Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Lenten Thought -- or Two

“What is happening?” That’s what Peter had to have been wondering. Just a few hours earlier Jesus had called Peter his rock, upon whom his church would be built. Now he’s calling him the Devil. Not even the son of the Devil, but the Devil himself. Peter may have pushed his way gruffly through the crowd. Maybe he’d had enough of this nonsense, Jesus always speaking in riddles. Peter had been faithful. He’d worked as hard as anybody of the disciple band to usher in the kingdom. He had walked upon the water -- well, at least part way. Until he forgot to forget where he was and keep his eyes fixed on Jesus. When he remembered that he was walking on the water and that men, even brave Galilaeans, can’t do that, then he began to sink.

Perhaps he shook his head in wonder. Everything he had ever thought or believed in had been turned upside down by Jesus. Men don’t walk on water. But Jesus showed him they could. Five loaves and two fishes are a nice meal for a young lad or two, but Jesus fed 5,000 with that meager meal. And had more left over when he was finished than when he began. The impossible was not the impossible with Jesus. It wasn’t even just possible. It was the norm. It was what was expected.

Preposterous. Unless… unless… unless, perhaps Peter thought, Jesus was right and my interests really are on man’s interests instead of God’s.

You just have to love impetuous Peter. At least I do. He tries so hard to be a person of faith. And frequently fails. Because his idea of faith is what he wants, not necessarily what God wants.
I find Peter’s life with Jesus’ an encouragement to my own spiritual walk. He reminds me that when I am surest about having a handle on the things of the spirit and God’s will, that that’s when I best check my leadings and make sure it is God’s voice I’m hearing and not my own. That is God’s side I’m on, not my own.

Perhaps Peter, while reflecting on Jesus’ words, found himself struggling with confusing his will with God’s? And wondering how he could learn to tell the difference between the two – between his interests and God’s. How could he determine if they were one and the same? Can anyone know the will of God? Or do you just have to act in faith and step out and try the path that seems good? But that’s hard to do when the Son of Man turns your notions of possible and impossible, power and poverty and everything else on their heads.

Certainly the life of Christian discipleship is difficult at times. Sometimes the stuff Jesus talks about seems crystal clear. At others, though, it muddles our mind.

Peter needed to learn to let go and relax a bit into God’s will, to trust that God had a better idea of what needed to happen than did he. When Peter quit striving and trying to force the outcome of things, he found himself turning into the Rock that Jesus had called him.

That’s a hard lesson for me. I am, by nature, a striver – and a worrier. I have a hard time letting go and letting God do God’s work. I feel much more comfortable letting God know what God’s will is than I do waiting and listening. And sometimes, I must confess, I hear Jesus’ words on the wind -- "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Actually, not “men” but “man” – Brent.

I hear Jesus rebuking me as he did Peter. Which is a good thing. We all need correction every now and then – some of us more often than others. And when we hear those chastening words, we need to remember that God said “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” If you’ve not heard God’s rebuke lately it may be because you are doing exactly what God has called you to do. On the other hand, it may be because you have stopped listening and grown spiritually smug . Even those, maybe even especially those, of us who haven’t heard God’s voice for a while and certainly feel that there is nothing we need to seek repentance for.
Repentance is a word we don’t bandy around much in our common lives. And yet we often put it into to practice in our relations with others. When we do something that hurts someone we love, we say we’re sorry and resolve to not do it again. We go a new direction with our behavior. And that’s what repentance is – turning a new direction. For Peter, and for many of us, it means turning from our direction (our will) to God’s direction (God’s will). Especially during those times of spiritual clarity in which we hear Jesus’ voice whispering down the Spirit wind, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

The Lenten Season is, for many Christians, a time of reminding us to be penitent, to be sorry for missing the mark, for reflecting the folly of man rather than the glory of God. Today’s scripture lesson reminds us that our spiritual ears may need unclogged so that we can hear the voice of the one who calls us through all time and eternity. As Jesus himself urges us “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Peter heard. The playful wind flew up the hillside, tousling his hair and beard. He grinned, ruefully remembering other words of Jesus. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” In the breeze he heard two questions. Satan or Spirit? God’s interests or man’s?
His mind made up, Peter gave the rock one last kick, headed back into the crowd, threaded his way back next to Jesus side and set his face toward Jerusalem.

Toward what will we set our faces – during Lent and our lives?


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