Thank God for Peter

St. Peter

This begins a series of three sermons on the Rich Man in Luke’s Gospel: one very brief for a normal preaching class, one for the final exam on that same course that is a bit longer, and the longest that I preached in a small Baptist church in Alabama. This first one focuses on the character of Peter in the passage and how we often distract ourselves from the harder parts of what Jesus has to say.

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A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’”

He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.”

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking.  Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich.  Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!  Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”

He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”

Then Peter said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.”

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Luke 18:18-30, NRSV

Then Peter said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.”

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Thanks be to God.  Thanks be to God for this word.  Thanks be to God for upsetting our expectations.  Thanks be to God for telling us the truth.  Thanks be to God for people, people like Peter.  Thanks be to God for the man who always says what we are thinking, who always does what we would do.  What would we do without Peter?

Think about what’s going on.  Luke situates this passage after a few parables and a pivotal moment: when Jesus blesses the little children.  The disciples turn away the children, but Jesus brings them in, “for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

I can just see Peter.  He has been following Jesus around for months.  He has evaded violence and pain for the sake of this man.  He has starved himself and felt like he was going to die of thirst.  He has derailed his previous career.  He has left his family.  He has left his friends.  He has done all of this for Jesus.  He has done all this, so that means he’s Jesus’ right hand man right?

So when the big shot starts to get mobbed by children, you bet Peter is standing there with his Secret Service sunglasses.  He talks into his wrist, “We’ve got a situation here, the Lamb is at the slaughter.  Over.”  And he and the disciples sweep in like bodyguards and push the children back.  They are just doing what they are supposed to be doing.  Right?

But they are not.  So Jesus steps in and reprimands them.  And that’s what has got to be running through Peter’s head as he is standing behind Jesus while he talks with the rich man.  He has to redeem himself.  He has to look better.  He has been shamed in front of the teacher.  That’s never a good feeling.

So when he hears Jesus say to the rich man that he’s got to sell all that he has to follow him, he jumps on the opportunity!  “I’ve done that!  I’ve done that, Jesus!  See … I’m not all that bad … right?  Look, Jesus, we left our homes and followed you …  I left my father and mother and wife and brothers … I left my children to follow you.”

And Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Yes, Peter, yes you have.  And you will get very much back now, and even more in the age to come.  Yes, Peter, yes you have.”

Thank God for Peter.  We want to be Peter because we see ourselves in Peter.  He does what we do, says what we would say.  And you know what Jesus does?  Jesus says, “Yes, Peter, yes.”  We want to hear that yes, we like Peter want to be affirmed by God — but maybe we do so at our own peril.

Thank God for Peter.  Thank God for showing us that if Peter was saved, then we can be saved.  Thank God for Peter for showing us the awesome grace of God.  Thank God for Peter for showing us the love of God.

Thank God for Peter letting us off the hook.

Thank God for Peter showing us that we can ignore the plight of the rich man.

Thank God for Peter showing us that we don’t have to sell all we have and give it to the poor.

Thank God for Peter showing us someone to identify with besides the rich man.

Thank God for Peter distracting us from the problem at the center of this passage.

We like to get wrapped up in Peter’s story instead of getting wrapped up in Jesus’ story.  Even more, we like to get wrapped up in Peter’s story more than the story of the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the oppressed, the marginalized, the poor.

We are too rich for our own good and we’ll grab on to anything that tells us otherwise.

Thanks be to God.  Thanks be to God for this word.  Thanks be to God for upsetting our expectations.  Thanks be to God for telling us the truth.

“There is still one thing lacking.  Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

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