First United Methodist Church
April 2, 2023
Rev. Lauren Hall
Grace for the Wretched
Among those who followed Christ into Jerusalem was his disciple, Peter. Peter was often regarded as the lead disciple for a few reasons. He was the first of the disciples whom Jesus chose. And he was often representative of all the disciples. But we should not place Peter on a pedestal. He needed saving just as much as we all do; he was one of the first to say so.
When Peter realized that he was sinking in the waters on a stormy sea in Galilee, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” At first, he dared to trust that he could walk on the waters, even as Jesus did. But his daring faith would became diverted from Jesus and be fixated on the strong winds and roaring waves. That’s when he began to sink.
Peter was not only sinking under water but sinking in fear. His faith had given way to fear. And this would not be the first or even the last time that his faith would give way to fear. In that regard, he is truly representative of all the other disciples—including us. We often succumb to fear when crises arise, or when we are sorely tested beyond our own ability to see or grasp hope in such times. However truly bold and confident Peter may have seemed, his nagging fear would continue to haunt him, and that fear would lead him to sink on more than this one occasion.
But Christ’s amazing grace comes for the fearful! Even in times of crises, Jesus reaches out and catches us, just as he caught Peter sinking beneath the water. This image of our Lord catching Peter is helpful as we continue our journey of faith and witness the passionate depths that our Lord is willing to go for us.
Peter’s journey began when Jesus called him. In Luke’s telling of the story of Peter’s calling, Jesus encountered him on the shores while he was washing his nets after a disappointing day of fishing. Peter would receive a grace he certainly did not expect that day. Jesus said to him, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” While Peter may have accepted and recognized Jesus’ authority as a teacher and leader, he probably doubted whether Jesus knew more about fishing than he did. Nonetheless, he let down the nets as Jesus said, and … he and his companions would catch so many fish that their nets would begin to break! Even the boat was beginning to sink under this huge haul of fish!
I’m sure that Peter, like all the others, was truly amazed at the catch of fish. But the grace of Jesus also opened up this deeper issue in Peter’s life—how to deal with his fear. He was deeply afraid to be in the presence of Jesus because he now recognized Jesus as representative of the holiness of God, and he was right to be afraid. But he did not yet understand the path that Jesus was taking for him, and for us, to lead us beyond our fears. When Christ calls us, he calls us not to be afraid of his love and grace that will always be there to catch us. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus says to Peter. Grace had surely taught Peter’s heart to fear; yet grace would also relieve his fears. With fears relieved, Jesus calls him and his fishing companions to the new mission path that they will take with Jesus: “from now on you will be catching people.”
When we think of all the sinking in fear that was true for Peter, we might also consider that his name actually means “rock.” And rocks sink. But rocks are also foundation stones for buildings. Peter would come to represent the “rock” on which the Church stands, the rock that upholds the very founda-tion of the Church—the rock that Peter makes in a much bolder and more faithful confession of who Jesus is for us all.
When asked, “Who do you think I am?” Peter proclaims, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus would say that this faithful confession that Peter makes is itself a grace given by our Father in heaven. The Church joins Peter in this confession of faith. It is a foundational stone of the church in its faithful witness to who Jesus is for us, and a strength upon which the Church is built, such that not even the gates of hell can prevail against it. But this confession also empowers us to grasp the power and freedom of the gospel to go about loosen-ing the chains that bind all of humanity and to set people free from their bondage to sin and death.
All of that sounds good to Peter. But Jesus also makes clear that the path of grace he follows as our Messiah, our Christ, is one that necessarily leads to the cross and death. And that Peter cannot accept at this time. He rebukes Jesus. But as he does, his rock begins to sink. Jesus calls him a scandalous stumbling block, even refers to him as Satan!
This would also be a lesson for Peter to learn when he was with Jesus on the holy mountain where Jesus was transfigured in all his glory. Again, Peter did not fully grasp what it was all about.
When a bright cloud overshadowed them, and they heard a voice from a cloud telling them to listen to Jesus, Peter and the other disciples “fell to the ground” and were totally “overcome by fear.” Once again, Jesus came to them. He touched them, and raised them up, saying again, “Do not be afraid.’” From their knees looking up, they saw only Jesus.
Peter still had much to learn about this grace that comes through Jesus Christ. That time would come soon enough. In the week of his trial and Passion, Jesus would tell his disciples of the dangers that now lay ahead and of how they will all be scandalized by this path that he must now take. They will all flee. But Peter would denounce that danger, boasting that he would never be scandalized and that he would never flee from his side.
But Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
So it was, in the night while Jesus was on trial in the court, that Peter would be found warming himself by the fire in the courtyard below. When a servant-girl of the high priest came by and recognized him as a companion of Je-sus, he denied it.
He tried to escape this scene and find another area of the courtyard where he could not be so easily noticed. But as he did, just then a cock crowed. The same servant-girl who recognized him earlier spotted him again. She said to the others in the courtyard, “This man is one of them.” Once again, Peter denied it. Finally, one of the other bystanders confronted him, saying, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” At this point, Peter brought down curses upon himself and openly swore an oath before them.
And “at that moment the cock crowed for the second time.” Peter realized what he had done. He had done that which he boasted he would not do—he had denied his Lord. He had denied any connection between him and Jesus. His fear got the best of him. And in his anguish and anxiety, he fell again to his knees in tears, weeping bitterly for this sinful, scandalous wrong that he said would never come to him.
But Jesus’ grace was not finished with Peter. Even in this fearful denial and betrayal of Jesus that severed all bonds of their connection, Jesus would not sever his love and grace for Peter. And when Jesus was raised from the dead, he would show Peter his wounded hands and his pierced side, calling Peter not to sorrow but to rejoice in the promise that his grace would never let him go. Jesus the Messiah caught and held Peter in his crucified hands.
Once again, Jesus would call Peter to catch people in the grace of this promise and to feed others in his healing and forgiving mercy. The journey for Peter, however, would also come by way of his own passion and suffering for the faith. But Peter was emboldened to pick up his cross and follow Jesus because Jesus would never let him go. Peter would testify before all: Christ’s amazing grace is that which God now bestows upon all through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Peter would also come to a recognition that he underestimated the extent of Christ’s grace for all the nations. Yet he would come to boldly confess that God’s grace in Jesus the Christ is a gift for all, without limits or restrictions.
And so, in his own writings to all who suffer persecutions in life, and for whom fear and anxiety would certainly be present, Peter points to Christ’s grace as their solid foundation.
Jesus doesn’t ask us to leave our crosses and all sufferings behind in fear, but instead to face each “fiery ordeal” with confidence that he has called us and caught us in his grace. And as Jesus catches us, so he sends us out to catch others in the sure and certain promise of amazing grace. We follow Christ’s path to the cross in all humility and in all confidence, trusting that our Lord will lead us through the darkness of all our trials, beyond our fears, to the final fruits of his grace.
Let us pray…
Merciful God, help us sit silently and feel the depth of your love. Settle our spirits, that we might know just how far you go to bring us the cup of salvation. In the midst of a week of betrayal and denial, help us forgive the betrayals and denials we commit in our own time and place. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.