had been denied in life—they saw God and he came to them with Good News—release to the captives—new life to the dead.

This was, of course, unbeknownst to Peter—Peter the hopeless. But then on Sunday morning, early in the morning, having finished his mission of giving life to the dead, just rose and proceeds to give life to the living. Notice with what haste Peter sprints to investigate the claims of Mary Magdalene, and with what courage he investigates the empty tomb. And then witness his joy as Jesus appears to the disciples and opens their minds to all that had taken place.

And then experience the inner struggle of Peter. The man who denied Jesus three times. He is joyous about Jesus’ triumph over sin and death, but ashamed at his own actions and at his own blindness. But Jesus then shows him the same comfort he showed to all those who came before Peter and restored him. Three times Peter denied Jesus—three times Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to confess his love—and don’t think for a second that he didn’t understand the significance of the three times, because he was grieved because Jesus asked him the same question three times. He knew. And then Jesus again gives Peter the command that Peter received at the beginning of their time together: Follow me.

Peter is the living embodiment of the mission of Jesus on Saturday, and I think it is no coincidence that it is in Peter’s letter that we find evidence of Jesus’ Harrowing of Hell. I think this had a tremendous impact on him and his future ministry—a ministry which is then passed on to us through him and the Apostles: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.

And then he gives Peter one last comfort, and again it is directed to us all, “And lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Peter now has all the strength and courage he will ever need, because now he knows without a doubt that he will never be parted from his Lord again.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

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Simon’s Stations

The Passover was approaching and Simon and his family had to prepare earlier than most in order to make it to Jerusalem in time. This was also a very costly trip that he had only made one time before with his parents when he was a boy. He had scrimped and saved all his live to be able to do this, and now was the time. He and his wife packed their things for their trip with the other pilgrims who were able to afford it—the trip from North Africa was long, expensive, and potentially dangerous.

Simon had two sons with him, Rufus and Alexander, just boys, in fact Alexander was the same age he was when he made the trip with his parents. Everything was lining up nicely.

As they travelled they would sing the songs of the pilgrims, and the further they went the more their songs grew as other pilgrims joined their caravan. After arriving in Egypt, the trip became even more real for Simon and his family. They got to walk the steps of their fathers as they travelled through the desert along the King’s Highway on their way to the Promised Land.

Along the way, the caravan would occasionally stop and everyone would gather around as someone would begin to quote the various stories that happened there. This is where God delivered us from the hands of the Egyptians as they came to seek our lives. This was where Moses struck the rock and out flowed water. This is where Moses died. This is where Joshua led the people into the Promised Land.

As they reached Jericho, they saw the greater pilgrimage parties of those a bit closer and they joined in their band. They began singing the psalms of ascent as they processed up the mountain to Jerusalem. “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where is my help to come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth…The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth for ever more.”

Then they arrived at Bethany. This is when Simon heard that something rather interesting had happened there earlier. In fact, he was able to see the man, his name was Lazarus. Thou he looked very much alive from what Simon could tell, apparently just a bit earlier, it was said that he was dead. And during his funeral a man named Jesus brought him back to life. This caused a great stir and Simon could see from the increased amount of Roman soldiers that this incident had them all on edge. But the crowd sang on: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

Before he entered the gates of the city, he saw dust covered branches of palm strewn about. This would not have caused him much notice, he had seen plenty of branches along the path, but this was different—there were so many that this must have been some sort of celebration that occurred here. So he asked one of the locals if there had been some recent victory that the news of which had not yet made it to North Africa. “They are saying that this was the result of a man named Jesus bar Joseph the Nazarene who came here at the beginning of the week. Many are heralding his as the Messiah—hence all the extra Roman soldiers.”

As the man finished, Simon could hear the crowd finishing their song: “The Lord swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: ‘one of the sons of your body I will set on your throne.’…There I will make a horn sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame, but on him his crown will shine.”

Just then Simon heard a roar in the distance: “Crucify him!” and a little later “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Then once more: “We have no king but Caesar!” Then the pilgrims began to hurry ahead to see the source of all this.

