Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Sermon: Training The Rock for the Hard Place

 

[Yesterday’s sermon!]

Why did Peter deny Jesus three times before the cock crowed?
Zoom makes this a rhetorical question; if you were people in pews rather than pictures on my screen, I could get answers. Still, I imagine that most of you are saying to yourselves, to your companions, or to the empty air: “Because the guy was frightened.”
That’s obvious, isn’t it? The gospel writers—-all four of them tell this story—-don’t have to spell it out for us: Peter is petrified. He’d just seen Jesus grabbed, manhandled and dragged off to the high priest’s house. All the other disciples had taken to their heels in terror.
Peter’s fear is so obvious and his reaction is so human and predictable, that it’s easier to identify with Peter than to condemn him. I’d guess that very few of you are thinking “what a sniveling, fibbing coward!”
Though perhaps one or two of you are wondering just what good it is to believe in the power of Jesus if even one of his own disciples, who knew him in the flesh, would fall into terrified apostasy at the first sign of danger?
Moreover, though this seems a distinctly secondary moral failure, you might have noticed that Peter also just flat out lied. Didn’t Jesus say that all the laws still applied? A commandment, after all, is not a jot or tittle but a pretty big deal. Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness! but Peter did.
On the other hand, it’s so easy to see ourselves in Peter, to recall our own moments of shameful cowardice. If Peter failed so completely…and yet was tapped to be the rock on which Jesus would build his Church…well, it’s encouraging, isn’t it, and reassuring and humane.
But since every Bible story has more than one lesson to teach, I thought we’d dig a little deeper into the story of Peter and his throuple denials this morning.
But first, I want to talk about what happens when people get scared.

There is a new book out called From Here To There by a guy named Michael Bond. He writes about human navigation, not just when it works but also when it fails.

.Naturally I’m interested; the more so because the book features the story of a search that the Maine Warden Service conducted a few years back. Some of you might remember the story? Maine game wardens and many volunteer searchers expended considerable time, treasure, and heartache looking for Gerry Largay, a sixty-six-year-old retired nurse, and Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who went off the trail and got lost. We looked for her and could not find her. Her body was ultimately stumbled across, accidentally and fortuitously, by a forest surveyor.

As you might imagine, Gerry Largay’s disappearance and the prolonged and fruitless search made for an appalling ordeal for Mrs. Largay’s family. It was also a huge effort and painful failure for the searchers. That failure still hurts, and it still feels personal.

The wardens who run the search teams learn a lot about their search subjects. They glean intimate details of these strangers’ lives in the hope of finding clues for the search. They interact with and form relationships — lasting ones — with the members of frantic families. As a result, they fall in love with their subjects, something that drives them to work harder and longer. Their hearts break when they fail.

For the author of the book, Gerry Largay’s example teaches an important lesson. Rational people who get lost in the woods do not think rationally. This is true even for experienced hikers and even for men and women trained in search and rescue. One of the people interviewed for the book is a guy who counts as a genuine wilderness expert. He reports that when he got lost in the woods, the urge to run, just run, in any direction, was so powerful, he had to fight himself to overcome it.

Researchers theorize that because getting lost in the wilderness was a real and constant threat for our ancestors, the fear-induced is actually a primal one, like our fears of snakes and heights, pre-programmed by millennia of human evolution. Mother Nature doesn’t trust us to solve these primal problems for ourselves. Our cerebral cortices get instantly stupid, and our mammalian and reptilian brains take over, defaulting to pre-loaded behaviors——run! scream! —- which may or may not turn out to be useful in the 21st century Maine woods.

All of this is described and analyzed in the book. What is not emphasized, however, is a further lesson the wardens and I learned from Gerry.

Under stress, we also default to our training.

This isn’t a huge surprise. It’s the whole point of training, in fact! Instinct tells us to run away from a threat; police officers and firefighters are trained to run toward it.

Gerry was an amateur hiker, but she had received training, including some instruction in what to do if she got lost. But a big part of Gerry’s training, emphasized again and again, was leave no trace.

