Peter Denies Jesus
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
~ Luke 22:54-62 (NRSV)
Our theme today is “In This House: We Make Mistakes.” I am going to assume that each of us, at one point or another in our lives, has made a mistake. Is that fair? For me, I think it would be more true to say that in each moment of my life, I make mistakes, but I guess there is no need to elaborate.
So far in our sermon series “In This House,” we have talked about the fact that we give grace and we tell the truth. Both of those concepts are important because we also make mistakes. It is because of the shortcomings in our lives—the poor decisions and the missteps—that we need grace, and that we need to remember the importance of telling the truth. Sometimes, we think it’s easier to cover up our mistakes with made-up stories and lies so that we don’t look bad. But as we learned last week, the truth is always the best response.
Many times, people get upset when they realize that they have made a mistake because society teaches us to strive for perfection. We forget that we are human begins and that we were not made to be perfect. Friends, we all make mistakes. We say and do things that we shouldn’t. We sometimes treat those around us less than kind, and we often forget who and whose we are and what our faith teaches us to do. Believe me, friends, that is nothing new! For generations and centuries, people have been making mistakes. We have spilled our milk and lost our homework. We’ve forgotten friends’ birthdays and driven through red lights. We’ve spoken poorly of others and focused only on our own needs. We have shirked our responsibilities and refused to help out in places that we should. We’ve broken rules and hearts and been late paying our bills. We’ve lied and cheated and gossiped and said unkind things about the people we love, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
My friends, we are human beings, and we all make mistakes. So, please know that you are not the first one. But the good news, that our faith constantly reminds us of is that no matter how bad our mistakes are, we are always forgiven and given another chance by a God who loves us unconditionally, just the way we are!
One of the things that I have always taken comfort in when it comes to my faith is that Jesus doesn’t look for perfection. I struggled for a long time with my call to ministry, because I was quiet and shy. There was no way that I was going to talk in front of people. I had no special gifts. I wasn’t that strong of a student. Why in the world would God want me to teach and guide and encourage others when some days I could barely take care of myself? And yet, throughout history, God has never called the ones who seemed to have it all together.
From Moses, who had committed murder, had a terrible speech impediment and all kinds of anger issues, to the disciples who were tax collectors and zealots, rough and tumble fishermen, liars, and doubters. God didn’t call the ones who had it all together, but instead, God called the ones who would listen and who were open to possibilities. Even Paul, who began his work as a persecutor of Christians, eventually saw the light and converted to be a follower of Jesus. And of course, as we heard in our scripture reading today, there was Peter.
Peter started out as a fisherman. He was known for having quite a temper and being quite rough around the edges, but in Peter’s defense, when Jesus said, “Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men,” Peter was the first to drop his nets and follow. Now, that doesn’t mean that it all was easy after that. He was out in the boat that night when Jesus invited him to step out and walk on the water with him, but as Peter stepped out on the water, he became afraid and began to sink. And in today’s scripture reading, we are reminded of how, when times got tough and Peter got scared, he lost sight of the big picture.
Again in today’s scripture reading, Peter thought only of himself, and when the people pressured him, asking if he knew Jesus, he denied knowing Jesus, three times, just like Jesus had told him he would. And yet, in the end, Jesus chose Peter to be the head of his church, and it was a good choice. Because even though when Peter focused only on himself, he made all kinds of mistakes, when he truly followed Jesus and focused his energies on loving and serving others, he did amazing work!
Folks, just because we make mistakes, that doesn’t mean that we are bad or helpless. As human beings, sometimes we make mistakes so that we might learn from them. Our mistakes can be great teachers if we only open ourselves to their lessons. In the long run, the problem isn’t our mistakes, or our weaknesses, or our shortcomings. The problem comes when we think we know it all, when we think we have all the answers, when we think we are in charge and can take care of everything ourselves, when we know that we’re right and everyone else is wrong.
The problem is not that we make mistakes. The problem comes when we judge others because of our own opinions and understandings, and when we think we know what everyone else needs and deserves.
I recently read a book titled Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides by Scott Sauls. In it was a story that I think many of us need to hear because though we can be very hard-working and caring and compassionate people, we sometimes make mistakes without even knowing it because we only see the world through our own lens. Scott Sauls writes:
One day when I was in New York City, I was walking down Broadway and minding my own business when a woman outside a bagel shop asked me if I would buy her something to eat. She was a familiar face in our neighborhood because she lived outdoors most of the time. She was homeless. Like Jesus she had no place to lay her head. Desiring to help her, I offered to buy her a bagel and a coffee. She responded that the coffee would be nice but that she would prefer a container of egg salad instead of a bagel. I smiled and said, “Sure, that’s no problem.” But I wasn’t smiling inside because to me her request was a problem. Here I was, going out of my way to help her and she was being picky. Furthermore, a part of me thought she should be grateful for whatever I choose to give her. A bagel cost $0.75. A container of egg salad cost $6! I still remember my own internal dialogue as I went into the shop to purchase the coffee and egg salad for the woman. Irritated by her request I cynically fantasized about what I might say to her if I were less polite and didn’t have a filter. I thought to myself, “Can I get you some caviar with that?” Thank God I didn’t say anything so cold-hearted. As I handed the woman her coffee and egg salad, she apologized to me for the request. She told me that softer foods are the only kind of foods that she can eat, because to chew on anything, especially a bagel was excruciatingly painful with diseased teeth and gums. God have mercy on me for being so callous and critical towards a woman whose life I cannot begin to understand. Something tells me, Jesus, that I would have been one of those yelling, “Crucify him!” Or denying that I ever knew you. Maybe in that sidewalk conversation, it was me, not the woman, that was truly poor.”
(Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides, by Scott Sauls, p.79)
Friends, sometimes our mistakes are easy to see. We spill our coffee, we color outside the lines, we take something that is not ours, we’re late to work because we forget to set our alarm clock, or we miss a doctor’s appointment because we wrote it on our calendar on the wrong day. But there are other mistakes that we make that we never see. We say something that hurts someone else, and we don’t even know it. We judge someone because we don’t understand their situation or walk in their shoes. We let people down because they expect something from us that we had no idea they expected.
My friends, there is a lot that we can be in control of in this world, but being perfect is not one of them. If we truly want to be followers of Jesus, we need to drop our nets and follow him. We need to let go of what we think we know and allow God to work in and through us, worrying not about ourselves and what we think and deserve, but truly living out our faith as we love and serve others.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, remember that we all make mistakes and that none of us are perfect. But that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to let God work in and through us. So be careful about the assumptions you make and the things that you say and do. Always ask yourself, “Am I doing and saying this because of my own need, or because of the needs of those around me?” Friends, even though “In This House: We Make Mistakes,” lets make them as we humbly attempt to love and serve others rather than loving and serving ourselves.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!