Everyone line up around the streets to see. Simon hear a loud thud down the street followed by whips and shouts. As Simon turned to make sure his wife and his two sons were with him, he heard a woman’s wailing that rang out amongst the din as unique. Simon was later to learn that this was the wail that only a mother who has seen her child tortured and jeered at could produce. “A sword of grief will pierce thine own soul also.

And as this parade rounded the corner, Simon was finally able to see. This man Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns atop his head, covered in blood such that he did not even look human, was being forced to carry a cross. Every step looked as if it would be his last—that he would collapse under the pressure and die right there where he lay. And as he was taking in this scene he noticed that the crowd around him was dispersing and one of the Roman soldiers was pointing at him.

Simon was a large man, able to see over the rest of the crowd, and his work back in Cyrene had produced in him a rather muscular physique. This Roman soldier called him over to the man carrying the cross and told him to help him carry it. As he took the weight onto his shoulder, he could hear the sounds of relief quietly escape this battered man. Even with Simon’s help, Simon was not sure he would make it to their destination, but step by step they proceeded down this dolorous way.

Two more times they fell, the immoveable hard pavement striking them as they dropped. But up this man rose each time, determined to reach his goal. As these two men rounded the final corner to their final destination—the place of death—a place that even looked like a skull, Simon was commanded by another one of the soldiers to step back in the crowd. Bruised from their falls and covered in blood that was not his own, Simon obeys.

The man was relieved of his cross and stripped of his clothes before they laid him down to nail him to that tree. Simon could hear the ringing of the hammer as it drove home its object. One for the right hand. One for the left. And a third through the ankle bones. And then the soldiers hoisted him up in the center position, in between two other men—and then the jeers of the crowd swelled.

Simon noticed a sign above his head, nailed to the cross, written in three languages, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin—Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. And there he hung, surrounded by the jeering crowd.

After three hours, he uttered one last saying, “It is finished!” and as he bowed his lifeless head—the world shook in response.

And from somewhere amongst the chaos, someone shouted, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

Judas! Wait, What?

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

Tonight is a busy night—a lot of stuff gets crammed into this night. But it is not without precedent since Jesus crammed in a lot of stuff this night. In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) the story is over very quickly. Jesus and his disciples enter into the house with the man carrying the water jar. They go upstairs, they have the first Eucharist. Jesus tells them that one in their midst will betray him. They all fight about who that is—which turns into who is the greatest. Then Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him three times. And out to the Mount of Olives so Jesus can pray. Boom, scene.

Judas is not actually mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels during this time. He is mentioned just prior when he sneaks away to go make his deal with Caiaphas—his deal with the devil. Though he is hated throughout the world from this moment on, I guess the writers of the Synoptics did not want to sully this portion of the narrative by including him in it.

People regularly distance themselves from Judas—that traitor. I was listening to a Holy Week reflection on Tuesday and the speaker was talking about a city that forms an effigy of Judas, puts a black hat on him, and parades him through the streets for the people to see. They then take eggs and overripe tomatoes and throw them at Judas trying to distance themselves from his sin—the sin that directly caused the death of Jesus.

We like to distance ourselves from him. He represents sin and if we blame him then he is able to take that sin away right? Dante puts Judas in the deepest ring of hell, in the mouth of Satan—it doesn’t get lower than that. Shame on you Judas. Shame. On. You. Alas, that is the easy way out, Judas’ sin may have resulted in Jesus’ death, but this was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. My sins provided the weight, as did yours, and did the sins of everyone who ever lived and ever will live. Yet we vilify Judas.

I did a little searching around in an attempt to redeem poor Judas because I really need him to be redeemed (more on this in a sec).

From John’s Gospel we learn that Judas was in fact at the Last Supper. And during that supper, Jesus washed his feet—the feet of his betrayer. And after that was finished, Jesus put back on his clothes and continued eating with him. Jesus even encouraged him.