If you go to the website AmericanHiking.org, you can get the gist of the training: Keep your campfire small… wear earth-toned clothing… don’t pick flowers or pile rocks…pick up your paper and plastic and bury your poops and banana peels…

And so, even as searchers were looking for signs of her, Gerry was carefully burying her organic wastes, tidying up her toilet paper, and “leaving no trace.”

Though she did start a fire, she put it out almost immediately. “Minimize campfire impact,” says American Hiking.org. “Do not damage live or fallen trees…”

One might imagine that any really rational, thinking person—-me, for instance!—- would be able to recognize that “leave no trace” is the wrong mental gear to be in when you’re lost and shift. Surely my mind would be capable of grasping that all sorts of traces need to be left … indeed, prominently and lavishly displayed— spare undies, credit cards, book pages, waste products, toothbrushes, toilet paper, dead cell phones, plastic baggies, burning car tires, you name it. So I can be found.

When the Largay search comes up in conversation, the wardens will still express despairing frustration with their beloved Gerry. They speak to her ghost: “Why? You had everything—matches, a camp stove, paperback books whose pages would burn, plenty of fuel … why didn’t you make the kind of big, smoky fire that would’ve brought us right to you?”

She didn’t, because that isn’t how our minds work under stress. We freak out … and we default to training.

How you practice is how you’ll play.

So let’s ask, again, about Jesus’ disciple, Peter, who denied Jesus three times.

There’s that simple answer to the question of why: He was afraid of attack, of pain, of death at the hands of his enemies. Right in front of him, he was witnessing just what Jesus meant, in John 15:18, when he said “if the world hates you keep in mind that it hated me first.” Being hated conjures primal fear: Freaked out human brains default to fight or flight or, yes, telling lies. Little kids do it, adults do it, the other disciples did it and we can all think of plenty of examples from the world around us can’t we?

But what about training? Peter was not untrained.

He had been with Jesus for three years. Jesus was Peter’s personal trainer, his life coach, his rabbi, one who knew that a crisis was coming—-the writing was on the wall (and in the Book if it comes to that).

So did Jesus, in effect, train Peter for the wrong crisis? The way Gerry Largay was trained, in a way that left her flailing dangerously when the real crisis came? Or maybe Jesus offered the right training…and Peter just failed to follow it?

Before you answer that question— and it’s kind of a significant one, given that, among other things, Christians are consciously in training for…something…let me ask you a more concrete question.

Why was he there?

I mean, there, at the High Priest’s house, first waiting outside and then, having winkled his way in, there in the courtyard warming himself by the fire? We’ve been told that the rest of the disciples skedaddled, with the exception of the Beloved Disciple but the B.D. was safely anonymous. We don’t know who he was, and neither did the folks in the high priest’s courtyard. But Peter wasn’t anonymous. We just heard the version of Jesus’ arrest in which one of the disciples aims a sword at a guy’s ear—-That was Peter! And the guy with the sore ear was Malchus, the servant of the high priest. Yes, that high priest, the one in whose hostile and crowded courtyard Peter is now hanging out.

We can know that Peter was one of Jesus’ more recognizable disciples because… he gets recognized. The servant girl asks “Hey! You’re one of that nutcase’s disciples, aren’t you?”

Peter’s freaked out brain would be screaming, at this point, RUN!

But Peter doesn’t run. He stays.

On all sides there are people who are a lot more threatening than the servant girl, and she persists in asking him, loud enough for everyone to hear: You’re with that guy! You’re with him! 

And then again: Yeah! You’ve got the same accent…

Nope, says Peter. No, no …and only when he hears the rooster crow does he, at last, break down and weep.

Why weep?

Because he realizes that he was a coward and a liar?

Dang, these stories are so wonderful! They seem so simple…and are as complicated as a human… being. 

Perhaps Peter weeps because he realizes, at that moment, that the dawn has come, that he has done this best and acted according to his training. Perhaps we can see that it was his training as Jesus’ disciple that gave him the courage to risk his life and even his immortal soul following his Lord into the house of the enemy, his training that prompted him try to rescue, or at least not abandon God, no matter what?

When the rooster crowed, Peter believed his training failed. He had failed. Jesus would be crucified before the day was out.

