Our beloved Peter comes to the forefront of our gospel again today. We shrink at Jesus’ words, “Get behind me, Satan!” … and are secretly glad that we are not Peter at this moment. Who wants to be reprimanded, rebuked, by Jesus? In front of Jesus we would be quiet and obedient, just listening, lest we make such a grievous mistake. And, not for the first time, my response is “Yay, Peter.” Peter mirrors our own imperfections, our humanity, and thus gives us hope. If Peter could be the rock of the church, well, then, maybe I have a place, too.
To put today’s gospel in context, we need to back up a few verses in Mark (to verse 27) and remember that Jesus has been asking the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” It is Peter who has the spectacular revelation that Jesus is the Messiah. Can you imagine? Truth flooded Peter’s mind and heart and being, and Peter answers Jesus with truth: “You are the Christ.”
Now imagine for a minute, your most beloved hero. In the old days it was Superman, and Clark Kent changed in a phone booth and emerged as our hero, the one who would and could save the world. “He leaps tall buildings in a single bound!” And he does other spectacular things, always saving someone in the end.
Wesley Autrey is a hero. In 2007, Mr. Autrey jumped onto the NY subway tracks to save 20-year old Cameron Hollopeter, who had suffered a seizure and fallen onto the tracks. Autrey jumped onto the tracks and covered the other man with his body while the train rolled over the top of both them. Wesley Autrey saved this young man … and he did not even know his name. THAT’S a hero. And until today, most of us did not know this hero’s name, either.
Perhaps we have a personal hero, someone who saved us or recognized us and pulled us out of a difficult time. There is someone who helped us know that we are talented and unique and worthy. Who is your hero?
Jesus was quite possibly Peter’s hero. The Christ, the Messiah, is the one who was going to save all of Israel. The Messiah was going to save not just one unknown person, but an entire nation. Jesus is the living and breathing hope of Israel.
And then this hero, our hero, says, “I am going to suffer and be rejected and be killed.” I wonder if Peter even heard him say, “after three days rise again.” No! we cry, No! Do not take my hero from me! What would we do? We need something, someone in which to believe, … and we believe in … you. Superman. Wesley. Jesus.
Just at the time that we thought our world was just right, everything was coming together, God disappointed us. We lost our job, one that we thought was great, that more than fulfilled our need for income and our quest for recognition. A long awaited baby is born way too soon, or dies. We have cancer, or depression, or are long-suffering in things that we cannot control: physical illnesses that won’t be healed, friends who die before we have let them go. Above all, and maybe just like Peter, we are disappointed in God. God really let us down … by not living up to our expectations.
Are we even allowed to be disappointed in God? If we say that out loud, maybe it’s like early times when if we saw God then we would die…. What would God do to me if I really let God know how I feel? God would rebuke me, it says so right here in the Bible. Peter must have been oh-so disappointed, and he spoke up and Jesus condemned him to Satan…. I cannot let God know that I am disappointed in God.
Peter’s flaw in speaking up was not in being disappointed in God. Peter, you see, was thinking like a human being. Remember a few moments ago when we were thinking about our heroes? Young or old, weak or strong, we would RAIL against them leaving us, RAIL against that thought that they would do something contrary to our will for them. Our will for our heros. And for the one who would save us.
Peter railed against Jesus – say it isn’t so! Surely we will not kill the one who is going to save us! No, don’t leave! And in that moment of utter despair, Jesus lets Peter know what is wrong with his thinking. Peter is thinking like a human being. Peter is thinking like a human being thinks and not like God thinks. That’s why we are sometimes just like Peter. We are incapable of thinking in the way that God thinks. And we kept trying to help God fit into our very human point of view.
We are not wrong to wonder where God is when we lose that job or lose a friend or when an entire town is wiped out by a tornado. We are not wrong in wanting to spare Jesus from the cross. We are not wrong to be disappointed in God. We are human.
We have much to learn about God and God’s ways. Peter met God the same way that we do, in the person of Jesus. God met Peter at the exact point and place of Peter’s weakness. That is the same place that God meets us, in our most vulnerable, weakest, most broken places. This is why Jesus meets us, so that he can heal our humanity. Jesus came that we might have new life, and we are met in Lent in the real challenge of turning away from our old life, ourselves, so that we might turn toward the kingdom of God.
I offer an exercise for you to do today (or this week). I give thanks to the Rev. David Lose for this exercise; he challenged preachers to help other in this way. Name your disappointment with God. Name it aloud, in writing, or in silent prayer. Do not feel ashamed or embarrassed to do this; if you feel those things, go ahead and do the exercise anyway. God is stronger than all of our fears, our angst, and our disappointments. Go ahead and talk to God. Give God this disappointment (here’s mine). Pray to God, disappointment in hand. Then let it go. Let God turn your heart and resurrect your faith. Pray a little more. (Remember, in the words of Mother Teresa, listening is prayer.) Pray, listen.
Remember that we, your church family, are praying for you while you do this. This is not an exercise to be done alone, in a vacuum, but within a community of faith. Pray for one another as we face our disappointments today and throughout this week. We support you, we give thanks for you, and with God, we are healed. So pray intentionally for this congregation this week.
Got it? Three things: claim your disappointment with God. Give it to God. Pray for one another. Welcome, again, to a holy Lent. God is ever with us, and the only one who can heal us.