Judas must have been feeling a bit out in the open because Jesus mentions a number of times that he knows one of them is a traitor. And when the disciples start trying to figure out who this betrayer is, Jesus says, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” Then he dips it and hands it to Judas.

I’m sure they made eye-contact at that moment. Jesus probably even let it hang there for a second. Judas could have deluded himself into believing that he was not betraying Jesus—that he was talking about someone else—but in that moment Judas knows that without a doubt, Jesus knows. Yet he doesn’t have Peter kill him (Peter points out in Luke’s Gospel that there are swords in the room—he even takes one to the Garden of Gathsemane). Jesus encourages Judas. “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

So Jesus knows. But I think hidden in here is hope for Judas. Jesus continues to eat with Judas after washing his feet. He does this “So Scripture might be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’” This is a reference to Psalm 41:9.

“Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him; the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; you do not give him up to the will of his enemies. The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health.”

Now Judas is very famous for his concern for the poor. Just one chapter earlier in John’s Gospel Judas chastises Mary for using a very expensive ointment on Jesus: “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” Now John tells us that he was corrupt in his thinking, but that still does not negate his concern for the poor.

In fact, just after Jesus tells Judas to go do what he was going to do, John points out that the disciples thought he was going to go distribute something to the poor. I think we are meant to connect this psalm to Judas. And here is why I hope this is true—because that means that there is hope for me.

If there is a glimmer of hope for the man who caused all this to happen, then there is hope for someone like me who sins constantly yet whose sins do not bring about the salvation of mankind.

I have some sympathy for Judas because of every person tempted of Satan in the bible, only one could withstand it. Adam could not. He put up such a poor fight that unless you know what you are looking for, it is not even evident that Adam was present when the serpent tricked Eve into eating that fruit. Judas was tempted by Satan, yet he failed and is vilified like no other. Only Jesus was able to withstand all that the Devil could throw at him, and I think that in the end he protected him from the fate that Dante bestowed on him.

And if Jesus is willing to do that for a friend who betrayed him—which is the worst kind of betrayal—then he proves that he is willing to do this for us as well. I think the story allows for it. I know his love can include it. And I think this is good news for us all.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

The Most Amazing House

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found by him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God that depends on faith; that I might know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may gain the resurrection from the dead.”

There are many things that we sacrifice for the cause of Christ. Number one on my mind today: sleep. But there are all sorts of things that we willingly give up as Christians that bring us closer to Christ. Especially during Lent as we sacrifice the things we have given up, we do not do so merely to deprive ourselves of things we love—we do so to discipline ourselves so that in giving up little things we may slowly take on Christ more and more. We do this to take on the mind of Christ—to free ourselves from the world of sin that we may truly be free.

Freedom from something is no longer dwelling on it—the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action is how Mr. Webster defines it. In John 8, Jesus tells us: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” When confronted with this the Jewish leadership claims that they have never been enslaved to anyone due to their heritage as Abraham’s offspring. So Jesus explains, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”

So the longer we dwell in the world of sin with all its influences, the harder it is to break free of the constraint of sin. It is like walking in a horribly windy day. You push and push as you walk through it all day, to the point where you simply get used to its influence and don’t really notice it until you come in out of the weather. Every windy extremely windy day just puts a damper on my mood because I don’t feel right all day. When I’m out in the wind I am fighting it, but when I am in my car or in a building I feel its lack and that counterbalance that is needed to combat the wind over-balances me inside and sets my mood off all day. I really hate those days. This is like the pull of sin—we feel it all the time, but we have become so used to having to over correct that even when we are free from it we are not free from its influence.

Yet Jesus tells the Jewish leadership to come inside. The slave does indeed get to come inside occasionally in the course of the day’s work, however, he says, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains [in the house] forever.” Jesus tells calls the in from the influence of sin into the house of God that they may be truly free from its influence.

But Father, in retreating so, does that limit the overall freedom of the person. I mean now the person has very defined boundaries and cannot go where he wills. True. But we are viewing the house as we see houses currently—with a definite square footage that we have proven in snow days past will drive us stir-crazy when confined for too long.