 If the story ended there, we would —-like Peter—-have reason to despair. But of course, the story doesn’t end there. It keeps going, onto the resurrection and the light, and not just the resurrection of Jesus, but the resurrection of Peter as the rock of Jesus’ church. Renewed, he becomes a braver Peter and a wiser and more experienced one. It was the brave, wise Peter who, when training up a new crew of Christians, said “Be on the alert, because your adversary prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour!”

He’d felt the hot breath of that lion and the panicked urge to fight, to fly, to survive

There are deep lessons to ponder in the story of Peter, and for that matter, in the story of Gerry Largay, lessons applicable to all sorts of fearsome phenomena, the present pandemic and economic lock-down very much included. Lessons about love and risk, courage and self-sacrifice, success and failure and, of course, about the difficult and sometimes perplexing demands that love may make of us.
But as your own Reverend Worst Case Scenario, I’ll conclude with just a bit of advice, practical for those of you who hike recreationally, metaphorical for those who don’t.
 Please include this in your training. In the words of my beloved wardens:

If you’re lost, stop moving … find a big piece of sky and stay under it…hug a tree … and for God’s sake, leave a trace!”

 

Published in Religion & Philosophy
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 17 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. JoelB Member

    Peter was an “I’ve got this” kind of guy. Jesus knew that he still had much to learn about leaning on God and others. His mistakes, out in the open for everyone to see, are the reason that so many love him. Failure is not (usually) the end. Some lessons can’t be learned in the classroom.

    • #1
    • May 25, 2020, at 9:48 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  2. MarciN Member

    If I could pick a national minister, the way we pick a national poet, it would be you, Granny Dude. :-)

    Thank you for these words of wisdom.

    • #2
    • May 25, 2020, at 10:16 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  3. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude

    MarciN (View Comment):

    If I could pick a national minister, the way we pick a national poet, it would be you, Granny Dude. :-)

    Thank you once again for these words of wisdom.

    Wow! 

    Of course, now I want to write all the reasons why that would be a very bad idea….but I’ll just say thank you, MarciN!

    • #3
    • May 25, 2020, at 10:25 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  4. JoelB Member

    Has your church been closed through the Covid 19? @GrannyDude

    • #4
    • May 25, 2020, at 10:42 AM PDT
    • 1 like
    • This comment has been edited.
  5. Sandy Member

    This is wonderful. Thank you.

    • #5
    • May 25, 2020, at 11:04 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  6. Bob Wainwright Member

    I think it’s hard for us to appreciate Peter’s denial these days because we are not called upon to deny our religion the way the first Christians were in the persecutions. I’ve thought many times, What good what it have done for Peter to say he knew Jesus? It would have got him beaten up and that’s it. He lied but the commandment says to not bear false witness against someone. That’s a specific kind of lying which Peter didn’t do. And I feel sorry for him again the way Jesus sort of reminds him of it at the end of John, asking him three times if he loves him. You can sort of feel Peter being tortured when he heard Jesus ask it the second time, wondering if Jesus was going to ask him a third time just to remind him of it. 

    • #6
    • May 25, 2020, at 11:05 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. The Reticulator Member

    GrannyDude: and for God’s sake, leave a trace!

    A question to consider: If Twitter/YouTube/Google/Facebook bans you, can you still leave a trace? 

     

    • #7
    • May 25, 2020, at 11:19 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. Michael Collins Member

    GrannyDude (View Comment):
    MemberGrannyDudePost author

    MarciN (View Comment):

    If I could pick a national minister, the way we pick a national poet, it would be you, Granny Dude. :-)

    Thank you once again for these words of wisdom.

    Wow! 

    Of course, now I want to write all the reasons why that would be a very bad idea….but I’ll just say thank you, MarciN!

    One more reason it’s a good idea -humility!

    • #8
    • May 25, 2020, at 11:34 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. Boss Mongo Member

    GrannyDude: Under stress, we also default to our training. 

    Granny, can’t tell you how much I agree to this.

    Just like a muscle, attributes, like courage (and like willpower, and self-discipline and on) have to be trained. Moral training, just like physical training, involves failure. Peter emerged from his ordeal stronger–strong enough to be the foundational rock of the Church.

    Many people have no training plan, or even the cognizance of a requirement for a training plan. They’ll pass on opportunities to be brave, to be honest, to be forthright. Then they have the temerity to think that when the Big Thing comes along, The Thing That Really Matters, they’ll perform in the moment.

    No. No they won’t.

    • #9
    • May 25, 2020, at 12:30 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
  10. I. M. Fine Coolidge

    Simply one of the best sermon titles I’ve ever heard. (And I’ve heard a lot of them.) The sermon was pretty great also. Thank you. 

    • #10
    • May 25, 2020, at 2:56 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. Mim526 Member

    GrannyDude: .

    only when he hears the rooster crow does he, at last, break down and weep.

    When the rooster crowed, Peter believed his training failed. He had failed. Jesus would be crucified before the day was out.

    Renewed, he becomes a braver Peter and a wiser and more experienced one. It was the brave, wise Peter who, when training up a new crew of Christians, said “Be on the alert, because your adversary prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour!”

    Occurs to me he went through two fires — his failure followed by crucifixion and Pentecost — recognition of his own limits/their consequences then welcoming the Divine to dwell within him. Every Christ follower since travels through the same two basic steps.

    Wow. First time I’ve thought of Peter’s story that way. Wonderful sermon, @GrannyDude. Feel like I’ve been to church :-)

    • #11
    • May 26, 2020, at 3:55 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  12. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude

    I. M. Fine (View Comment):

    Simply one of the best sermon titles I’ve ever heard. (And I’ve heard a lot of them.) The sermon was pretty great also. Thank you.

    I have to admit, I was pretty proud of that title…

    I’m glad you liked it!

    • #12
    • May 26, 2020, at 4:28 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Has your church been closed through the Covid 19? @GrannyDude

    The churches I guest-preach in—the above was offered to the local congregational church—have been closed, and muddling along with Zoom. 

    My denominational association, the Unitarian Universalist Association, has advised all UU churches to remain closed through May of 2021. 

    IMHO, thus expressing, in a new form, its determination to commit denominational suicide. But that’s another story. 

    • #13
    • May 26, 2020, at 4:32 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  14. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Bob Wainwright (View Comment):

    I think it’s hard for us to appreciate Peter’s denial these days because we are not called upon to deny our religion the way the first Christians were in the persecutions. I’ve thought many times, What good what it have done for Peter to say he knew Jesus? It would have got him beaten up and that’s it. He lied but the commandment says to not bear false witness against someone. That’s a specific kind of lying which Peter didn’t do. And I feel sorry for him again the way Jesus sort of reminds him of it at the end of John, asking him three times if he loves him. You can sort of feel Peter being tortured when he heard Jesus ask it the second time, wondering if Jesus was going to ask him a third time just to remind him of it.

    I think Peter might have suffered more than a beating from the lynch mob. They (with exceptions) were out for blood. 

    But it’s remarkable how many apostles and saints chose to verbally and publicly affirm their faith in Jesus rather than hide their faith in hope of later opportunities. Clearly, faithfulness to Christ means bearing witness in both words and deeds. 

    We know from more mundane experiences that defending someone with words and speaking well of that person is a powerful proof of love. There’s a trope in movies in which a person “fallen in love” feels a need to shout his affection. Imagine failing to praise one’s children because other people don’t want to hear about it. That’s a love that cannot be contained, that should not be. 

    The Commandments mark only the beginning of love. “Don’t covet” proceeds to selfless joy on your neighbor’s behalf that he possesses such treasures. “Don’t steal” proceeds to devoting one’s own property to the good of others (voluntarily, not by tax). Likewise, “Don’t bear false witness” proceeds to bearing true witness throughout one’s life.

    It is good that we testify to the most faithful Person of all. If we love Him, we wish to make Him known and to share that enthusiasm beyond all the enthusiasms we share for lesser things every day. 

    “Have you seen that TV show?” Have you read that book?” “Did you see that ball game?” “Have you met my friend Jesus?”

     

    • #14
    • May 26, 2020, at 6:26 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  15. JoelB Member

    GrannyDude (View Comment):

    My denominational association, the Unitarian Universalist Association, has advised all UU churches to remain closed through May of 2021. 