But think of it rather like the TARDIS from Dr. Who—it is bigger on the inside. (Kate has just started watching Dr. Who.) Or think of it like the afterlife in The Chronicles of Narnia­. In The Last Battle when Narnia ends they are called into the New Narnia and the more they explore it the bigger it is–“Further up and further in” is their constant refrain. As they continue to explore their new world, they find that it encompasses our world as well and is bigger still.

The boundaries of the house that Jesus calls us into are infinite and, if your minds will allow it, includes the outside as well—all the while free from the negative influences. Once we are comfortable enough in our indoor surroundings to be able and willing to explore—that is when we no longer feel as though we are guests in the house, but have made our home there—we are able to see that everything we ever want is available to us there.

This house, again, is the freedom from sin offered to us through Christ. Once we are able, like St. Paul is asking us to consider today, to see everything sinful as refuse and unuseful then we can gain the power of the resurrection—that is to be at home in the house that God has made for us, and not be constantly at the window looking at everything we are “missing.” Do I truly missing having to be out there in the wind that forces me to fight for every step I take?

Paul tells us that it takes work to be at home here. There are times when we will walk by the window and linger on what goes on outside, but we should not be like Harry and the Mirror of Erised—standing there always and refusing to live life. We should live the life given to us in Christ and go explore the house—because everything we have ever wanted is contained somewhere in this house.

Paul says, “Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ.” Paul says the strain of that window and the outside is a strain that he has not mastered, but he reminds himself that he has a whole house to explore and plenty of mysteries to uncover within. But first he must make it his own—unpack, throw away the boxes, hang up all pictures, and place all the where they go. He must make this house—the house of Jesus his home.

Beloved, as we see the goal of the Easter reprieve of all of our Lenten discipline coming ever closer, remember why all the fasting and giving up things happened in the first place. Remember that we could have the chance to take off the chains of our slavery to sin by daily having the opportunity to choose Christ instead of chocolate or a hamburger on Fridays and come, inch by inch, to a place where Christ has the greater hold on us, rather than the things of the world of sin and death.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

MMA and the Prodigal Son (?!)

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

I listen to a lot of sports radio—I think it is better for my soul than when I listened to conservative political talk radio where every day I would run the gauntlet and come out with my heart racing and blood pressure sky rocketing due to the stupid things that were going on that day. All week this week there has been much chatter leading up to a UFC fight between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz.

Now I don’t normally follow Mixed Martial Arts, but I am in the car a lot, and I recently got on Twitter and followed ESPN and some of the various talk show hosts I like and they were all over it. In fact, Conor McGregor was everywhere. I saw Conan O’Brien’s life flash before his eyes as McGregor showed him a new kick that he had been working on that flew maybe an inch in front of his nose. I learned that Conor McGregor is a baaaad man. He was 19-2 and on a 15 fight winning streak. From what he said, he was going to destroy Nate Diaz and there was no other outcome possible. And I believed him.

Well I woke up this morning to here that the unbelievable happened last night and McGregor was forced to submit by Diaz in the second round. So much for the seeming baddest man on the planet. And as I scanned through waiting on the coffee, I found that Holly Holmes lost to Miesha Tate. But this made me think of the last person Holmes knocked out, Ronda Rousey.

Rousey and McGregor had a lot in common. They both where everywhere prior to their fights which they ultimately lost, and both were very quick to talk trash about their opponents. And you know what they say: “Pride commeth before the fall…or knock out…or submission…or whatever.” Pride links these two fighters. Now I’m sure they were contractually obligated to make all these appearances on the late night talk shows and ESPN to create a buzz, but with each of these two people it didn’t take long to understand that they thought they were invincible.

This all makes me think of another person who thought he was invincible as well. He too was on a hot streak and was convinced that he could not be beaten. Day after day he would come before the crowds and taught his opponents easily causing them to cower in fear. Until one day a young boy stood up and decided that through the strength provided by his God, he could defeat the giant. This young boy was of course David and the giant was Goliath.

Shortly after this he was brought into the service of Saul the king and won battle after battle for him. All the praise of David that resulted from his victories drove Saul mad such that we wanted to kill David, forcing him to flee for his life. Fleeing for one’s life tends to prevent one’s head from becoming too big. But when Saul died and David ascended the throne of the king of Israel. And he did a very good job as king. He united all the tribes of Israel into the united monarchy. He expanded their holdings and made them financial kings among their neighbors. He was even one of the few people in all of history that God made a covenant with. Pretty good hot streak.

Then he started to get full of himself and decided that rather than go into battle and lead from the front as was his custom, he would rather sit this one out entirely. And then one day he was looking out his window and he saw that beautiful woman Bathsheba which led to his big sin. Luckily for our story arc, David remembers himself and repents—resulting in the beautiful psalm of repentance Psalm 51. David is a man after God’s own heart because of this.

Each of this people are examples of the danger of pride, but David shows us the remedy for pride—humility. David learned that in order to be great he needed to rely on someone greater than himself—God. And once he became great he was reminded of how he got there and what would keep him there—his reliance on God. He later became the father of his successor Solomon, but this was the beginning of a great line that led to Jesus—the ultimate example of humility.

Jesus as God had every opportunity to take up greatness in the eyes of men. He is God and could have chosen to be born in a great palace such that everyone would know who he was and would easily come to accept his position as Son of God. Yet he chose to forsake all this and be born in the nowhere town of Bethlehem out in a cave where the animals were housed. Humble even from the beginning.

And when it was time for him to ascend his throne, as he told Peter, he could have had legion upon legion of angel ready to help deliver this earthly kingdom into his hand, yet he forsook all this to be humbled with the torture and death of a thief—a sinner’s death for the sinless one. Yet, as we know, this death was how he ultimately triumphed over death and won in the end. He lacked the pride of humanity that would have resulted in great prestige in this world but ultimately would have damned us all. This is how one truly gains the strength to overcome that which would besiege us—by emulating the humility of Christ and putting sin to death.

Notice in the parable he tells of the Prodigal Son. First the son decides that he wants to everything on his own and serves every tie on his way to “greatness” and sets the place on fire as he leaves. And he tries to do it on his own in a city far away from any influence his father might have. But his efforts as null as he ends up in the worst position in which a Jew can find himself—that of tending pigs. And even worse, he found that he envied the pigs that he was supposed to be tending.

But, similar to David, he remembers himself, and seeks to return to his father in the only way he sees left—that of a hired servant with no family ties to his father. This is even lower than that of slave because a slave is one whom the master has taken on and at least is required to feed, clothe, and house. A day laborer has none of these guarantees. He is at the mercy of the master since he does not have to take him on for the day. This is humility. “Father I have forsaken our family name and I am not worthy to bear it, nor can I even make the claim that you owe me anything, but at least let me work for what I need.”

It is in this humility that his father is able to give him the things that he always wished to give him. He wished to show his son love, but he would not accept it previously. He wished to shower him with gifts, but he wanted to take them instead. But now, below rock bottom, he willingly receives all these things from his father.

Beloved, St. Paul tells us that since we are Christian, we are new creations—we are born anew. Children when they are born have the attributes of their parents. We should resemble Christ in his humility—his willingness to forsake all earthly benefits for self and totally give ourselves to the service of the Father that we can truly become great. The world we live in is surrounded by pride. We glorify the boasts of those who build themselves up Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey, Donald Trump—the list goes on and on. But Christ shows us that this pridefulness can only lead to a fall because it is not true power. There is always a bigger fish. True power comes from a man willing to take up his cross and to take on the sins of the world that they may be forgiven their sins and have eternal life.

Our parable leaves us with an open-ended example—the older brother. He is blind to the love his father has for him and is angry at his father’s response to his sinful brother. He refuses to enter the celebration until he gets what he deserves. Beloved, we are this older brother. Will we allow the father to talk us down and enter with humility into the party, or will we choose to remain in our pride and stay outside. The choice it up to us.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.