    IMHO, thus expressing, in a new form, its determination to commit denominational suicide. But that’s another story. 

    The first time I read that I saw May of 2020 and thought “not such a big deal” I looked a second time and it hit me.

    May 2021! What are they thinking?

    • #15
    • May 26, 2020, at 9:02 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  16. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude

    JoelB (View Comment):

    GrannyDude (View Comment):

    My denominational association, the Unitarian Universalist Association, has advised all UU churches to remain closed through May of 2021.

    IMHO, thus expressing, in a new form, its determination to commit denominational suicide. But that’s another story.

    The first time I read that I saw May of 2020 and thought “not such a big deal” I looked a second time and it hit me.

    May 2021! What are they thinking?

    Technically, the independent congregations don’t have to follow the advice of the UUA, so there’s that.

    Shall I supplement my sermon with a rant? To wit:

    This past Sunday, five Chicago police vehicles unloaded in front of Cornerstone Baptist Church, a small black neighborhood church on Chicago’s south side. They began pounding on the door demanding that the Rev. Courtney Lewis stop the service and empty the church. 

    Lewis refused. But an unmarked vehicle sitting outside the church was photographing and filming everyone who arrived.

    Pastor Lewis said the intent was to shut down their Sunday services. It was “like the Soviet-style KGB,” he said.

    “The only thing she hasn’t done yet is beat the doors down and arrest our members,” the pastor said.

    “Thankfully our doors were locked as a normal safety precaution we take each service to protect our members from the escalating gun violence in Chicago,” the pastor said.

    A church usher, who is typically positioned outside the building during the services, saw the mayor’s goon force attempt to enter the building and began taking photographs.

    Even more disturbing, an individual in an unmarked car with tinted windows was seen filming and photographing church members as they arrived to worship Jesus Christ.

    “The mayor wants to educate everyone into compliance – which means intimidate,” the pastor said.

     

    Armed police showing up at a church, pounding on the door to gain entrance…?! 

    Note the quote, in bold, above. Remember gun violence? We used to care about that, didn’t we?

     It seems that meanwhile, also in Chicago, Memorial Day Weekend 2020 saw shootings and murders over and above the traditionally sanguinary starts to summer in the windy city. Nine dead at last count, including a sixteen year old boy, but Chicago’s Mayor prioritized interrupting a church service over sending more patrols to violence-rich neighborhoods.  There are lives that matter and lives that just…don’t. Of course, I’m probably wrong.  Of course I am. I spend far too much time considering the views and concerns of Deplorables and not enough time listening to Science.  And, after all, Mayor Lightfoot is not just a Democrat, she’s also black and a lesbian…nuff said. So going to church is probably much more dangerous than going to Walmart. Praying contentedly beside your scrubbed-up fellow Christians in a polished pew at Cornerstone Baptist is undoubtedly much germier than sitting glumly beside unhappy and stressed-out young women in the waiting room of a Chicago abortion clinic. And the lives and health of churchgoers matter—or is it the lives and health of those (mostly old, mostly men and mostly white) who might be infected by church goers and die?  Either way, the lives and health of sixteen year old black boys…not so much. Plus ca change. Luckily for our own, personal, precious health and safety—aren’t we mostly old, mostly white and mostly able to survive an economic downturn?—the UUA agrees with the Mayor of Chicago rather than with Pastor Lewis: abortion and Walmart are crucial and “life saving”, church is not!  Well, our church certainly isn’t. Amiright? So the UUA recommends that—safety first!—we should just go on doing the Zoom thing for another year or until all we white supremacists have lost interest and the whole shebang is closed for good, whichever comes first. 

    • #16
    • May 26, 2020, at 4:36 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  17. Boss Mongo Member

    GrannyDude (View Comment):
     It seems that meanwhile, also in Chicago, Memorial Day Weekend 2020 saw shootings and murders over and above the traditionally sanguinary starts to summer in the windy city. Nine dead at last count, including a sixteen year old boy, but Chicago’s Mayor prioritized interrupting a church service over sending more patrols to violence-rich neighborhoods.  

    Duly filed under “things that make me see red.”

    • #17
    • May 26, 2020, at 6:34 PM PDT
    • 4 likes